August 15, 2016
Lisa and I just returned from Cambridge University in the UK where for the last eight years we have enjoyed running “The Cambridge Program”. This year the Program was attended by 24 students from across the USA. As you probably know, Cambridge is a dynamic university town that has benefited from over 800 years of academic teaching and research. Over the years it has been home to 92 Nobel Prize winners – this total is 31 more than all of France!
It has always been enormously gratifying to be around young people seeing new places and exploring new concepts. Many of this year’s students were making their first trip overseas, and it was the first time on an airplane for some. As comfortable as it might be to stay close to family in your home town of Norwalk, Ohio or Greenville, SC, this was a life changing experience that gave our students a new perspective as they gained exposure to a foreign land and some strange customs!
Hearing the personal stories of these young people was eye-opening. During one session a student asked what he should do with his money if he did not trust banks. He had all $2,000 of his life savings hidden at home in cash. In the subsequent discussions I believe he saw more clearly the risk of having his savings exposed to theft or fire, and realized that, over time, he could turn his small nest egg into something more meaningful through thoughtful investing.
In addition to our usual topics such as the Mathematics of Money, Credit Cards, and Budgeting, we had lectures from Cambridge University professors. These included: “Understanding Brexit”, “My Neurons Made Me Do It”, “Big Data and the Genome Project”, “Why the Arts Matter”, and “People Trafficking and Slave Labor”. The speaker on Brexit explained that the UK has no incentive to hurry. Some time will pass before it invokes Article 50, which triggers a 2 year deadline for exiting the European Union. It is also very clear that there are many Brits who are beginning to regret their decision, and the result of the vote.
The pavements of Cambridge are evidence of the interconnected world in which we live. Growing up there in the 1960s and 1970s, the visitors were mainly from Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain. Today the largest group is from China, and the number of Chinese seems to double every year. Teeming with students from across the globe, Cambridge is also a magnet for tourists, with over 5 million visitors each year. You can only imagine that makes a city, with a population of 125,000, feel like it is bursting at the seams.
On the business front, AstraZeneca (a global pharmaceuticals company) has recently established a Global R&D Centre and Corporate Headquarters on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Around 1,000 senior executives have now bought, or are still looking to buy, homes in the $1.5m to $2m range. This has caused an extreme shortage in the housing market and pushed prices to ‘nose bleed’ levels. Prices of centrally located small townhouses are in the region of $600 to $700 per square foot. AstraZeneca executives are not getting a lot of house for their money these days.
I suspect that Cambridge will continue to be very successful. The University, tourism, and the ability to attract high tech businesses, will likely shield the city from the wider impact expected when the UK leaves the EU. Unfortunately my trip only confirmed a more pessimistic outlook for other parts of the UK.