The team

We work closely with senior management and the Board, at their Head Office, as well as in market when necessary. We help clients to deal with the challenges of doing business internationally, overcoming trade barriers, operating difficulties and cultural differences.

Neil Blakeman

Areas of expertise: International business, digital education, international strategy; trade, investment and partnering; general management, business development, government relations; China / Asia and emerging markets.

Neil is a senior consultant with 30 years of international commercial experience in business and education, working in the UK, China, Asia, Central Europe and other international markets.  He has worked closely with companies of all sizes and across many sectors on international strategy, business development, operations and growth. 

Neil worked with FutureLearn from 2013-17, the global social learning platform offering short courses and degrees from leading Universities. As Chief Business Officer, he oversaw partner recruitment & growth, content & course development, and managed relationships with business and government.

Previous consultancy clients have included blue-chip multinationals, universities and business schools as well as leading public-sector and independent institutions, and start-ups which are ‘born global’.

Prior to becoming a consultant, Neil was the UK Government’s Director of Trade and Investment for China (Commercial Counsellor), based at the British Embassy in Beijing, and previously, International Trade Director for the Department for International Trade (then UKTI), for the South West of England.

Before working in the public sector, Neil had numerous senior roles in the private sector, many of them based overseas; in Poland as General Manager for the Tetley Group, and for ten years with United Distillers (now Diageo) in Czech Republic & Slovakia, in France, and based in London for the Middle East & Africa. 

Neil has a First-Class honours degree from the University of Sheffield in business.  He speaks fluent French and some Czech, Polish and Chinese.



Sylvia Schwaag Serger, Ph.D.

Areas of expertise: Science, technology and innovation; China’s economic and scientific development; international relations; European policy and enterprise.

Sylvia has worked extensively with innovation policy and practice, in the Swedish, international and Chinese context.

She is currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Lund University. In the past she has held a number of academic, government and advisory roles including Senior Advisor Asia, Swedish Institute for Growth Policy Studies (Stockholm and Beijing), and Guest Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2012-16).

From 2005-2007, Sylvia was Counsellor Science and Technology at the Swedish Embassy in Beijing where she analysed China’s innovation system and policy. She has published several reports and articles on different aspects of China’s economic and scientific development and its implications for the rest of the world.

Sylvia holds a Ph.D. in economic history from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). She also has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University (SAIS). In addition to her native languages German and English, she is also fluent in Swedish, French and Italian and speaks some Chinese.


Professor Robin Porter

Areas of expertise: government relations; science and technology; higher education; automotive engineering; the Chinese media; Chinese business practice; tailored management training.

Robin Porter has thirty-five years experience as a China specialist; he first visited China in 1972 and has lived and worked there on and off since. He holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies.

From 2002 to 2005 Robin was Counsellor for Science and Innovation at the British Embassy in Beijing, where he was the senior diplomat responsible for promoting research ties between British and Chinese institutions, negotiating science policy issues for the Government, and undertaking public diplomacy projects in science and other areas related to the Government's wealth creation agenda.

Prior to this he was Professor of Business (Asia Pacific) at La Trobe University in Australia, and earlier Head of the China Business and Policy Unit at Keele University in Staffordshire. In the 1980s Robin was for four years full-time Adviser to the China Trade Group of the British motor industry.

Robin is a fluent Chinese speaker. In 1994 he co-authored the book The China Business Guide, at that time the DTI's recommended published source of advice on business with China.


Sir John Daniel

John spent seventeen years as a university president in Canada (Laurentian University) and the UK (Open University) before joining UNESCO as Assistant Director-General for Education in 2001 and serving as President of the Commonwealth of Learning from 2004-2012. He has been closely involved in the development of open and distance learning for 40 years. Best known among his 380+ publications are his books Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education and Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth for services to higher education in 1994 he has received 32 honorary doctorates from universities in 17 countries and was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013.


Professor Mike Sharples

Professor Mike Sharples is Emeritus Professor of Educational Technology in the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK. His research involves human-centred design of new technologies and environments for learning. He has led collaborative projects on mobile learning, AI and education, and learning at scale with partners including BBC, British Telecom, Microsoft, Sharp, and IBM. As Academic Lead for FutureLearn, he informed the design of its innovative social learning approach. He is Associate Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies. He is lead author of the Innovating Pedagogy report series and has authored over 300 published papers in the areas of educational technology, science education, human-centred design of personal technologies, artificial intelligence and cognitive science.


Sir Eric Thomas

Sir Eric Thomas was knighted for services to Higher Education in 2013. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol 2001-15, President of Universities UK 2011-13 and Chair of the Worldwide University Network 2003-07. He chaired the Government Taskforce into Increasing Voluntary Donations to Higher Education which reported in 2004, the so called Thomas Report. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1976 becoming a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.

He is currently Patron of The Conversation UK, Vice-Chair of the new university NMiTE, a Governor of the University of the Arts London and a trustee of HRH Commonwealth Study Conferences and IntoUniversity.


Myles Runham

Myles Runham has been working in and around the web for twenty years in many roles from marketing and product development to senior leadership in a variety of sectors. Eight of these years were at the BBC, as Head of Interactive Learning, running education and learning services for students, teachers and parents and most recently as Head of Digital for the BBC Academy, managing the digital strategy and activity of the learning and development functions for staff and the international industry. Prior to this, he ran the European business of (Ask Jeeves). He now advises businesses on digital strategy, digital product development and user experience design.


Ms. Minji Xu

Ms. Minji XU is a specialist in UK-China projects, and has been involved in a range of areas, including online education and strategic consultancy. Recent projects seek blended approaches for cross-cultural experience and learning. Minji has worked in the past for FutureLearn, Rocket Internet and BCG. She is strategic and action-driven, collaborative and achievement-focused, naturally curious, passionate in Education, Technology and Design, and believes in the concept of a “Global Village”.


Samantha Northey

Samantha runs her own management consultancy. She represented a number of international organizations in a senior capacity across Asia since 2003, including large, publicly listed businesses as well as private, family-owned enterprises. Samantha has experience across a range of sectors including international trade promotion, private equity, agriculture, food safety, construction materials, power generation and wireless connectivity. She held a number of non-executive roles: Member of the International Consultancy Commission for the CCPIT; Chair of the Agriculture, Food & Beverage Industry Working Group, EUCCC; Chair for the Food, Drink and Agriculture Forum, CBBC and “Bright Crop” Ambassador for the UK Government Program. Samantha provides pro-bono support to Volant Partners, a group focused on the Belt & Road Initiative, and was a Non-Executive Chairman for Foundation for Youth Social Entrepreneurship, a social enterprise promoting next generation entrepreneurs amongst youth groups and women in Asia.


Jeremy Ellison BSc. FCA

Area of Expertise: Growth Capital, Management Buy-outs, Succession Planning, Financial engineering, Company re-structuring, grant funding, private equity raising.

Jeremy Ellison is a chartered accountant of 30 years and has spent much of his career working with growing SME’s. Having worked for a private equity group and operated as CFO and CEO of private equity backed businesses he is able to advise on how best to approach various funding opportunities and groom businesses for an eventual sale. Jeremy qualified with PWC in 1987, gained experience of the private equity market with ECI Partners, joined Medico-Legal Reporting, backed by 3i, as CFO moving to CEO in 2006, seeing the business through to a sale to Capita.

Jeremy has been a director of three SME’s operating in the South West of England in a range of sectors and has completed an MBO, business sale, equity and debt fund-raisings, grant fund-raisings and a de-merger and continues to work towards engineering profitable exits for stakeholders.

Corporate partners



Unthinkable Consulting has a rich pedigree in education, the arts, media and technology. We work in a variety of roles, from digital strategy and product and concept development through to training and development. We’ve worked across an equally diverse range of sectors including education, broadcasting, arts and culture, central and local government and the charitable sector.

For us, nothing is off the shelf; rather we offer entirely bespoke work for our clients, immersing ourselves in their business, because we know that is the only way to deliver useful strategies. Listening deeply and responding honestly to our clients are central to the way we work. We are also obsessed with quality, critical thought around technological innovations and a straightforward, jargon-free approach to communication. Current and recent clients include the British Academy, the Inns of Court College of Advocacy, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, FutureLearn, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Heart n Soul and the Serpentine Galleries.


Crayfish provides instant access to the Chinese speaking talent, cultural expertise and multi-lingual support businesses need to achieve their goals.

Whatever the company’s size, on our platform they are in charge. Our network of Chinese experts provides a rapid, cost effective and accessible service that allows them to ensure their projects are completed when and how they need them to be, at a cost that suits their budget.

Services offered range from translation to interpreting; recruitment, sales and business development; digital marketing and other business support. We also provide a bespoke service to deliver tailored solutions with guaranteed quality and peace of mind.

We enable and empower everyone to unlock their Chinese dreams.


Tucker and Partners

Tucker & Partners provides corporate finance and strategic advisory services to clients mostly in the technology, energy and infrastructure, and related sectors. Much of our focus is on facilitation of transactions with China. We provide services in four main areas:

  • corporate finance and investment
  • strategic advisory services
  • international business development
  • economic development.