Insider Insight: Tim Haywood

Tim Haywood, chief financial officer and head of sustainability at Interserve, shares some career advice and insight

Tim Haywood 

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

Hard work, good luck and a strong sense of always trying to do the right thing (even when it seems nobody is looking, or nobody cares, or nobody agrees).

Who have been your role-models/mentors?

My daughter, Daisy, for her environmental and ethical passion.

What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way? And how did you adapt to these challenges?

The barriers have been many, but principally involve getting people to see things differently, to understand problems they haven’t previously thought about, and to fit extra requirements into busy schedules.

Collecting the data to measure progress has been very gruelling. I try to tackle these challenges by seeing the problems from the perspective of the other person, thinking how to answer the question “what’s in it for me?”, and recognising that there’s not one answer, but many. As many answers as there are people. The business case for sustainability is a very nuanced, variable and emotive one.

What have been the pivotal moments in the sustainability sector?

I’m not very qualified to answer this, having only been in “the sustainability sector” for about five years, officially. But I’ve always been an advocate of responsible business (a concept that dates back to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century); I really admire the work of the charity Business in the Community; and I have a bit of a problem with the entire concept of “the sustainability sector”. We should really be talking about sustainable business, the mainstreaming of sustainability ideas into business conduct. And for that, I’d maybe point to M&S’s Plan A as a very high-profile example of doing the right thing.

What stages of your career have been the most rewarding?

All of them have been fun: I’ve led a very lucky career path. But I’m really loving the current phase: having the mandate, resources and experienced to try to make a real difference.

How do you get the most out of your team/colleagues?

By treating them as individuals, understanding what they want to achieve, then giving them the support and resources to go for it. It’s amazing what people will do when they feel trusted and empowered.

Where do you think there are the most job opportunities in the sector?

Energy efficiency, resource optimisation, the circular economy, ESOS, the Sustainable Development Goals agenda: there are so many opportunities in both public and private sectors right now, I reckon it’s a great time to be in the sector.

What other advice do you have for people about to embark on careers in sustainability?

Remember not to get too obsessed about the technicalities and your own sustainability agenda. Effective change needs a business case; needs to speak in the language of the customer; needs to be well-communicated. So learn selling and influencing skills. Learn about the wider business community. Then you will make a better advocate, and ultimately be able to deliver your agenda.


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