Intellectual Curiosity: How The Growth Of Institutions Like The Athenaeum Club Have Contributed To The Life And Success Of London


One of the great strengths of London is its many independent – and often quirky – institutions. They range from professional societies to Livery Companies which, in the aggregate, have done much for education, training, standards and developments in their particular fields. The Athenaeum which next year celebrates its bicentenary is a prime example of the genre. Its founder, the then Secretary to the Admiralty, John Wilson Croker, set out his vision for an intellectually curious establishment in a letter to polymath and inventor of the mining safety lamp, Humphrey Davy. In it, he proposed the formation of: “a club for literary and scientific men and followers of the fine arts”.

True to Croker’s aspiration, the Athenaeum’s members are elected for their attainments rather than their birth, a policy that has seen the club’s membership span the intellectual spectrum sweeping up, along the way, over 50 Nobel Prize Winners. The Club provides a vehicle for members (since 2002 both men and women) not only to develop and explain the results of their own work, but also to share ideas with others in a world where so many of the great challenges require multi-disciplinary solutions and strong political support.

The webinar will have the format of a Q&A session with Sir Philip chairing it and Sir Kenneth providing the narrative. Together they will explore how the growth of the institutions has enabled them to make such significant contributions to social justice and competitive advantage in London. The Athenaeum provides some particularly good examples in the fields of innovation and the strengthening of civil society.


Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE CStJ FRSA FBCS started work in technology as a Systems Engineer with IBM from whom he won a scholarship while at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. After IBM he spent a dozen years as a senior executive at Wang Laboratories in the US and Europe. As the dotcom boom gathered pace he founded Interregnum, a technology merchant bank, which was floated on AIM in 2000 followed by Restoration Partners, another technology merchant bank, of which he is chairman.

Sir Kenneth has considerable non-executive experience in commercial, charitable and public service entities. He has served as an NED of major public companies on both sides of the Atlantic (including Reuters, Open Text and Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation) and Chair of a portfolio of high-potential private technology enterprises (including Proxymity and Interswitch, Nigeria’s largest e-payments company). He is a former Trustee of social inclusion charities (including Peabody Trust, Thames Reach and Shaw Trust) and is currently Chair of social mobility charity, Aleto Foundation and the capital’s promotion body, BusinessLDN (formerly London First). He has also been a regulator,

serving on the inaugural boards of the Postal Services Commission and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA). His interests in social mobility are reflected in his membership of the Parker Review and creation of the Aleto Foundation. He was awarded an OBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours list for services to homeless people in London and he was knighted in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List for services to business and philanthropy.

Sir Philip May studied history at Lincoln College, Oxford, and was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1979. He subsequently worked in finance, including fund management with De Zoete & Bevan, Prudential Portfolio Managers and Deutsche Asset Management. His last appointment was with Capital Group as a relationship manager. He was knighted in 2020 for political service.

Sir Philip is a member of the Executive Committee of the Athenaeum and Vice Chair of its Bicentenary Committee.