Wasfi Kani - When I'm 80 what would I regret not doing?
Wasfi Kani is the CEO of Grange Park Opera. Born in the East London she started teaching herself the piano at 9 and was playing Violin in The National Youth Orchestra by 16.
She read music at Oxford but was good at Maths so became a computer programmer but soon gave that up to become a conductor.
With a story like that how could she be anything but interesting?
Angus Baigrie - Hello and welcome to Searching for Elephants Season 2 focusing on entrepreneurship and leadership each week Tom Baigrie and I, Angus, are going to bring you a leader and really try and get under their skin really try and figure out what makes them tick, to give you an insight into how they lead. First up we have an incredible lady called Wasfi Kani. She is the leader of Grange Park Opera. Now if you're like me and the word opera sends you running out of the building and into the nearby forest then just hold on a second, slow your pace because Wasfi is a quite incredible human being. Part performer part CEO part musician some human beings are just naturally able to be interesting and my dad and I both agree that Wasfi is exactly that so without further ado Wasfi Kani.
Angus - You were born in the east end of London yeah to Indian parents yeah, I imagine you are one of very few people with that start to life who by the age of 16 is playing violin in the national youth orchestra and then to go on and play music at oxford how did that happen?
Wasfi Kani - So when you describe it sort of happens in one sentence but of course it doesn't it happens across 20 years and you start in one place I was just thinking the other day that when I was about when I was still in my primary school so I was about 10 there was another girl in the primary school and quite early on I heard her mother play the piano and I was very fascinated that's the first time I really heard someone play the piano and I begged my mother to get a piano and living in a council flat and there was one place where you could put it and somehow they helped my other my mother who never seen a piano probably in her life because I don't think there were many pianos in India because of the weather and they arranged for her to get it and then we just used to play the piano on our own and we didn't have any teachers and they gave us a couple of books these are the Wrights, Kenneth Wright he was called up and they gave some books and I taught myself to read music and there was some harder music but I never quite figured out how to play it and then when I was 12 and I went to a secondary school and I got some proper lessons so you know it starts as I said it starts gradually and it was just because of this these people the Wrights, they were the first people I kind of fell in love with music. And I remember when my hamster died that um living this is again, I must have been about 10. I felt the only way I could explain to people how sad I felt that my hamster had died was that there was a little piece of Beethoven that I used to play very simple piece not actually I was more than 10 I think I was about probably about 12 by then but I loved my hamster.
Tom Baigrie - uh Wasfi
Wasfi - How much did you love your hamster?
Tom - To take no to take it all the way to the present day yeah you in the uh at grange park opera are supporters of music in schools something about the robins or the
Wasfi - yeah so the project we do I like to emphasize that apart from my you know our goal is to put on excellent operas and at a very high standard with world class with properly world-class singers everyone says they've got world-class singers but people who are singing at the met him at um the royal opera house apart from doing that we've worked in prisons for more than 30 years every single year in a prison I’ve had some pretty dodgy people living in this house no longer and every week of the school year we give 4 000 primary school children a half hour singing class and these are exclusively in schools that have no access to music so there are many state primary schools where there is no access to music I was astonished and we started this project in 2013 with just like five schools in Hampshire and you know we've really run a mission to make it as big as possible we're now at 4 000 pupils every week of the school year it's quite a big project it's called primary robin's
Tom - somewhere out there is a another Wasfi Kani coming through listening to music for the first time played music as you did with a piano in the beginning
Wasfi - That's it that's it because you don't know how it touches them and the other thing about the primary robin's thing is because we supply the professional teacher that teacher actually facilitates better music teaching in the other teachers because they can see you know even if they see how you take a singing class so then some of the other teachers feel a bit more confident about taking a singing class.
Angus - They learn as well
Wasfi - Yeah
Angus - So I wanted to ask you getting that start where you had a piano, but you didn't have any traditional teaching you were teaching yourself that's a very particular start what do you think that that gave you?
Tom - The hard start.
Wasfi - I don't think it's a hard start I think we all have we'll have hard starts I do not feel sorry for myself I think what happens is that when little johnny is told that he's got to go to his um cello class every week when he wants to rebel when he's a teenager he gives up the cello because I didn't have these classes and I was and then when I got the classes I thought oh okay my mother and father paid absolutely no interest in it at all I won't go into in fact my father actively discouraged it they get they were absolutely not interested all they said is that we had to be top of the class that's the only thing they were interested in and that we had to work harder than everyone else so when you rebelled um you know I just practiced my violin more and more
Tom - Showing early signs of the indomitability that uh I’ve seen characterize your uh your current work in the world of opera, but you had a little gap in the middle was you left music and went into computing
Wasfi - So when I started so when I left oxford some of my lovely contemporaries whom I’m still in touch with they actually wanted to become professional musicians I actually realized that though I was a good violinist the only job I would ever get would be in an orchestra and whatever level you enter the profession at so if you enter the profession in an orchestra when you're aged 50 you won't be in much you know it's not like eventually you'll be the conductor you're just in the orchestra forever and I don't know there was something in me that I realized I just didn't want to be in an orchestra forever and I wasn't good enough to do anything else so I we didn't have any money and you know there was no question of my parents giving me any money at all actually what's interesting Angus is in those days when you when I went to oxford it didn't cost my parents anything and in fact I was even give for the first time I was given money my college bill was paid I think my basic residential bill was paid in my college and I was given this money to live on it's the first time you know I think I was given like a thousand pounds to live on for the term and it was like a massive amount of money it was incredible I could buy some clothes
Tom - And that was funded by the state or by the university
Wasfi - By the state and they even funded me to come to London for my violin lessons so you know how the world has changed so at the end I realized I didn't want to be a violinist and I actually was a lodger in some people were very kind to me because I didn't go back home in fact there's an amazing liberal um lord called Dick Taverne, Lord Taverne he wasn't a lord then and he famously um disagreed with that he believed in the common market and he was part of the labour party stepped out of the labour party he's now about 90 and stood as an independent MP in Lincoln and famously won he's a very clever guy and him and his wife let me lodge with them free when I left oxford and I was just trying to figure out what to do and I became a shorthand typist and to pay for my shorthand typing course I actually wallpapered people's houses I used to do things for a living so in my 20s I was kind of earning money like that then I became a shorthand typist and meanwhile Dick Taverne was saying you know you need to have some kind of a job other than making curtains typing and doing wallpaper and he suggested that I should look at computer programming because I’ve been very good at maths and I’ve got um a-levels in maths and things and I am actually quite numerate so I went to plessy radar and did a sort of aptitude test and I became I started computer programming there and then I kind of just got into the computer programming thing which suited me I like doing puzzles I still like doing puzzles so that's why I went into computing it was a very interesting time in computing because I left oxford in 78 and by the time I was in you know I’ve done a bit of computing mid-80s is the time when mainframes which are computers that were the size of this terrace of houses almost the power could be put into a box this big so this is the beginning of microcomputers it's you know it's big it's predates that so you could have these computers and it gave people the power to really to talk to the computer themselves rather than having it all on this tape and punched cards so I used to have to be the interface between as a programmer you're the interface between the man who's trying to for example the Kuwait investment office man who's trying to computerize his invoicing system for the first time and he'd need someone like me to design a system program it and then just say okay what you have to do is put that data in and you'll get this data out the other end but the beginning of microcomputers meant that you didn't need this intermediary and you could actually with spreadsheets and things you could actually run your work yourself massive change do you remember you're too young
Tom - No no no no I lived through that in my early
Wasfi - um so I’m 65 how old are you?
Tom - 60 so early 80s was just when I arrived, I arrived in Britain so you 81.
Wasfi - So you were witnessing that big change it was very interesting to be in the middle of it
Tom - I still sometimes wonder why on earth when I arrived here without a job from south Africa, I didn't think to get any job I liked in computing I mean any job I could any basic job sweeping the floor of the computer room because uh yeah what a thing to arrive at in the world at the time yeah but so you jumped from wallpapered pretty sensibly and short
Wasfi - Well it's a skill that stayed with me forever
Tom - yes no I appreciate that I really do appreciate that, but you jumped in terms of adding a living from that into this brand-new world where you were clearly in demand and working for huge businesses which is normally a good way of making a fortune were you running your own business or were you just literally self-employed contracting
Wasfi - so no not have salaried in these businesses being they used to call it body shopped to various other companies and um then I bought this house and then I became 30 and I thought how old are you?
Angus - 29
Wasfi - okay when I was 30, I had this massive kind of crisis thinking oh my god I’m so old what's going to happen and I’ve got this house when I’m 80 what won't I have done and I decided the thing I won't wouldn't have done if I just carried on getting richer because that's what I would have done I would have just got richer and I probably would have I don't know
Tom - yeah you had a great career in computers
Wasfi - so I looked at I said if I was 80 looking back at my life what would I regret not having done and the thing I would have regretted is not having done more with my music and that's the moment when A I decided to set up a small little consultancy myself I had some quite good clients, BT I used to have to go to various BT offices.
Angus - sounds quite a good client yeah
Wasfi - because of course I could set stuff up on microcomputers and give it to you know secretaries and they could achieve a lot of things so that yeah so you decided to give up and then I started studying conducting a bit and then I kind of went into then I made a little opera company then I made another opera company then I went to work at Garsington so then I got into my I kind of stopped computing really in about 1992 or 1993.
Angus - So you've started your own business in order to fuel your music career.
Wasfi - Yeah basically have the flexibility to say okay I’m not gonna work for a week because I’m gonna put on a concert or I’m going to yeah so that's what I did but I could you could do it with a minimal amount of money but you know I don't have a very I know my house is a little bit fancy now but I I’ve never ever you know I’m not an extravagant person.
Tom - Opera though is an extravagance opera is
Wasfi - Well people say that people say that but of course you know in the 19th century Verdi operas this is the opera of the people this you know these operas were written for the people and you know you know when Verdi wrote Rigoletto he wouldn't let anyone see the score till the first night because he knew that the organ grinder would be playing la donna mobile before it hit the stage so he had to have this one for the music it was popular music yeah okay and we forget about that
Tom - Your throwaway line and so I started an opera company then I started another little opera company then I started another and then I joined Garsington how do you start an opera company?
Wasfi - so when so when I first I was doing my conducting and I was uh going to study various places so I studied in various places and then one in one of my concerts I did the overture to the marriage of figaro and I got to the end of it and I thought what I’d really like to do is hear the whole opera now um I haven't actually been to the opera very much so I think I’ve been to the opera once before I was 20 then I think I went again when I was 26 or something so I didn't actually go I didn't really know much about opera and I but I knew a lot about music I knew how to read a score I could understand it and yeah so I started off just by putting on one opera in saint Luke’s Sydney street off the kings road yeah it was freezing it was in November
Tom - fantastic space though were you in, not in the church?
Wasfi - in the church
Tom - wow
Wasfi - yeah okay huge and you know we had to hire a lighting rig and have some scaffolding and I’d never done any of this before and I was just kind of commandeered various friends and managed to do it and it was kind of
Tom - and you had to sell tickets though
Wasfi - and I had to sell some tickets yeah to try and cover my costs
Tom - did you sell them out you did probably
Wasfi - I sold I sold enough I think yeah I don't quite know who came to these this very bad opera that I put on mind you it isn't that bad because Christophorus Stanboglis who was figaro he's a bass and he sings all over the world and it wasn't that bad but they were very young so anyway so that so that when you start you start an opera you put on an opera then you put on another opera and then you started an opera company and then and then of course I think what happened is that at the same time I started working in prisons and I’d become I’d just my whole prison thing is initially we used to create an opera and then I’d go to I’d say to a national trust house we'll come and do it if you have to put up the tent we need this amount of money and you can keep the rest of the money and I used to do it in national trust houses I did it in Coutts bank in all kinds of places and then one day I thought I think I’ll do this in a prison.
Angus - What comes before that thought why do it in prison?
Wasfi - um basically I’ve always thought there but for the grace of god and I think because of a few things that happened in my childhood you know there was, well I can't go into it but my well I could go into it, but you know we always thought that my father would could go to prison and rightly so if you ask me unbelievably violent I usually say I lived in a Quentin Tarantino movie I did which is probably why I’ve got a small talk left um so Angus you asked me why a prison and I think well I went to school behind a prison and I’d always been very aware of this idea there but for the grace of god go I. People don't go to prison because they've got black crosses on their hearts when they were born something happens to them and they ended up there and I had always believed they've done bad things, but it doesn't make them bad people and I you have to believe in redemption.
Angus - yeah
Tom - absolutely
Wasfi - you either have to kill them or believe in redemption
Tom - and rehabilitation shouldn't be their whole job of prisons.
Wasfi - they have to have the opportunity to redeem themselves and prison has to do that anyway so first I just did a couple of shows but then I had this idea that we'd actually put on an opera and the prisoners would be in it and the governor of wormwood scrubs which was the prison I then knew and I suggested it to him and he said he thought this was a great idea but the stable population of that prison um was the people serving life sentences mainly for murder um
Tom - because the rest are transient
Wasfi - the rest are all short sentences they're the people they they're the people the people serving life sentences you have to kind of have a career for them because that because if you're going to serve nine years 15 years even five years in order to give the purpose of the prison is to give them some kind of shape to those years so they come out as a useful member of society
Angus - right
Wasfi - so I we he said that we could do a joint production with one with scrubs and I said the piece that I want to do that I’ve always wanted to do but couldn't do because I didn't have a chorus was Sweeney Todd. It did make the front page of The Times but that's not why I did it anyway, so I did my Sweeney Todd, and I did various other things, and I was getting a lot of publicity A for being a woman conductor and B because of the stuff but I wasn't doing it for the publicity I was doing it because I just seemed like a good idea yeah so, I did my prison thing
Tom - So you're doing you're doing your prison thing yeah you were conducting yeah you went then to Garsington do they recruit you?
Wasfi - So they first asked whether we'd do a performance of Turn of the Screw they had a tiny festival and then what Leonard Ingrams realized was that he was the founder he was the founder yeah was that a I was brilliant at all the maths and I could probably and I knew how to run a company and b he was very he was very publicity hungry and he knew that I would bring publicity with me so I did and I built up the company and then but after about three four years I was being advised by supporters that they said it'll never be yours you should start your own and that's when I started um grange park opera in the Hampshire location
Tom - yes to do that is an unbelievable achievement, you talk one of Britain's richest families into backing you uh created a building in the middle of nowhere
Wasfi - so there's some so I did it in stages a lot of people knew me because of Garsington and because of all the other stuff I’d been doing I did it in stages first I did I just built a small theatre inside the orangery and it wasn't until four years later that I built the bigger theatre that you see down there now and I stayed we stayed there until 2014 when lord Ashburton told us that he wasn't going to renew our lease.
Angus - Just comparing the two the two businesses we've got the computer programming company on one hand and then the opera on the other yeah can you compare the two in terms of a leadership thing are you just responding to tasks left right and centre or the
Wasfi - the computer programming thing I wasn't the leader all I had to do was just turn up a British telecoms office and do the deed and come home and send them a bill I wasn't employing people so I wasn't a leader I was a problem solver and similarly with the opera company thing I mean the way I set it up probably is I could do it because I’m a problem solver I’m a terrible manager but I have very good people I have no interest in managing people I just want to be on my own that's all so I have very good people who manage whole rafts of sections of grange park opera and um so I’m not a leader I’m a I see myself as a kind of problem solver
Tom - that’s really interesting that's really interesting
Angus - I was going to ask you do you think all leaders are problem solvers no I don't think that at all I think all leaders bring something very specific to the way they do they just do they bring something specific I’m an ideas man so I lead LifeSearch by saying this is a really good idea come on let's do this and then other people tear it apart break it down and go no let's not do that Tom and I’m quite good at saying oh okay then but LifeSearch is the idea it was it's in itself the idea so that so that's what I do I’m not a very good problem solver
Wasfi - I’m more lowly than you because I go oh, I think I’ll do that, and I think I’ll do it by doing that and that and that and that and that and will you help me will you help me, so I do it at a I’m one level below you
Tom - Wasfi that's ridiculous but I know what you're trying to say what you're saying is you have a more basic approach to it yeah and I’m a bit more airy
Wasfi - but the difference between you and me also is my only goal is I’m not doing this to get richer you know I don't I haven't had a pay increase…
Tom - I love that you think I am.
Wasfi - when you have an idea your idea has to be commercially successful when I have an idea it doesn't have to be commercially successful all I have to do is get enough people to pay for it that's all I have to do so it is it's a big difference yours ultimately has to make a ton of money
Tom - fair enough fair enough I shall spend the rest of this interview trying to think of exceptions to that rule in my leadership career because it does sound very limiting but you
Wasfi - I don't have to make a tonne of money
Tom - So I tell you who you do lead I can I see you leading it leading them all the time no matter how many times you say you're not a leader you are because you lead all those uh supporting patrons whatever you know all those people
Wasfi - no I’m a showman I make a stirring speech and I say this is what we're going to do I’m Joan of arc, but I hope they don't burn me at the stake
Tom - no they don't they send you bucket loads of cash for they asking
Wasfi - yeah that's an amazing thing but I think it makes a difference that they can see that I’m not doing this that I’m not doing it to get richer they know that
Tom - So Wasfi when the charity of which you were chief exec when all the trustees and the whole organization you had built was given its marching orders by the uh once noble people of Hampshire you ended up in with a charity with a great big machine and nowhere to run it just talk us through what happened then
Wasfi - my trustees were slightly dismayed because we had this charity um and they said well I think you should find a new venue and I think it should be much closer to London so I started you know like I’d found the place down in Hampshire I got my maps out I looked at a few places I talked to the national trust actually and then a very strange thing happened Ivanov jerry the guy I hang out with the laziest man in the world
Tom - he’s an Italian poet
Wasfi - he’s just an Italian lazy person he was looking at twitter one day and he saw that the telegraph was tweeting about the fact that Bamba Gascoigne had inherited a house from his aunt who was a duchess and he was the residual beneficiary of 350 acres in surrey and a 14th century house he was in his early 80s he's now in his mid-80s and Bamba and Christina don't have any children I know Bamba and Christina but I didn't want them to know that we've been chucked out of Hampshire so I had to send some spies along now you might think I would have done being more subtle than this I actually sent Joanna Lumley along I sent Joanna and her husband Stephen Barlow who does a lot of conducting for me and a couple of other friends who know Surrey very well to we got permission from Bamba through a kind of back door for them to go and have a look at the house and to have a look at the gardens so I hadn't seen it but my spies had saw it and we thought will the housekeeper pat recognized Joanna lovely but we decided she wouldn't
Angus - you’ve talked a couple of times about how as a company it's not a commercial operation all you have to do is to get enough wealthy people to give you money for it and then it's okay yeah so, I’m wondering
Wasfi - well poor people can give me money as well
Angus - poor people can give you money as well I take money from anyone does the world of opera speaking for the world of opera um yes you go to prisons but the band above that the people who can't afford to donate does the world of opera care about that if you're attracting the big money donors that can keep you going
Wasfi - so well the people who buy tickets for the opera so I have this is how it works I have a plan that I’m going to have Bryn Terfel singing the flying dutchman I’m going to have so and so singing this and we cost it and we say it's going to cost this amount of money and I reckon I can half of it I can get from ticket sales so then I have to raise the other half from donations so anyone can come to the opera who can buy a ticket now there's some expensive tickets but in fact just recently it's quite interesting I actually re-banded um and I we now have during the six-week season there'll be 3 000 seats that are less than 90 pounds now you think 90 pounds in fact though is for 30 as well you think 90 pounds is a lot of money but you know if you really want people to spend 90 pounds in the pub in the evening I mean I don't but I think it's a lot of money but um so I’ve very purposefully allocated a good chunk of good seats yeah that are less than a hundred pounds oh there's a very important point I’d like to make the reason opera is so expensive is this when you go to a play at the national theatre I see five people on the stage to support five people on the stage backstage max you need another well say it's a very technical show say you have 10 people backstage you're paying five people yeah in an opera I’ve got 70 people in the orchestra pit say I’ve really cut back and I’ve only got 50. so, I’ve got 50 in the orchestra pit there's normally 40 in the chorus say I’ve cut back, and I’ve only got 24. I’ve got probably at least six principles yeah so; I’m getting to close on a hundred people to costume those people every night to make sure their clothes are clean I’m talking about you know you need at least five ten people on the crew moving the scenery around because it's a big stage again at least ten a night lighting people so that's why opera is expensive
Tom - you’re employing those people for the season yes and the season is eight weeks long
Wasfi - six seven weeks yeah
Tom - and they work flat out for that yeah you pay them well and you raise all the money needed to keep them well yes what happens to them afterwards
Wasfi - they're largely contractors now the singers for example will just they spend their lives you know they're going to like Simon king decides in Paris singing and then he'll he you know his contract with us is for three months in fact at the end of the contract is actually overlay overlapping with the royal operas he's doing something there so even the smaller stars and similarly the wardrobe people they take contracts so they'll take contract with me they'll take a contract with Wexford they'll take a contract with the globe and so a lot of these theatres you don't always need the same number of people so you don't have this big salaried staff you're buying um ex buying in your expertise
Tom - understood and you have to you say you don't leave but you do have to lead those you have to inspire them they have to want to work at Grange Park they have to want that contract
Wasfi - other people do that so this is how I’m very lucky, so I have you know one person who just deals with all the technicians another person who deals with all the chorus another person
Tom - and I want to say you must have created that to appoint whoever runs the wardrobe people for you must have appointed them
Wasfi - so the we I was involved in appointing he's called the production manager who will be speaking to the wardrobe people um
Tom - that sounds like every other business leader it goes to business of scale it's about who you employ
Wasfi - I was kind of involved but I didn't the key person two other people really just said to me they like they thought he was very good and they wanted to have him and I said I want to have a conversation with him and then of course it's fine so I you know I’m slightly removed from deciding whether but I will say mind you after the season I do say oh I didn't like that assistant wig person she seemed to be outside smoking her cigarettes all the time and they you know they will you know I do notice what everyone's doing I notice who works hard and then you know
Tom - why on earth do you say that that isn't business leadership and you're not a business leader it was for you for you because I think that's exactly what business leadership is you have a particular style and method but you are the leader of grange park opera in all things and they follow your commands and your wishes and you empower and trust them to do the big job I mean that's just normal business leadership
Wasfi - when I’m there there's a load of people doing that you know I don't there's most of the things that happen on the site of an evening I’m actually removed from all of them and I will you know I you know if there's if there's litter I’ll ask and I’ll pick it up or if there's lots of weeds I’ll start weeding but I will ask why the litter's there and whose job was it to pick it up and am I the only person who can see the litter
Tom - well I mean that's exactly what he does at some point I mean it's a telephone-based company yeah, he's not on the phones
Wasfi - yeah but Tom what you do so I think what you do which I probably do in my funny small Indian woman ray is that you do have to walk around and be charming which is exhausting oh I see you do it yeah absolutely unbelievable but it's just very tiring oh it is I know you are performing you're performing yeah and what's more you know what's worse is you have to have some clothes to wear every night I need a valet
Angus - for the people probably quite many who listen to this podcast who will never go to an opera can you explain to them why you've dedicated your life to opera the first thing is you must come to the opera because the opera isn't anything special you don't have to know anything I hate this phrase opera buff you don't have to know anything all you have to do you have to walk into a theatre sit in a seat and there'll be other people sitting in seats with a bit of luck and then a narrative will unfold accompanied by music and the sir titles always tell you what they're singing if they're singing in a foreign language and here's the crucial bit all you have to do is feel things it's all about feeling things you'll feel something but the person you're sitting next to will probably feel something slightly different but what you're feeling is really telling you about yourself about your past about your potential and about your humanity and that's why I think that's what opera does that theatre can't do as well because it doesn't have the musical element but I actually think because of the music it informs your humanity and in that respect it actually makes you a better person
Tom - and the difference between or how opera does that is because the human voice takes one naturally into a space of emotion good point I remember quite clearly going to grange park opera and hearing opera sung for the first time and feeling that that the sheer power of the notes the sheer depth of the emotion necessary to sing like that brings it out in you and it is that connection between the music the voice and your emotions you went straight to it you know what you're talking about but it is that that just made me think okay I get it now I really do this no other art form makes you feel like opera makes you feel
Wasfi - and an interesting point Angus is that people say why don't young people go to the opera I actually think it's something that comes to you later in life when you've experienced more of life a lot of opera is about death and when you're young you haven't really experienced death so that's why I think it's a bit like gardening it comes to you later in life
Tom - I think you're absolutely right I also think that as you get older so you get more emotional you know oh people tear up a lot more easily than young people generally speaking I find and the older you get the more prone you are crying about stuff but you're very happy when you get older to go into that emotional space to let the art take you in there yeah and you know what's coming you know your heartstrings are going to be pulled left right and said oh you're going to end up roaring with laughter one of the two
Angus - as I understand it from him your operas have been tremendously successful
Wasfi - so Angus I never used the word successful about myself I just always feel I’m that poor person who hamster died when I was 12. so I never used the word but so the most frequent question I get asked is it's very annoying could we have a cup of coffee so you can tell me about how to do fundraising you can't kind of teach someone how to do it so when you say what would you if someone's plates aren't spinning it's because usually they haven't they're spending more money than is coming in sure but you can't just you can't just suddenly magic up money for them um
Tom - you say that but I know how to get fundraising right you approach it with incredible energy absolute refusal to be put off by anything you go with incredible courage to the richest people you can find you hurl yourself at them convince them that you are worth backing and they fall for that yeah they fall for that like flies and then you then you take it further and you evidence to them time after time after again that this was money well spent and then it's a great cause and then they keep the money flooding in so you can have a cup of coffee and just repeat that to people just do what I do because you do it fantastically
Wasfi - for me no because people have different amounts of energy to devote to their company and I think it's pointless saying that they can see that I don't know and you I think people do want to back something that's looking like it's success successful and which sort of puts pressure on you because you have to make sure that the next thing's successful the other thing I try to do is I try to not do everything just really normal opera repertoire I’m always doing something weird and wacky and I think people appreciate that yeah so I’d like I did a Rimsky Korsakov opera that was it was a brilliant production that hadn't been performed here since 1909 and you can put on a brilliant production just by employing brilliant people um anyway so I say if you're opera if your plates are crashing to the ground there isn't a magic bullet there are probably lots of elements that you need to look at you probably need to work harder
Tom - do you know I was about to say that there is a magic bullet it doesn't always work but it's quite likely to be a lot more energy than you're putting in a lot more courage and a lot more work if you bring those three things into a failing venture uh provided you've got the business nouse to not make the terrible mistakes then that you can turn the pat you've got a good chance of turning around yeah
Angus - so if you were the 12-year-old girl that you were growing up today what advice would you give to yourself
Wasfi - I’m always being asked this question if you don't want to answer it you don't have to kind of, I think I’ve sort of covered it in all the other things okay but so you know what do I know you know of course I you know you know a million things that you didn't know when you were 12. but it's kind of a bit pointless saying if I’d done that that would have done differently because you don't know if you don't if that's true really do you if you had done something differently whether the outcome what the outcome would have been yeah
Tom - well let's put it slightly differently because it was your 30-year-old self that did something very odd you decided to forgo a money-making career and not strive for the top in an area where you were expert and highly in demand and very well paid which is what most people dream of you decided to back your slightly wobbly passion for opera
Wasfi - no I think what I did was fine I think
Tom - Do you not see it as hugely brave because we do no I think I think my life's got better you know having had this very strange start I think my life's got better and better and better and Tom I do I will I would say that I’m so lucky that people you and you know there aren't people like you but there are other people putting money into this company I am so lucky I take none of it for granted and you know I’m very flattered when you say these nice things about me but I you know I’m genuinely unbelievably grateful to you and my wonderful range of donors you know some of whom give 200 pounds a year and some give 50 000 pounds a year and they do it because they believe that culture is important
Tom - that gratitude is entirely reciprocated because we get fantastic value for money it's not really value for money it's value for commitment value for emotion value for everything I don't go to grange park opera ever without having a time that means something to me at a different level to almost any of the other experiences that I that I spend time and hobbies on and yeah you deliver a phenomenal experience and it seems to me almost every time that your first force of personality that that force field that you march around with it's that that does it's a great opera without you hmm you need to succession plan and I have no idea how you begin to do that
Wasfi - I think it will kind of change but I don't particularly want to stop that was a very nice speech and I shouldn't have cut across the end of it I don't particularly want to stop working I think people get very boring when they stop working and I’ll probably be doing this in some shape and form for the next 10 years and I do actually think about that you know I have some young people in the office who I genuinely think but to be the person with the flashing light on their head that's what you need
Tom - Wasfi thank you very much indeed
Angus - can’t believe I’m saying this but after that I’m ready for an opera thanks Wasfi next Wednesday I’ve got Melvyn Nwajei coming at you he is a new leader at LifeSearch but he is not new to leadership he has led many times before including clubs where he found gold maces and butcher's cleavers if you want to know what I’m talking about listen in next week and to make sure you don't forget please subscribe give us that five star review and all of those other lovely podcast things that is season two off with a bang thanks all for listening see you next week bye
The handover from successful entrepreneur to successor CEO is notoriously fraught with danger. Join Tom Baigrie and LifeSearch's new CEO, Debbie Kennedy, as they look to draw up a map through the whirlpools.
Tom and Angus sit down with a leader from inside LifeSearch, Melvyn Nwajei leads a team of telephone interviewers but also after George Floyd's murder was one of the founding members of LifeSearch's Fairness and Diversity Squad.
Wasfi Kani - When I'm 80 what would I regret not doing?
Wasfi Kani is a violinist turned computer programmer turned Opera CEO and whether you are an Opera lover or snoozer she won’t fail to interest you. Welcome to the first episode of Searching for Elephants Season 2.