'I blagged my way through, reading a torn-up textbook and ad libbing'
By Stewart Payne and Becky Barrow (Filed: 19/02/2004)
An Oxford engineering student was surprised but undaunted when he was
approached to deliver a series of lectures in Beijing on global
Matthew Richardson knew "next to nothing" about the subject but,
believing he would be addressing a sixth-form audience, he felt he could
"carry it off".
Mr Richardson bluffed his way through the lectures Mr Richardson, 23,
borrowed an A-level textbook entitled An Introduction to Global
Financial Markets from a library and swotted up on its contents on the
flight from London to China.
From it he prepared a two-hour presentation, believing he had to deliver
the same lecture several times over to different groups of students over
Mr Richardson, who has the same name as a New York University professor
who is a leading authority on international financial markets, was met
at the airport and taken straight to a conference centre where, over
lunch, "the horrible truth became apparent".
The real expert: Prof Richardson He said: "It became clear to me that my
audience was not students, but people from the world of commerce
studying for a PhD in business studies having already gained an MBA.
"And instead of repeating the same lecture, I was required to deliver a
series of different lectures to the same people over three days. The
first one was immediately after lunch.
"I have no idea who they were expecting. Being Chinese, they were
inscrutable and if they were expecting someone else they didn't show it.
Perhaps they thought I was a prodigy. They all called me professor.
"I had come this far, so I decided not to back out. I hoped I could blag
my way through."
Because Mr Richardson was relying on the book, written by Stephen
Valdez, he had taken the precaution of buying a second copy before
leaving Oxford. "I ripped out the pages and disguised each chapter as
"Because I was speaking through an interpreter I had the time to glance
at the pages and prepare myself for what I was going to say next. I ad
libbed a bit and really got into the subject. I was learning as much as
To add authenticity to his delivery, he used his laptop computer to make
it appear that he was reading from his own material and made notes on a
board to emphasise points he was making.
All went well during the first afternoon. The following day he made it
through to the lunch break when several students told him, through the
interpreter, how informative they were finding his lectures.
"The problem was that I was running out of chapters. By mid-afternoon on
the second day I was already on chapter 15 of 16 and I still had the
rest of the day and the following morning to go. I realised I wasn't
going to make it."
It was then that his nerve broke. "I didn't like to tell them I didn't
know what I was talking about. So I decided to leg it."
During a coffee break he collected his bag from the adjoining conference
hotel and checked out. He booked into another hotel where he spent a
fearful night expecting a knock on the door at any time and then headed
for the airport for his pre-arranged flight home.
He said: "I have no idea what they thought when they returned from their
coffee break to discover their lecturer had fled."
Mr Richardson, from Sheffield, who is in his fourth year at St Peter's
College, returned to Britain on Sunday.
He said yesterday that he was approached to deliver the lectures by Dr
Raoul Cerratti, who runs a private tutorial college in Oxford.
"I have done some lectures for him in the past to earn a bit of money
and I bumped into him at the student union bar, where he asked me if I
was interested in going to Beijing.
"He offered me £1,000 to cover my flight, visa and expenses.
"It was only on my return to Britain that I discovered that there is a
professor with the same name in New York. To this day I do not know if
that is who the Chinese were expecting."
Dr Cerratti, who said he was often asked to provide Oxford academics for
lectures overseas, said: "I asked him if he could do the job, and he
said he could. We only found out it was to PhD students when he got
The real Prof Matthew Richardson, speaking from the business school at
New York University where he is a lecturer in finance, said: "Imitation
is the sincerest form of flattery and it seems as if this young man will
go far. I do not know if the Chinese students were expecting me. I feel
sorry for them if they feel let down, but there was no real harm done."
Mr Valdez, author of Introduction to Global Financial Markets, said he
was "chuffed" that his book had proved so invaluable to Mr Richardson.
"It is meant to be a basic textbook for beginners. I deliberately
pitched it in a straightforward language."
Mr Valdez said Mr Richardson was fortunate with the timing of his visit.
The Chinese edition of the book will go on sale shortly.