As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ketan Dattani. Ketan Dattani holds over 20 years of recruitment experience and has a high profile within the sector. He is widely documented as an expert on Employment Law, Employee rights and for providing Careers Advice. Ketan is the Founding Owner and CEO of Buckingham Futures, a specialist award-winning Environmental Recruitment Business that provides bespoke permanent and temporary recruitment and consultancy solutions to public and private sector employers. Academically Ketan is a graduate of Environmental Biology and has a Masters in Environmental Planning and Management. He also holds a postgraduate Certificate in Employment Law and The Certificate in Recruitment Practice which is a nationally recognised recruitment qualification developed jointly by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and key employers. Ketan’s corporate policies and actions are designed to reduce carbon footprint, give back to the community and encourage the protection of the environment. Outside of business, Ketan volunteers with a number of schools, colleges and universities providing careers guidance, CV & interview technique workshops, and conducting mock interviews with those looking to embark on a career within the environmental sector. He also offers work experience programs and opportunities at Buckingham Futures for students, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and adults with learning difficulties to help achieve their potential by giving them an insight into the world of work.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
As a child, seeing my parents daily struggle as Ugandan refugees has contributed to my development and where I am today. My mother is a close friend and confidante, I rely on her judgement and approval to keep me grounded and maintain my self-esteem.
From a young age, I developed an avid interest in Environmental matters. My interest was sparked when I spent a summer holiday with my grandparents in the Midlands.
Even though I was only four years old I remember so vividly the fresh air, clean playgrounds, birds singing and open green spaces.
It seemed a world away from my environs of passed-out vagrants, lifts smelling of urine (if they were working), smashed street lights, graffiti, broken bottles, burnt out cars and boarded up windows.
As I got older, I comprehended that Environmental matters were of little significance in 80s inner city London. Margaret Thatcher had declared that there was no such thing as society and no one understood that more than the council estate populaces that bore the brunt of a broken nation.
I spent most of my childhood years doubting myself. I really lacked confidence due to regular racist taunts and often violence as well. I found myself constantly looking for the approval of others, and desperately wanting to be accepted and fit in.
As I reached adolescence, my fears manifested as a series of failures. My unshakeable belief in my ineptitude stopped me from truly trying to succeed. Unwittingly, I was conforming to a self-fulfilling prophecy I’d set for myself.
Today, I’m a very confident man who stands tall and is comfortable in his own skin.
Having failed miserably in the school system it was my avid interest in Environmental matters that led me back to into the academic arena and to my academic choices of undertaking an undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology and a post graduate degree in Environmental Planning and Management.
After completing my post graduate degree in 1998, I unfortunately struggled to find a role within the Environmental sector and so began my career in recruitment.
I set up Buckingham Futures, a specialist Consultancy supplying Environmental personnel across the Private and Public sectors on a nationwide basis as I identified an opportunity to aid Environmental professionals to fill the gap in the Environmental employment sector caused by significant challenges to the long-term success of business and the global economy caused population growth, increasing demand for natural resources, soaring costs of energy and escalating impacts of climate change.
My philosophy is one whereby Environmental matters are drivers of my business success. This means that we always go the extra mile to understand the business objectives and operating environments of our clients.
From founding Buckingham Futures, I have correspondingly gained a lot of personal and professional fulfilment.
I love to accomplish goals and to feel as if I’m contributing to something important — an overarching vision for what I can create and am motivated by change, challenge, and diverse problems to solve.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Making the jump from being an employee to starting my own company was self-empowering and daunting in equal measures.
It was undoubtedly the biggest career risk I ever took was to quit a very well-paid corporate job to set up a self-funded Environmental Recruitment Business from scratch from my parent’s box room.
Sadly, I soon found that most clients did not want to do business with a ‘one-man-band’ and I felt that in order to succeed I needed to give the impression that Buckingham Futures was a bigger business than it actually was.
I look back on the early days and laugh now but I used to play YouTube videos of a busy office environment in the background when calling clients.
Depending on the call matter they would then receive a follow-up email from email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc, not knowing their communication was entirely me.
I invested in a virtual business address to help add credibility to Buckingham Futures as I felt would be easier to successfully attract clients by having a ‘brick and mortar’ location.
My business cards showed a prestigious central London location, all my mail was posted there and I would arrange to meet with clients in the reception area of my virtual office and conduct our meetings in nearby swanky cafes.
This set up was running well for about 8 months. Then one day I received a call from a client to say that she was in London for the afternoon and would love the opportunity to meet with me and my team in person to thank us for everything we had done for her and that she would be at my office in less than 10 minutes.
The problem was that it was take me over an hour to get to my virtual office from my parent’s house and there was no way I’d be there in 10 minutes. I was afraid that the receptionists would let the ‘cat out of the bag’ and tell her that Buckingham Futures did not have an office, let alone a team-based there! I felt that had no choice but to come clean about my business set up.
It was on this day that I learnt that the most imperative quality clients look for is authenticity. To be authentic can be the difference between a company failing or succeeding. It is not easy, as being authentic is as much about revealing your flaws as playing to your strengths. It is often tempting to put up a front of total competence rather than risk looking vulnerable. However, authenticity is a key ingredient in running a successful business and leading a great team.
As the business has grown, I remember to always remain authentic and to never lose that openness and willingness to connect with people.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have always immensely enjoyed reading. Nevertheless, I decided to stop reading fiction several years ago.
I choose to read books that motivate and inspire me and help me develop a different set of skills, beliefs, or values that are important to turning into a well-rounded person in both in business and my personal life.
Two books have principally helped me in my career. The first being ‘The Real Deal: My Story from Brick Lane to Dragons Den’ by James Caan and the second book that has really abetted me in my career is ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad — What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money — That The Poor And Middle Class Do Not!’ by Robert T. Kiyosaki
The Real Deal reverberated with me because I felt that there were lots of parallels between mine and James’s journeys.
James started his Recruitment business in a broom cupboard and me in my parent’s box room, we are both high school dropouts, both were born into first-generation immigrant families and as well as running successful recruitment businesses we both have a strong desire for undertaking charity work.
The Real Deal traces both James’s financial and personal achievements. It is a story of learning what money is really worth.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a book that I read frequently. It has taught me the art of storytelling and persuasion and how Robert turned a simple idea, into a multi-million-dollar information product empire.
In the book he presents a persuasive narrative, that is very simple to grasp and tremendously relatable.
The way Robert simplifies multifaceted topics and makes them applicable to ordinary people is highly convincing and influential.
The biggest takeaways for me from the book were that the single most powerful asset we all have is our mind. If it is trained well, it can create enormous wealth and that most people never win because they’re afraid of losing, or failing.
Reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad helped me establish me that I should always look for opportunities where all parties benefit.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I founded Buckingham Futures for personal and professional fulfilment.
My vision was simple, to provide clients with an Environmental recruitment service focused on quality, trust and efficiency.
Whilst I enjoyed my job, as I progressed in my career I found it difficult to strike a work-life balance.
When I was an employee one of the aspects of my life that took the biggest hit was my family. I worked long hours and constantly checked email when at home. It was easy for family time to get sacrificed.
The desire to be around to help raise my children drove me to reassess my options and to build an Environmental Recruitment business on my terms.
I love to accomplish goals and to feel as if I’m contributing to something important — an overarching vision for what I can create and am motivated by change, challenge, and diverse problems to solve.
Starting a business was exhilarating, rewarding and fun, but also exhausting, relentless and stressful in equal measures.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
That is a fantastic question. My number one principle” that guides me through the ups and downs of running a business is to always think ‘outside-in’.
I am fixated about looking at Buckingham Futures through our client’s lens and as such we truly try to deliver a world-class customer experience by identifying the client’s actual needs and wants now and in the future.
Thank you for all that. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Lockdown came, and alongside learning how to run my business remotely all of a sudden, my wife and I were not just parents to our 4 children — 2 boys aged 11 and 8 and a boy and a girl aged 2 (twins) — we were teachers, nannies, exercise coaches, ‘make-believe’ school friends and chefs.
From the onset of Lockdown, the schools were setting the older children to work on their platforms. Home-schooling while running the business from home was initially a struggle.
The stay-at-home orders left me strained without routines, but I quickly found that creating a schedule for my family was a way to regain, even in a small way, a sense of order and regularity.
We maintain as much ‘normal’ as we can by establishing daily routines for things like defined morning routines, meal times, exercise times, a specific endpoint to the school day or working day and a calming bedtime.
Against the sad backdrop of the coronavirus, we are rediscovering the pleasure of spending time with each other. Lockdown has been an opportunity to nurture our relationships and enjoy each other’s company with fun activities and games.
Thanks to quarantine, we have also found that there’s something beautiful about reconnecting with the great outdoors, whether that’s through gardening or nature spotting on outdoor walks.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Fortunately, the way we work means that the pandemic did not have too much impact on my business as a lot of what we do can be done digitally or over the phone.
Thankfully we’ve continued to receive new instructions to hire from some of our clients and candidates also seem to be taking advantage of any downtime by applying for new opportunities.
Thanks to the technology available, many of our Environmental Health roles offer some degree of flexible working or home working.
So, while we could not say, it has quite been business as usual, we are doing what we can to facilitate business continuity.
By working in partnership with our clients, we are doing all we can to ensure that job interviews albeit with potentially staggered start dates proceed amid the crisis but with minimal contact.
Several of our clients have, however, paused their recruitment whilst they wait to see how the situation would evolve. Sadly, some of our private sector clients have had to downsize or shut down their business’s altogether.
On the other hand, we found that a number of our Local Government clients were facing a sudden need for a large number of Environmental Health Professionals to enforce The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) (England) Regulations 2020 relating to the closure of pubs, clubs, restaurants and other relevant premises and for COVID-19 contact tracing and interviewing roles.
Personally, I initially found managing a remote team was quite challenging. I felt that we had an excellent company culture that had taken time to cultivate which involved hiring the right employees, fostering healthy communication, and instilling that culture across the board. I presumed that by us not being together that the team cohesiveness and company culture would suffer.
I swiftly comprehended that creating a healthy company culture with a remote team that reflected my business’s values required a plan, much like any other project or initiative.
To continue our culture of open communication, remote team members needed to be able to communicate with everyone, including me, with a virtual “open door” policy.
Lockdown measures have highlighted to me the value of workplace flexibility. As the economy slowly begins to reopen, working from home in part will become the new normal for my team.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As the media tried to understand the scope of this unprecedented, global health crisis, its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has been raucous, to say the least.
And once shared among friends, the quantity of constantly-changing news updates can be disconcerting.
For this reason, I limit myself to only browsing official websites rather than social media feeds for any updates on the pandemic.
Around the house we try to keep talking about the Corona Virus to a minimum. Understandably, the older children have lots of questions and we answer them honestly, factually and age-appropriately — but we try not to focus all of our family conversations on the pandemic.
For my older children, spring and summer are an important time in their lives. With family holidays and days out with friends planned for the summer now cancelled, they are experiencing a lot of new emotions.
They have many questions about why they are still at home, why school is still closed, why they can’t go to birthday parties and why they could not visit ‘Ba and Bapuji’ (my parents) who are both in their 70’s with underlying health conditions.
Children pick up on our emotions and learn from us how to manage their feelings. So, when they see that we can tolerate uncertainty they know that this is possible for them too.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
The COVID-19 crisis has affected societies and economies around the globe and will permanently reshape our world as it continues to unfold. While the fallout from the crisis is both amplifying familiar risks and creating new ones, change at this scale also creates new openings for managing systemic challenges, and ways to build back better.
The recruitment sector has a pivotal part to play in the post-COVID-19 economy. With unemployment rates forecast to drop by the end of the year, the recruitment industry will be fundamental in mobilising the workforce again
The UK Government’s measures, specifically the furlough scheme, will make it quicker and easier for organisations to return to previous levels of productivity, which can only be a good thing for the recruitment sector.
There will be lots of opportunities for Recruitment Software companies that provide technology platforms to solve the new way of working such Applicant Tracking Systems, Artificial Intelligence Recruiting Tools, Video Interviewing Software, Recruiting ChatBots, Developer Assessment Tools, Employer Branding and Talent Sourcing Tools. Investment into these will soar over the coming months.
This will result in abundant opportunities for Recruitment businesses to assist clients to adjust to the new nature of recruiting from the adoption of these new technologies to embracing flexible and remote workforces.
At Buckingham Futures, we have been quick to embrace working from home, have invested in technology and built a solid but adaptable operational foundation so that we will be in the best position to support and benefit from that future growth.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Few aspects of life have been untouched by the COVID pandemic and resulting global lockdowns. The has already caused people to rethink norms as simple as shaking hand.
The substantial shifts in society, its institutions, and its individuals during the crisis have introduced major uncertainties into our familiar structures.
Assumptions about what is true and stable such as the freedom to move unrestricted in free societies have been overturned. These shifts have resulted in macro-level changes in and uncertainties about the foundations of society.
No event in recent history has affected us as profoundly and pervasively as the pandemic. It signifies a completely unprecedented circumstance, as novel as it is life-changing.
Not only did it serve to remind us of our physical fragility, but it also undermined economic security, threw daily routines topsy-turvy, wreaked havoc on plans and isolated us from friends and neighbours.
No one was exempt. No matter what your station in life, your status, power or popularity, the virus did not discriminate.
This prospect evoked an overriding sense of defenselessness. This prompted putting social relations at a premium, boosting the appreciation of one’s loved ones, family and friends.
Fascination with fame and riches has diminished and individualistic values of ones of prestige, popularity and power lost their kudos.
We now celebrate people who serve communitarian values, extend a helping hand to others, sacrifice their self-interests for the common good, exhibit empathy and model humanity.
The immense crisis we faced has forged stronger communal bonds and humanitarian values and people are pledging to spend more time with family and friends or book that bucket-list trip.
Even if stay-at-home orders are starting to be relaxed, people seem far less likely to frequent restaurants, cinemas or go shopping.
The virus, whenever it is over, will affect our every financial, demographic, and lifestyle decision, from borrowing money to having children to living in crowded cities.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-COVID Economy?
Having an exit strategy in place for post-pandemic has helped me prepare to rebuild.
Thankfully we were not in a situation where I needed some working capital to jump-start my business operations.
The first step in rebuilding was to determine how much my business has been affected by updating my financial statements such as profit and loss or cash flow statements and compare them to last year’s figures to see how much my business may be down.
My business model operated well pre-pandemic but coming out of it has needed some fine-tuning. I have had to accept that what was working before may not work as well now. This has meant making some fundamental changes to the ecosystem including dissecting our current collaborations with partners up and down the supply chain.
Analysing how the Environmental recruitment sector has been affected by the has also been helpful. This has enabled me to focus on identifying new opportunities.
Being able to recognise needs that Buckingham Futures can fulfil that may have been neglected up until now will prove critical to expanding our customer base going forward.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
While the pandemic may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime event, the reality is that an emergency can come along to disrupt our lives at any time.
Using what we have learned during the current pandemic will help us to prepare for the next crisis. For instance, building up cash savings may be a priority for people that had little set aside before the outbreak began.
The pandemic has also taught us about how important it is to be able to adapt so that we can reasonably weather storms.
The more outside-the-box thinking we can do to prepare for a worst-case scenario, the better. It will help us survive during tough times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favourite quote has always been ‘Don’t Take Anything for Granted’.
One of the hardest things about improving your life is remembering to practice what you’ve learned in a time of adversity.
The pandemic has served to reiterate that life can change in an instant and that nothing in our lives is guaranteed to be here tomorrow, including those we love.
I constantly remind myself to appreciate what I have, while I still have it.
I repetitively practise turning my thoughts toward appreciation, because that is where I find my strength and power.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I am active on Instagram and LinkedIn.
They can connect with me personally (https://www.instagram.com/ketanova/ and https://www.linkedin.com/in/recruitmentandconsultancy/) or follow my company pages (https://www.instagram.com/buckinghamfutures/ and https://www.linkedin.com/company/buckingham-futures/?viewAsMember=true).