A school for ambitious leaders


By Melissa Andrada and Robert Jones

Wolff Olins is a child of the 1960s. One of our first clients was The Beatles. Shaking things up, challenging the status quo, making a difference in the world has always been a part of our DNA.

This is in part why we started Kitchen. It’s a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world. It’s a school where people can learn about things not typically taught in business school – things like how to be original, how to workshop to solve problems, how to make a creative climate that inspires innovation.

In the spirit of cofounder Wally Olins who first democratised our thinking through his book The Corporate Personality in 1978, we wanted to share half a century’s worth of experience, thinking and tools. Through our consulting practice, we’ve been lucky to work with some of the most impactful and inspiring brands in the world, from the Olympics to Google, from Virgin to NYC. Now through learning, we want to equip ambitious leaders – from large companies to small businesses to startups – to build businesses that drive positive social and commercial impact.

Setting up a school within Wolff Olins was something the company had been kicking around for a few years. It largely came into being because of two people who shared a passion for learning.

Education is what gets me up in the morning. Ever since I was kid, I’ve always loved learning, and teaching is actually how I got into branding. I’ve spent the past few years teaching startups at places like General Assembly and CcHUB on how to use brand to make money and do good things.

And Robert was responsible for setting up the first masters in brand leadership at the University of East Anglia. He spends every Monday teaching his students on how to become better and more purpose-driven leaders in business. Elegantly bridging together theory and practice, Robert’s work in academia and business inform each other.

Our first education collaboration together was the Secret Power of Brands, a massive open online course (or what they call a MOOC) on Futurelearn that has reached tens of thousands learners around the world. Building on the success of our first MOOC, we decided to set up Kitchen in December of last year.

Robert and I thought about calling our school ‘Wolff Olins Academy’, but decided to name it after our actual kitchen in the London office. Monday through Friday, from 1-2pm, everyone in the company – from our CEO to our designers to our security guards — step away from our work to eat lunch in the kitchen. We’ve got an amazing chef, and every day is like Thanksgiving.

We want our teaching spirit to feel like a kitchen – to be behind the door, around the table, and about making things in a messy but good way. We want to share our expertise in a way that encourages people to be brave, experiment and learn from each other. Since our launch, we’ve taught 28 classes to thousands of learners around the world – from as far as Lagos, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires.

For Robert and me, this is just the beginning. There is still so much more learning that we have to do. Come join us.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins and is also a lead strategist in the London office. 

Robert Jones is head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting Professor at the University of East Anglia.

Three Learnings on Moving the World


By Melissa Andrada 

There are so many important causes in the world – and positive social impact is what drives most of us at Wolff Olins. It’s why I joined. Many of those causes don’t get the attention they deserve. Animal protection is one of them.  

This is why we’ve spent the past two years collaborating with World Animal Protection (formerly called the World Society for the Protection of Animals), a global nonprofit organisation with a big ambition to end animal suffering. For over 50 years, they’ve been protecting the lives of millions of animals. Although they make  this level of impact they aren’t known on the street. In fact, research showed that only 7% of people surveyed across the world were aware they existed.

How can you motivate people to end animal suffering if people don’t know who you are? How can you move more people to protect animals?

This is what we set out to solve with our partners Collette Collins, Deputy Director of Communications and Pippa Rodger, Director of Communications leading the way. 

It’s been an amazing journey – that’s really just starting.  We thought we’d share a few of the things we’ve learned, and how you might move the world for your cause. 

1. Start with The Why

Animal protection is a hugely important global problem, so how can we get people to care?

Start with purpose – start with what matters to them. The purpose we helped World Animal Protection articulate was ‘We move the world to protect animals’, now the driving thought behind not just their communications but their culture too.  

There’s a great TED Talk by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire everyone to take action by starting with The Why. In this talk, Sinek shares the Golden Circle, a simple yet powerful visual tool for sharing your story. It puts The Why at the center with The How and The What radiating outwards.

We used this tool to frame the story of World Animal Protection and uncover the purpose, looking at:

The Why: Why do we exist? Why does this matter?

The How: How is what we do different to what exists? What makes us special?

The What: What do we do that no else does?

2. Tools for action

The worst fear of any brand team is for your work to sit in unread strategy powerpoints and unused guideline pdfs. Almost everything we create begins with the question, “How can we make this even more useful?”

To that end, we helped them build a set of useful tools for making the story real in and outside of the organisation. Because we view workshops as a change methodology, we facilitated workshops with people across the organisation – from their global leadership team to fundraising, from human resources to communications.

Some of the work we’re most proud of includes helping the organisation shape their culture through  the  Four Moves – a tool that articulates the behaviours and actions needed from everyone inside the organisation to move the entire world to protect animals. Because we know that culture eats strategy for breakfast, our work is only as good as what people inside World Animal Protection believe in and the actions they take.

The most visible tools we’ve created are around the name and the visual expression. We first recommended changing the name to World Animal Protection. Names are incredibly powerful. I remember one of our principals – Sam Wilson – saying to another client, “Your name is just one of the many tools in your arsenal. Make sure it works hard for you.” Their former name – World Society of Protection of Animals, often shortened to WSPA – wasn’t too long and often a barrier to achieving their ambition of ending animal suffering.

There’s a lot of noise in the world. Not only do you need a simple and memorable name; you need a visual expression that cuts through. Working closely with the internal team, design director Dan Greene designed a simple visual expression to make it easy for their people to create new things – whether it’s for the website, the office walls or a high level disaster management conference installation .

While these two things might be the most visible, as Collette Collins said “Our brand is so much more than our new name and logo.  This is about embedding our purpose into everything we do, so no matter where we are in the world or what we’re doing, people will know who we are, what we stand for and be inspired to join us”

3. Real change takes time

In a world driven by the startup ideology of ‘lean and fast’, it’s important to remember that while it is important to test, try new things and act, that real change takes time – and is hard.

While our original project with World Animal Protection has ended, we’ve continued working with the organisation – from learning to acting as a sounding board to their management team as well as running design clinics.

Like most people when you’re trying to shift mindsets – inside and out, you need to be patient. You need to constantly equip people with tools to help them act.  You need to be prepared to evolve your story, to change as the world changes.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world. Melissa also is a lead strategist at Wolff Olins. World Animal Protection was her first project in the London office. She feels incredibly lucky to have collaborated with such an amazing team.

Thanks to Project Lead and Strategy Director, Richard Houston; Account Management Coach, Beatrice Vears; Design Director, Dan Greene; Designer, Rosie Isbell; and of course our friends at World Animal Protection – Collette Collins and Pippa Rodger.





Give it a go


Meet Jonas Schwarz Lausten.

Jonas is a Nordic boutique hotel entrepreneur in Nigeria. He’s responsible for developing Abuja’s top two hotels on Trip Advisor.

When he’s not disrupting the hospitality industry, Jonas acts as a new business manager for Seismonaut, a strategic innovation and concept consultancy, with offices in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Abuja.

I met Jonas, along with Seismonaut’s managing director and co-founder Anders Mogensen, for breakfast at the Radisson Blue, a hotel overlooking the Lagos lagoon. We spent the morning swapping stories over our unexpected connections to Nigeria and the process of setting up a business here as an oyibo?—?‘foreigner.’

So Jonas, why should someone from outside start a business in Nigeria?

One, great business. Two, great people. Three, great weather. Four, it’s an adventure?—?a new and up-and-coming market with so much potential.

It requires risk and a lot of hard work, but if you’re up for the challenge, you should definitely start a business here.

If not to start a business just to get inspired here. There’s so many things going on right now?—?from new restaurants to new hotels to new agencies to new ways of thinking about art and music. If you’re considering a new market, come to Nigeria, come to Africa.

Taste the food, shake hands with people, look them in the eye, have discussions with them, you’ll learn that they live the pretty much the same lives that we do in the West.

You guys are from Denmark, what’s your connection to Nigeria?

My dad worked in Nigeria, and Anders, our MD at Seismonaut, grew up in Nigeria and at one point, he met the former vice-president Atiku Abubakar’s daughter at her wedding. In Nigeria, you present the gifts to the father and Anders speaks fluent Hausa, so he went up to the vice-president and said, “Thank you for welcoming me to this wonderful party.” And Atiku asked, “Why do you speak my language?” then they started to talk. Anders presented a few ideas and talked about the digital services we offer at Seismonaut and a few days later they had a meeting in Abuja. Long story short, we ended up working on the media strategy for his election campaign in 2011. He was very much inspired by Obama, and having a more transparent campaign. That was the beginning of our business in Nigeria, and instead of bringing the money back to Denmark, we invested it back in the local economy.

What have you done since that campaign? You’ve set up Nordic hotels in Nigeria, which to me, sounds like an oxymoron.

When we were looking to set up in Nigeria, we couldn’t really find an office space. It was very expensive, we thought, ‘We’re sick and tired of paying $300-$400 a night for a pretty random hotel with no internet connection, no service, a run-down, moldy and smelly room.’ We thought, ‘Why not let’s give it a go?’ Let’s find a space where we can set up our office, rent space to other players, set up rooms?—?and call it the Nordic Villa. After few months, we became number 1 on Trip Advisor in Abuja, we were beating the Hilton, the Sheraton, and we thought okay this is actually good, we can do this. We expanded and now we have 2 boutique hotels in Abuja now.

This is a series of conversations and essays about entrepreneurship in Lagos. You can read Melissa’s full collection of conversations and essays on entrepreneurship in Lagos here.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world. 

Every problem is an opportunity


By Melissa Andrada

Meet Iyinoluwa Aboyeji who goes by ‘E’.

E is the CEO and cofounder of Fora, a startup based in Lagos whose purpose is to make university more accessible to millions of young people in Nigeria. He’s 22 years old, but has both the heart and hustle of folks far greater than his age.

We spent an afternoon gorging on croaker fish, jolloff rice and pepper soup at Terra Kulture, and of course discussing what it means to start something in Nigeria. This is just a snap shot of our conversation.

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in Nigeria?

“For most people in Nigeria, entrepreneurship is not a choice. It’s a necessity to put food on the table.”

Coming from SF and NYC, where entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey are often perceived as our generation’s new rock stars, this struck me.

The Nigerian entrepreneur is the woman exchanging currency for better rates than the banks, the hawker selling water in jerry cans to homes without running water. They’ve identified a clear market need, but the problem is scale. From the lack of a stable banking system to the absence of an investment community to government regulations to the fear of getting robbed, the barriers to starting up a business that scales are high.

“Part of what I want to do is change the way entrepreneurship is perceived in Nigeria. To view is it as the first choice, not the last.”

How can you start a business that scales with so many social, political and economic barriers?

“It’s pretty tough. The key thing to learn in a society with a lot of problems is there are tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities. Outside of Nigeria, it’s important to look at the problems around you as opportunities.”

What problem are you solving?

“I started Fora because there was huge challenge in the education system that I felt like I had the experience, will and drive to solve. The big problem is in the lack of quality education that can scale. To give you an idea what the issues are, there’s 1.7 million who write entrance exams, but universities in Nigeria are only able to take less than half a million of them. This basically means that 20% of the kids who apply to university who should be in school aren’t in school. For me, we came here to solve this question: how can we scale quality education using technology quickly?”

This is a series of conversations and essays about entrepreneurship in Lagos, you can also read about them on Medium.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up Kitchen from Wolff Olins, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world. 

Notes on Nigeria


By Melissa Andrada

Email scams. Oil production. Political corruption. Danger.

When people think of Nigeria this is often what comes to mind.

For me, it makes me think of people. My parents who emigrated from the Philippines to work in Kano during the ‘80s, my high school guidance counsellor Mr. Labi in Seattle who helped me get into uni, my friend Wunmi who is starting up her own home design company for Africa.

Nigeria and I have a special relationship. I was born there almost 29 years ago, but I only spent a year there before moving over to the States.

Nigeria is a country that is under the radar - highly misunderstood by the Western world. When I asked my friend for travel tips on Lagos, he said, “I wish I could say that it’s awesome you’re going, but it’s the country that I’ve felt the most unsafe in.”

The challenge is in part what attracts - the opportunity to explore a place people know very little about.

I’m particularly curious to know how entrepreneurs are building businesses in a country not known for innovation. I’m interested in understanding how people are solving problems despite the political, social and economic barriers. I’m keen to understand how innovation can flourish in unexpected places.

Thanks to the Wolff Olins Travel Grant, I’ll be returning to my birth country after nearly 30 years. 

For ten days in February, I’ll be learning, teaching and co-creating in Lagos. My main purpose is to learn as much as I can from the entrepreneurs, innovators and change makers in the city. Since one of the best ways to learn is to teach, I’ll be partnering with social innovation centers ccHub and Fate Foundation to teach entrepreneurs about the power of brand to drive business. I’ll also be collaborating with friends at Fora, a startup focused on making higher education content more affordable to young Africans.

My hope is to paint a more intimate and nuanced picture of what’s happening on the ground in Nigeria.

Look out for video and photo updates on this blog.

Melissa Andrada (@themelissard) heads up our new venture Kitchen, a school for ambitious leaders who want to build businesses that change the world.


Take a branding class with Wolff Olins

Do you have a hard time defining the vision behind your visionary idea —to customers, investors, or even to your mum? Is your elevator pitch standing a bit too awkwardly in the elevator?

Take a class with Wolff Olins’ lead strategist Melissa Andrada on how to use brand to nail your pitch.

This interactive session will equip you with the thinking and tools to take your brand to the next level. We’ll highlight key learnings directly from our clients and share tried-and-tested tools to help you build your own brand.

By the end of the class, you’ll be able to:

- create a compelling vision for your brand that brings in customers, attracts investors and inspires employees

- use your brand to drive impact across all parts of your business - from your Facebook page to your product offer to your office space

Sign up for the class here

Make enemies, not just friends

By Melissa Andrada 

"I want to engage in a meaningful conversation with people that dislike ‘branding, and what it stands for."

Ben Brookbanks, one of the participants on our online branding course, recently posted this comment. It struck a cord with me.

I believe that brand can be a force for good. That it can be used as a tool to create value for society, not just shareholders. At the same time, I know that the world is full of brand skeptics (even inside my office). And I welcome the challenge.  

In a company meeting, our London office managing director Ije Nwokorie told everyone to “connect with enemies and strangers, not just friends and family.” The world can often feel like an echo chamber – particularly now that almost everything digital can be filtered and personalised to our preferences. 

But if we’re going to create better brands and businesses, we have to step outside of our comfort zones and surround ourselves with people who challenge our assumptions. 

Real social progress happens through critical and meaningful conversation with those who think differently than us.

I recently listened to this brilliant TED NPR edit by Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five businesses, on how good conflict is central to progress. In this talk, Margaret describes how a cancer researcher named Alice Stewart collaborated with a statistician named George Kneale whose job it was to prove her wrong. Because of their critical collaboration, Alice had the academic confidence to prove to the medical establishment that x-raying pregnant women led to higher rates of childhood cancers. For George and Alice, conflict meant thinking together for a better world.

Let’s use conflict for good. Let’s find our George Kneale equivalent. Let’s go beyond just talking to strangers on the bus or at the store, let’s be as open as possible and connect with people who think about the world and live completely different than us.

Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about creating businesses that inspire people, do good and make money.

ney. Follow her @themellissard 

The secret power of brands


By Robert Jones, Melissa Andrada and the MOOC team

We are delighted to announce the launch of our first MOOC, ‘The Secret Power of Brands’ which begins on 14 October on Future Learn.

Produced by the expert team at Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia in association with Wolff Olins, The Secret Power of Brands will give anyone with a deep interest in brand the chance to learn from the experts in a convenient, on-demand way.

If you’re starting out on a career in branding, or if you work in a related area – like strategy, marketing, innovation or organisational development – or even if you just have an interest in branding, then this course is for you. The course will reveal the secret powers behind brands - the most potent commercial and cultural force on the planet.

You’ll learn directly from practitioners at companies like Virgin and Google, and watch brand experts in action. You’ll get a rich mixture of powerful theory and practical tools. With branding changing so rapidly, you’ll get the very latest insights and methods from the converging worlds of technology, design and brand.

The course ends by setting up the next stage of your journey. We’ll be opening up the many topics in branding that still need research. And you’ll learn how to define your own personal brand, and plan the next steps in your life in branding.

We hope you enjoy it. 


Robert Jones is head of new thinking at Wolff Olins and visiting professor at The University of East Anglia. Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist at Wolff Olins. 

Vulnerability = Creativity

By Melissa Andrada 

The world struggles with vulnerability. We see it as a weakness – something to be avoided.

But for TED Talk speaker, researcher and storyteller Brene Brown, “vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.”

When Brown receives invitations to speak, she’s often asked to “focus on innovation, creativity and change but perhaps hold off on that vulnerability or shame stuff.”

But ‘vulnerability and shame stuff’ is what enables us to be creative – the courage to take risks, make mistakes, fail.

The most creative innovation doesn’t happen through the pursuit of bulletproof certainty, but the acceptance of constant ambiguity.

The next time you hold a brainstorm, prototype a product, develop your company culture, think about how you can foster an environment of vulnerability. 

Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about the intersection between brand, technology and social impact. Follow her @themelissard

Rethinking the digital experience in Education


By Melissa Andrada

Television. Music. Mobile. Education is the next frontier of technological disruption.

The need to evolve has led universities to use digital technology to re-think how education is delivered. We’re seeing a gold rush of universities racing to digitise their campuses to offer free online courses to the world.

However, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Few universities are making the most of this new medium. Most mass online open courses (MOOCs) consist of a ‘talking head’ in a front of white board. It’s no wonder completion rates are less than 10%.

Yet online education has the potential to be so much more. Technology enables us to create learning that encourages:

Active Participation

Learning shouldn’t just be about listening and watching, but also, doing and making. Education resources, like Codeacademy, start by throwing people into the content headfirst. With Codeacademy, you can begin coding right away without evening signing in or watching an instructional video.

Fun Adventure

Learning doesn’t have to be a dull chore. Organisations like TED set the bar high for video talks. Along with the RSA Animates, they’ve elevated the lecture to an art. They create highly curated visual stories that move both the mind and the heart. They inspire us to fall into a rabbit hole, going from video to video, hyperlink to hyperlink.

Lifelong Learning

Learning shouldn’t stop when you’re 18 or 22. Education startups, like FutureLearn, are re-inventing learning for life. They will offer free online courses from top universities whenever and wherever you like. For FutureLearn, the classroom can be a lecture hall, a mobile phone, a museum, an airport. They are building an experience that welcomes everyone to learn, regardless of age, location or background.

My ambition is to put these principles into practice – to use technology to make learning sing. This summer Robert Jones, Head of New Thinking and professor at the University of East Anglia, and I will be co-creating a course on branding for FutureLearn. Our challenge and opportunity will not just be using the medium, but making the most of it.


Melissa Andrada is a lead strategist passionate about the intersection between brand, technology and social impact. In her spare time, she teaches entrepreneurs and startups how to build better businesses at General Assembly. @themelissard

Image via Code Academy and the New York Times