Senior Alum Profile - September 2022

Professor Michael Mainelli

It was not so much an application to study, as an invitation to join a community.


  • Programme studied: PhD, MPhil, “Development of a Risk/Reward Meta-Methodology” (strategic planning, measurement, quality, Chaos Theory)
  • Year of Graduation: 1997 and 2004
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Professor Michael Mainelli (PhD 2004 and MPhil 1997) is a scientist financier trying to promote societal advance through better finance and technology. He became a senior partner with BDO Binder Hamlyn, and Corporate Development Director for the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Evaluation & Research Agency before co-founding Z/Yen in 1994, the City of London’s leading commercial think-tank. 

What is your current job title and what does this role entail?  

My current role is the Chairman of Z/Yen Group. Z/Yen is the City of London’s leading commercial think-tank, promoting societal advance through better finance and technology, renowned for its Global Financial, Green Finance, and Smart Centres indices. I continue to conduct research ranging from hard science through to economics and finance. 

How was your experience of studying at LSE? 

The degree programme genuinely changed my intellectual life. The wonderous flexibility and personal attention of the advisors drew me in. It was not so much an application to study, as an invitation to join a community. I was privileged to join an intellectual community I admired, with a mentor, Professor Ian Angell, who challenged me to develop critical thinking.  

Tell us about your career journey after graduating. 

Having started my education at Harvard University and Trinity College Dublin, I completed university education with a PhD from LSE. Along the way I also qualified as an accountant, securities professional, computer specialist, and management consultant. While studying, in 1994 I co-founded Z/Yen, the City of London’s leading commercial think-tank. I have advised numerous governments, corporations, NGOs, and cities around the world. After my PhD, I became a Visiting Professor at LSE’s Department of Management in Innovation & IT, and less than a year later Professor of Commerce at Gresham College, London’s Tudor ‘Open University’ and progenitor of the Royal Society.  

I remain Chairman of Z/Yen, FS Club, and the Esop Centre; Emeritus Professor and Honorary Life Fellow of Gresham College; non-executive Director of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (national standards body) and AIM-listed Wishbone Gold plc; Alderman for Broad Street Ward of the City of London; City & Guilds Council Member; Trustee of Morden College; Fellow of Goodenough College; Visiting Professor at UCL’s Bartlett School.  

Writing continues, as I've published over 50 journal articles and 200 commercial articles. My third book with Ian Harris, The Price of Fish: A New Approach to Wicked Economics and Better Decisions, based on my numerous Gresham lectures, won the 2012 Independent Publisher Book Awards Finance, Investment & Economics Gold Prize. I am active in the City of London community in ten livery companies and three ward clubs, past Master of the World Traders, and late Sheriff of the City of London 2019-2021, with charity interests in the environment, education, and care. Other interests include skiing, woodcarving, bagpipes, glassblowing, and racing boats & barges, sitting on the world’s oldest sailing racing body, the Thames Match. With an international family, I speak English, German, French, Dutch, and Italian poorly, but even worse Mandarin.  

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome? 

I don’t seem to have had the scale of physical, mental, or cultural hurdles that many others face, so the greatest challenges have been trying to get the resources to pay and participate for the activities I support. 

What is your greatest achievement? 

I’d prefer to look ahead and hope that my greatest achievement lies there, but if I had to answer immediately then back in my earlier career it would have been conceiving and leading the world’s first complete digital mapping project to completion in the early 1980s.  

At the moment, I’m thrilled that some suggestions of mine back in 2005 have led to an enormous policy performance bond (aka sustainability linked bond) market. The idea was to issue ‘outcome’ based bonds that pay higher interest rates if organisations fail to meet climate (or other social) targets - A bit like inflation linked bonds. From some early corporate issuance in 2018 the market now exceeds US$100 billion. In 2022, we helped with the first sovereign policy performance bond from Chile. These bonds are like handcuffs for governments, forcing them to follow through on their policies or compensate those who suffer because they change course or slacken. These policy performance bonds, combined with carbon markets, might well be the defining role for finance in averting climate change. 

What is your fondest memory of your time at LSE? 

Being exposed to some new insights, new ways of viewing the world, from high up in the Old Lecture Theatre.