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Ben Kinley

My Resilience Career: James Crask

Lawson Chase speaks to James Crask about his career so far within Resilience.

James Crask is Head of Resilience Advisory consulting at Marsh, heading this pratice for a global consulting business. His background is within Resilience, Business Continuity and Emergency Planning. James speaks to Lawson Chase about his career in Resilience so far and the changing shape of the industry.

What made you decide to enter the world of Resilience?

I was attracted to the idea of rolling up my sleeves when something went wrong and getting involved in fixing it. Emergency Planning, where I started my career, gave me that opportunity – to help plan for complex emergencies and get involved in responding to them when they occurred. I have moved away from this role now but I am still passionate about the work I do. I stay doing what I do because I like being faced with complex problems and working with a range of other subject matter experts to help solve them.

Tell me about your career so far and the types of positions you've had the chance to work as

I started my career in the Public Sector. I came out of University wanting to get a job doing something in Environmental Sciences – flood risk was a particular area of interest. I settled on a job as Assistant Emergency Planning Officer with Surrey County Council where I stayed for 3 years, leaving as one of their senior planners. The role involved writing and exercising emergency response plans for the County – since flood risk was one of the bigger concerns in the area I had not strayed too far away from my initial goal.

I then moved to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which provided a similar service in London. The potential disaster risks were arguably a little bigger but the process was similar. My role concentrated on training Local Authority Chief Executives in their role in a pan-London crisis. From there I was lucky enough to win a secondment at the Cabinet Office where I formed part of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, the bit of Government that plans for and coordinates a response to a national emergency. It was a fascinating place to work involving access to Ministers and Prime Ministers when a crisis occurred. After being made permanent at the Cabinet Office I finished my time there helping to plan for the resilience risks associated with hosting the London Olympic Games.

I was then asked by PwC if I would like to join a new resilience practice they were developing. This is where I have been since helping them to build the team. I lead their Enterprise Resilience proposition which gives me an enormous opportunity to work with a wide range of clients in different sectors.

What are some of the most interesting projects you've had the opportunity to work on so far?

Working in COBR (the UK’s command and control centre for the coordination of national emergencies) is a highlight along with helping to deliver the London Olympics. However, the recent work I have been doing as chair of the International Standards Organization committee responsible for all Resilience and Continuity Standards, which has taken me across the World, is also something I am proud of.

What have been the most rewarding parts of your career so far?

Feeling like you make a difference. In honesty I think this feeling was stronger in the Public Sector, especially when responding to emergencies, but it is still there in the work I do with my clients in PwC.  As a resilience professional you are given privileged access to what makes and organisation tick and get a chance to tackle the root causes of problems that may, if left unchecked, cause an organisation to catastrophically fail in the future.

Would you have any advice for someone who is thinking about joining the Resilience profession?

Spend a bit of time researching the industry. Government agencies and large consultancies, like PwC, have lots of information on methodology, best practice and challenges facing organisations in the field. In addition, institutions like the Business Continuity Institute or the Institute of Operational Risk are useful sources of information. They also run regular events where you can meet established professionals in the business.

The next step would be to start thinking about what sector you want to work in, do you want to be a consultant, or an industry specialist working for one organisation at a time? This will help you draw up a list of target organisations. If you are already employed, seek out your Head of Risk or Head of Business Continuity and ask them about what life is like. You may at this point decide to seek a placement to gain experience, or jump straight into applying for a job, either those advertised on job sites or through specialist recruitment agencies.

If you want to learn more before you make the jump there are also some great university courses available from the diploma level right up to post graduate degrees.

What sort of challenges do you think the industry faces at the moment?

The biggest challenge we face at the moment is encouraging our industry to reach consensus on what organisational resilience means in practice. We all tend to have our own slightly different perspectives on what it is, and what contributes towards an organisation’s resilience. Our opinions are informed by our individual “world views”. Talk to a Head of IT and the focus tends to be Technology Resilience and talk to a BCM lead and it’s all about resilience in the face of disruption.

All of those things listed above, alongside a broad range of other activities and capabilities, contribute in some way to an organisation’s resilience. There is space, and indeed a real need for all of us to play a role in enhancing resilience but it requires collaboration and coordination. An organisation’s resilience is not delivered by one function or activity alone. It is made up of a wide range of activities and capabilities. Some are obvious like BCM and Risk Management, but others less so, like the way an organisation innovates, or how much social capital it holds with key stakeholders. Having such a wide range of stakeholders involved in resilience makes it hard to reach consensus and agree on appropriate governance frameworks to oversee delivery.  

Are there any skills gaps that you think will be more prevalent in BCM or resilience over the next few years within the industry?

For me it is all about communication and negotiation skills. Risk, resilience and BCM professionals need strong Board level communication skills to have any real impact in their organisations and they need to be able to influence others to become part of a coherent approach to resilience. 

The influencing skills are particularly important in the short and medium term as the industry is currently going through a major change in its move toward Organisational Resilience and away from the separate silo approach which has been the norm in many businesses. This new concept will need socialisation, barriers will need to be broken down and reluctant ‘Heads of’ resilience or risk functions will need to be bought into the process. The future resilience professional will be an individual that gets the concept of risk at a Board level, can articulate complex issues in a practical way to Directors and is a strong negotiator, networker and influencer. 

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