Five minutes with Karime Hassan
As Chief Executive & Growth Director of Exeter City Council, Karime Hassan wants to safeguard the city’s future for the people and businesses who call it home. Below, we speak to Karime about hosting the Rugby World Cup, how to attract the best talent and what the public sector can learn from the world of business.
Describe your organisation’s purpose
To make Exeter a stronger city. We do this by strategically planning the city’s long-term development, ensuring the infrastructure is attractive to businesses as well as the wider public. A successful city requires attention to many aspects of city life and we work with partners to maintain and improve the quality of life.
How would you describe the culture at your organisation and how do you maintain it?
We have a collaborative culture that is all about getting people to work together. We want people to be excited about the work we do at the Council, so we create a story of what we can become and then we work hard to achieve it. It’s so far led to some great results for the city: from co-hosting the Rugby World Cup to major redevelopment work in the city centre and hosting Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2016.
How does your organisation prepare for the future world of work?
One of the ways we prepare for the future world of work is by helping to equip young people in the city region with a wide range of career skills. It starts with us and we’re proud of the council’s apprenticeship programme, which provides the opportunity for young people to work in different departments so they can discover what they most enjoy and where they excel.
What is the main thing that attracts talent and retains talent in your organisation?
In my experience, “people want to join our organisation to be part of something exciting. Despite funding challenges in the public sector, we have demonstrated our capability to produce great things.” To attract and retain new talent, we have to keep proving that Exeter is a good place to be for businesses and individuals alike. Keep doing great work – that’s what will keep talent interested in your organisation.
What is the best decision your organisation has ever made?
After the millennium we recognised it was time to do something different and engage with business in a new way. We moved away from an administration centre and built our story, and actions around creating a knowledge economy in the city and region. It’s a vision that has guided us ever since, and led to some great success.
What would you say represents the biggest opportunity for your organisation in the next five years?
Delivering a transformative economic agenda which is based around supercomputing and data analytics is likely to be our biggest opportunity. We could also use our environmental expertise to yield big results. We want to encourage private investment in our science parks and other urban transformation projects.
On a national level we may be small but we have a great track record of growth; we just need the support from the others to capitalise on the agenda.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Mindful of my role in local government, a lesson I learned early in my career was the impact I could have on business and investment by simply making myself available to support business activity. A practical learning activity delivered through “Common Purpose”. It was about the power of listening and speaking with businesses to understand how we could support business, not dictating to them what they need to do to fit in with the public sector. That advice enabled me to fully recognise what I, as a decision maker, can do for them. We now describe this as clarity of purpose and an enabling culture.
What other organisation do you admire the most and why?
There are many elements in other companies that I admire. For example, Paul Polman and the leadership of Unilever and what it is doing in terms of environmental practice. It’s great to see a large, impactful company take a stand on such an important issue.
Elsewhere, I see fantastic innovation across small businesses, which the public sector is always keen to learn from. Local government can also take lessons from companies like John Lewis, not just about their governance model but the way they have shifted their operating model to embrace internet retailing.
The private sector needs to care about making more than just profit – it needs to create working environments where people are passionate to work and are keen to be part of.
What does a Vibrant Economy mean to you?
A way for public and private sectors, the big organisations and the small, to come together and benefit the country as whole. “A vibrant economy is one where everyone plays a part in making a real difference to society.”