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The Oxford Union

The Union is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It is approaching its 200th anniversary, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe. B4’s Edward Rosser visited the Union to find out more about its illustrious past and to also witness two events, in the impressive debating chamber, for himself.

WRITTEN BY: ED ROSSER PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Roger Askew

The Union is steeped in history. It was founded in 1823 as a forum for discussion and debate, at a time when the free exchange of ideas was a notion foreign to the restrictive University authorities. It soon became the only place for students to discuss political topics whilst at Oxford. W.E. Gladstone, later to become one of the greatest British Prime Ministers, was one of the leading figures of the Union’s early years. Gladstone was President of the Union in 1830, shortly before entering the House of Commons. Many others have followed him into politics, and the Union can boast dozens of former members who have been active in its affairs whilst at Oxford and then gone to become both nationally and internationally prominent figures.

AT THE CUTTING EDGE OF CONTROVERSY

The Oxford Union holds no political views. Instead, the Union is a forum for debate and the discussion of controversial issues. For example; in the 1960s, Malcolm X came to the Union and demanded black empowerment “by any means necessary”. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon in his first public speech after Watergate admitted, “I screwed up – and I paid the price”. In the 1980s, Gerry Adams, still under his television ban, addressed the Union’s members. In Michaelmas 1996, O. J. Simpson made his only public speech in Britain after the controversial “not guilty” verdict in his criminal trial. The Oxford Union believes first and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.

WORLDWIDE IMPACT

The Oxford Union has been at the centre of controversial debate throughout its history. As the most prominent debating platform outside Westminster, it is no surprise debates have been unrivalled in their quality and impact. One of the most famous motions, “This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country”, was passed in 1933 by 275 votes to 153. The result sparked off a national outcry in the press, and Winston Churchill denounced it as “that abject, squalid, shameless avowal” and “this ever shameful motion”; some say that the result encouraged Hitler in his decision to invade Europe. In 1975, days before the referendum on EEC membership, the motion “This House would say ‘Yes’ to Europe” was carried by 493 votes to 92. This debate was, arguably, a considerable influence on the referendum result.

In the words of Michael Heseltine, the Union has “managed to absorb the greatest diversity, the wildest firebrands, the most outspoken and non-conformist people.” Diversity and outspokenness, central to the Union’s foundation, remain its guiding principles to this day.

MICHAEL LYNTON CEO

Sony Entertainment Chairman and CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Michael Lynton is CEO of Sony Entertainment, where he oversees Sony’s global entertainment businesses, including Sony Music Entertainment, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Lynton is also Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), managing the studio’s overall global operations, which include motion picture, television and digital content production and distribution, home entertainment acquisition and distribution, operation of studio facilities, and the development of new entertainment products, services and technologies.

At Sony Pictures Entertainment, Lynton has focused on digital transformation, worldwide growth, content diversity and financial discipline, leading the studio through an era of innovation and success, putting Sony Pictures on the cutting edge of an industry experiencing rapid technological and global change.

Under Lynton, Sony Pictures has been an industry leader in the migration to digital entertainment, from production and distribution to the introduction of new formats. The studio championed the industry’s UltraViolet digital entertainment format, helped re-introduce 3D to the entertainment industry and is deeply engaged in the rapidly expanding 4K marketplace.

Lynton resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Elizabeth Jamie Alter Lynton, and their three daughters, Eloise Lynton, Maisie Lynton and Lucinda Lynton.

Lynton’s speech focused on the importance of privacy for a company, especially when the company in question is as big as Sony. The area of unreleased movies being released by third parties is obviously a massive area of concern for Sony and formed a key part of Lynton’s speech.

“Be careful what you put in an e-mail.” Explained Lynton as he disclosed how individuals would approach him, shamelessly, asking about personal emails and chats he had had with other people.

Lynton also explained how he was introduced to Snapchat. His children used to show him Snapchat and when they found out the owner, Evan Spiegel, lived in the same area in LA, his wife invited him round to their house for dinner. Lynton’s wife, Elizabeth, told Spiegel to ask for anything he needed, recalls Lynton, “….and he said he needed money! My wife gave him some money and the rest is history.”

BERNARD ARNAULT

Chairman and CEO of LVMH

Bernard Arnault is Chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, the world’s leading luxury products group. Born to an industrial family in Roubaix, France on March 5, 1949, Mr. Arnault attended the Roubaix lycée and the Faidherbe lycée in Lille. He then went on to study at the Ecole Polytechnique, graduating in 1971.

In 1989, Mr. Arnault accomplished his objective of creating the world’s leading luxury products group when he assumed control of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, vowing to assure French luxury goods brand leadership worldwide. Mr. Arnault has been Chairman and CEO of the company ever since.

Mr. Arnault is also President of the Board of Directors of Groupe Arnault S.A. (his family holding company). He was appointed a Commander of the Legion of Honour for his services to the French nation and he is Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Mr. Arnault is married and has five children.

Host (Niamh Coote, Vice President): “What’s your definition of luxury?

Arnault: “It’s a combination of quality and creativity – that is how I define what we do. Because of the high level of innovation our goods are expensive. We spend a lot of time in our many laboratories trying to come up with innovative ideas. These then have to be converted into reality. This is my definition of luxury. We then have to market this. I often meet students in marketing and despite our business being number one for students in France, I tell them we don’t do marketing. I think this is against what a company like us stands for.

“Marketing is analysing what our customers want. We do if very differently. We create new products which our customers want and then they follow. Our marketing then follows that. We find products which our customers want and then market the successful ones.

“Luxury for me is, therefore, ‘how can you create desire?’. We create a good environment, attractive shops, advertisements in magazines and good profile on line which helps us to maximise the demand for our products.”

Niamh: “The internet has affected lots of businesses – how important is the internet to your business and are there some brands you purposefully keep off line?”

Arnault: “We are gradually reducing what we spend in magazines to increase the spend on-line. It is more and more important. The way that a brand is presented to the world is also very important – you can not only see the product but the history behind the brand and the craftmanship behind the product. Customers can also buy the product on line and get it delivered very quickly, or see when it is available in the shop.

“But advertising on line is becoming more and more expensive as they can give us more information about our target market. They are also becoming more smart – for example, we might have one million followers on Facebook but we can’t get to them like we used to unless we pay. “We do have one company which we don’t promote on line but its success has been amazing without any promotion on the internet. It is because it is something unique and defies belief to a certain extent.”

Niamh: “Is Apple a luxury item?”

Arnault: “Apple is a fantastic company. I happened to know Steve Jobs. When he started the company he came to ask for my advice. Many of his shops have the style of Louis Vuitton. At the time he was criticised for selling Apple products in a shop. I was guiding him as he took Apple to retail outlets and I like to think I helped.” Niamh: “How do you approach the market in China?”

Arnault: “It is a very important market for us. I wasn’t sure to start with and asked my team if they were sure we should open in Beijing. But we were very successful and today China is a very developed country and it is a very good market for us. There are some questions about China because of the economy but I think our product can withstand these problems.”

Nature

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