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Insider Insight: Arthur Kay

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Bio-bean’s chief executive, Arthur Kay, has just been named the Guardian Sustainable Business Leader of the Year 2015. Here he tells us how he went from being an architecture student to setting up the world’s first coffee waste processing factory, and gives his advice on careers in sustainability.

Q: How did you land your current job?

A:  As an architecture student at The Bartlett, UCL, I was given the task of designing a coffee shop and roastery. I quickly realised that coffee was being wasted everywhere, and set out to address this problem. bio-bean, the company that I set up, is an award-winning green energy business that recycles waste coffee grounds into Advanced Biofuels.

Q: What has helped you get where you are in your career?

A: bio-bean has been very fortunate to win a number of awards, for which I am extremely grateful. At an early stage, I won the first Mayor’s Low Carbon Prize which gave me crucial momentum to start the business. We have had brilliant support from organisations such as Shell, UCL, NESTA, UKTI, Innovate UK. Winning the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge gave bio-bean tremendous forward momentum. Building a superb team has been instrumental in driving the business forward.

Q: Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers in sustainability?

A: Over time, every career will have a sustainable element, it will become the norm. I personally think that there is phenomenal potential to have a highly successful career whilst still affecting the world in a positive way. At the moment, we are recruiting for a new CFO, looking for someone that is as passionate about sustainability as they are about numbers.

Q: Who have been your role-models in your career?

A: Sir Terence Conran, the father of British taste and a truly disruptive designer.

Q: What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way?

A: bio-bean is a world-first business that spans the green energy, waste management and coffee industries. Any disruptive business like ours faces barriers from existing infrastructure that is resilient to change. We are always keen to work with great people and sign contracts with inspiring businesses.

Q: What stages of your career have been the most challenging?

A: In two years, bio-bean has raised several million, established relationships and contracts with some of the largest coffee waste producers in the world, built the world’s first coffee waste recycling factory, and assembled a team of twenty specialists. Currently, we are recruiting for a Chief Financial Officer, so if there are any trained accountants out there looking for a new challenge in a seriously exciting young company, please contact us using info@bio-bean.com.

The most rewarding?

A: bio-bean has a fantastic, rapidly-growing team, and this is the most rewarding part of the job for me. bio-bean has become a 21st Century manufacturing business. As the business grows, the team grows alongside it, and we are working with some phenomenal people, from leading engineers to financiers and commercial negotiators.

Q: What is the key to getting the most out of your team/colleagues?

A: Clarity and working to individual strengths. When we started, bio-bean was a team of talented generalists. We now hire for individual specialisms that have a very clear idea of the job they need to do. For instance, the CFO role we are recruiting for requires a very specific skillset and a good deal of ambition, with the flexibility to adapt to a fast-moving startup environment.

Q: What have been the groundbreaking instances or milestones in the sustainability field that have really changed the way you have to work? And how did you adapt to these events?

A: bio-bean has grown so rapidly that we are constantly breaking new ground. It seems to me that we have also been aided by a shift in consumer attitudes.

Q: What qualifications have been necessary/most beneficial in your career?

A: I am an architect working in a sphere that spans biochemical engineering, factory operation and waste management. That said, what I’m doing is urban design. I believe in an expanded remit for architects, and that’s exactly what I’m pursuing.

Q: Have you had much continuing professional development, has this been useful?

A: As a young CEO, I am learning on the job every day. At this stage, there’s no time for further study, but I read constantly and think that no one ever stops learning from their experiences.

Q: Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?

A: When we started in this industry, it didn’t exist. Since that point, we have signed a number of key contracts and interfaced with existing waste management companies to develop a sophisticated collection infrastructure designed to deliver waste coffee grounds to our facility.

Q: What does the future have in store for your industry – choppy waters ahead or a fruitful and secure future?

A: The world badly needs commercially viable alternatives to fossil fuels. Recycling rates are growing at an astounding rate and our business is looking to scale outside the UK and in doing so begin to address additional waste streams and challenges in other markets. To do that, we need to continue building a great team and an exciting business.

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