Abbas Kazmi tells me that it all started, as many things do, with some inspiration from a family member and a discussion with a friend. In his first year studying history at New College, Oxford, Abbas started thinking about possible career paths, particularly ones in business and finance. He began investigating the resources at the university to help him get started - and was disappointed by what he found: "What I had noticed, along with many others, was that there wasn't as much guidance as we had hoped for." Events offered by existing business societies tended to be focused around employer presentations, which didn't give students enough opportunities to find out about whole industry sectors, or to talk to recruiters. So he thought he'd take action himself to change the status quo by resurrecting the Oxford Guild society, which he'd heard about from his uncle - a member around fifteen years ago. The Oxford Guild had been a large and thriving student organisation and, having being around for many decades, was one of the oldest university business societies in the UK. It had strong links with a range of commercial organisations, held a range of events and fairs, and even published its own career guides. However, from around 2005 the society had begun to decline, and by the time Abbas came up to Oxford in autumn 2010, the Oxford Guild was no longer an active presence at the university.
Once he realised that Oxford's students needed a general business and finance society again, Abbas could have started from scratch and set up his own new organisation. However, given what he had heard from his uncle and others, he had a hunch that the Oxford Guild was worth saving. He was proved right: once the members of the newly formed committee started contacting employers, they were surprised by how much recognition and respect the society's name commanded - and they even encountered a number of Oxford Guild alumni in the ranks of the investment banks, professional services firms and other organisations they spoke to.
But despite discovering that his society had a strong existing brand, Abbas still had to work hard to create a new infrastructure for the society from scratch and bring the Oxford Guild back to life. Forming a committee was an important first step - finding out that other students thought that resurrecting the society was worth a shot gave him confidence that he was working along the right lines. Under his leadership as co-president, the committee of 25 students spent the summer working on re-establishing relations with the Oxford University careers service, designing a new Oxford Guild website and logo, working out how to promote the society's activities to other students, and, of course, getting the attention of graduate employers in finance, consulting and industry. Abbas highlights this part of their work as one of the hardest aspects of the project for him: "It was especially challenging coming home from the long hours during an internship to send emails off to sponsors!"
The hard work paid off: the Oxford Guild now has over 20 top-notch employer partners, including Bloomberg, BP, Jones Day and J.P. Morgan, and the society kicked off the academic year in style with a Deloitte-sponsored champagne, chocolate and baklava networking event to celebrate its relaunch. Over 350 undergraduates attended the party, making it the biggest event held by any student society in Oxford last term. The society followed up this success with events including a BlackRock presentation on the buyside and sellside sections of the finance industry, and a talk from Peter Cruddas, the billionaire founder of derivatives dealers CMC Markets.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing for Abbas and the society. Since its relaunch, the committee has had to deal with some significant challenges, including the last-minute cancellation of a venue reservation for a big event which, thanks to some quick thinking, eventually went ahead as planned.
In order to manage the society effectively, Abbas drew extensively on his experience of running other projects at school and university, particularly a highly successful Young Enterprise venture, and he advises other students looking to build a society to get as much organisational experience as they can. He also recommends that those running similar societies should think carefully about members' needs (along with employer objectives) when designing events, rather than just duplicating the campus recruitment sessions (usually presentation-heavy) that employers organise themselves.
Next term Oxford Guild members will be treated to an informal "coffee and chat" evening with top employers at an Oxford ice-cream parlour, mock interviews with recruiters from a leading investment bank, and even a trip to Russia. Planned speakers include Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Made in Chelsea's diamond entrepreneur Francis Boulle, and bearded business wonder Richard Branson.
Back to the future
Abbas is planning to stay involved with the society next year, but will inevitably start to take more of a back seat as his finals loom closer. But he aims to put a good succession plan in place - he always wanted the revived Oxford Guild to not only help current students and allow him to use his skills during his time at Oxford, but also to survive to assist further generations of Oxford undergraduates.
Abbas is currently planning to head into investment banking when he graduates,, but would eventually like to set up his own business - "something in the services industry", perhaps to do with marketing.
Alongside his academic work, his involvement with the Oxford Guild and several other societies, he's been co-President of QUAD, an ad agency run by Oxford students which gives students a chance to hone their skills by creating campaigns for other student societies and local businesses. So how would Abbas market what he's managed to do since that first moment of inspiration? "I'm proud of what we've achieved. The highly positive feedback we've received from students, sponsors and the university is testament to this - we really have made a difference and offered something truly helpful."