Gaining Professional Fulfillment from the Private to the Public Sector
Green Park - member of InterSearch Worldwide in the UK - interviews Tariq Khan, CDIO at the London Borough of Camden

Every January, the job market sees increased candidate activity as people consider career changes. For many of us, the lead up to the New Year is a time of reflection, and the pandemic has meant people are considering a more purposeful career.

I am therefore pleased to share the insights from someone who did exactly that. Tariq Khan was the Vice President, Consumer Experience Product at Coty, one of the world’s largest beauty conglomerates, owning cosmetic, fragrance & hair brands such as Max Factor, Gucci, Ghd, Kylie Jenner, Rimmel, Burberry, Wella, Philosophy and Boss. He also featured in the Financial Times as part of their list of ‘Top 100 Most Influential BAME Technology Leaders’.

In 2020 during the first national lockdown, Tariq was considering a career change. Following an in-depth and rigorous process, I helped Tariq secure a new position as the Chief Digital & Information Officer at the London Borough of Camden. At the end of last year, I asked Tariq about his first year in Local Government and why he decided to transition into the public sector.

– My move to Camden came at a time when, like many in lockdown I was reflecting on my career to date (20 years in the private sector), trying to understand what provides me with the motivation and resilience to do my best work.

Having thought long and hard about it, I wanted a role that gave me the ability to deliver a positive social impact and help those less fortunate than myself.

To be completely honest with you, local government wasn’t even on my radar. But when I was told about the CDIO role at Camden, it made me want to know more.

As I went through the interview process, I got the opportunity to speak to many staff and understand their plans for the future. The more I understood Camden’s energy and ambition, the more excited I became about the opportunity to really do something special.

The fact I don’t come from a traditional background to the role gives you a clear indication of just how open Camden is to doing things differently – they really are looking to open things up and consider new perspectives.

Moving into a different sector in a pandemic must have had its challenges. Has it lived up to your expectations?

The jump from private to public sector was a steep learning curve, especially coming into it mid-pandemic, but everyone at Camden has been incredibly patient and supportive. I’m relishing the challenge and the experience so far has far exceeded my expectations. It’s evident very quickly that everyone here cares deeply about their community and I’m finding that really motivating. We have big plans for 2022 and beyond so really excited!

Why was Camden the right council for you?

Given my background, I wasn’t convinced straight away that the public sector was the right fit for me. . But after learning more about Camden, it became clear to me that this was a special place and a borough with the ambition and the resources to deliver.

The borough – which covers West End to Kings Cross to Hampstead Heath – accounts for 2% of the UK economy. It is home to some wealthy neighborhoods but also some of the poorest communities in Europe. As such the council has a strong purpose to deliver social value and tackle inequality for its residents and communities – so that’s really where a lot of our focus is.

Our offices are in Kings Cross, next door to Google and so we are lucky to have access to many world-leading institutions, to give you a few examples of some current partnerships: We recently became the first UK council to partner with Google on there digital L&D programme; we work closely with UCLs Innovation Unit to reimagine how we shape our strategy, building in a more design thinking led approach to policy creation; and we are working with Alan Turing Institute and our residents to formulate our Data Privacy and Ethics approach. The list goes on….

Tell me about your ambitions for the future? 

Near term it is about building digital teams, processes and products that are going to continually address the evolving needs of our residents, businesses and visitors. Whilst innovating we also want to make sure no-one is left behind so there is a high priority on digital inclusion.

One of the biggest challenges for Camden is the sheer breadth of services we manage – around 600 ‘lines of business’ – everything from property management to schools to social care.

Our long-term ambition is to turn this challenge into our biggest opportunity. Our investment in data a product disciplines will help us look at synthesising insight across services to unlock new and innovative solutions.  I’m particularly interested in how we can use data and behavioural science to unlock prevention and early intervention solutions.

How different has the culture been?

Camden operates in a very dynamic manner so it’s not been a huge culture shock coming from the private sector. Most notably in private sector there is a lot of work done to understand your competition. In public sector it’s much more of a team sport. Everyone helps each other out and there are a great number of initiatives we are working with our counterparts on at a national and local level.

This sort of culture really lends itself to developing healthy team dynamics so, whilst remote working has been a challenge, you can see people really care about each other and the people they serve. It is a lovely group of people to work with.

Would you recommend a career in Local Government to others in the private sector, and what should they consider prior to making the change?

It really depends on what you are looking for. For me, it is definitely my most rewarding role to date. Someone recently told me about a Japanese concept called Ikigai, meaning a “reason for being,” and it really resonated with me as a way to frame what is important to me.

Anyone considering it needs to take time to do their research. Just like private sector, not every public sector institution is the same. There are a lot of preconceived notions about public sector that just aren’t true at all levels.

Specifically, with Local Government you have to be comfortable dealing with breadth and complexity. There are a LOT of moving parts and there are so many opportunities to uncover ground breaking solutions. However, you have to be comfortable to take a step back and see the bigger picture.



Gaining Professional Fulfillment from the Private to the Public Sector

5 min

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