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7 hidden forces that determine business success, from the man at Exeter’s helm; Karime Hassan.

7 hidden forces that determine business success, from the man at Exeter’s helm; Karime Hassan.

Karime Hassan is the CEO of Exeter City Council.  His values driven, people focused, leadership style has elevated Exeter to its position as one of the most respected, growth focused, cities in the UK.  We sent our editor along to meet him and to delve deep into the mindset of one of Exeter’s true visionaries.


1. On having a clear vision

When it comes to the public/private sector relationship, we need to be working with businesses and asking the fundamental question; “How can we help you”? “What are the barriers to your success and how can we help you to overcome them”?

We need to be putting ourselves in the shoes of the private sector, taking ownership of issues and challenges.  Essentially, we need to be sharing problems.

We know that there are significant financial struggles out there and we need to be thinking outside of the box and supporting the business community.  

Take arts and culture. Investing in this area is key to bringing people into the city.  Many councils, when budgets are tight, will cut investment in this sector.  But it’s when budgets are tight, that you must invest in the arts, culture and tourism.  The feel good factor will draw people into the city and encourage spending and that’s why our investment in this area has been so significant.


2. On the power of an open diary

Around 15 years ago I took a Common Purpose leadership course.  During a role play session, I played the part of a developer.  It became clear, during that session, that, as a developer, no-one wanted to speak with me. I made the decision then and there, that if I was to make connections and develop relationships, I had to open my diary.  I had to actively schedule in appointments to meet people; to get to grips with their struggles and concerns and to find ways to help them.  In the same light, it’s about making time to celebrate their success.

Your diary tells a story. The more open your diary, the more you make yourself accessible, the more you can understand and help.  We’re in the business of people and we have a values driven responsibility to keep them at the heart of our work.   

You can’t manage a city from a 7th floor office.  You have to get out there and truly understand what’s needed.


3. On making an impact


Recognise that every single meeting or encounter is an opportunity to make an impact. Whether you’re addressing an audience or you’ve simply passed someone in the street, opportunities to impress are everywhere.  You never know who is in the audience or where a single, unexpected, encounter can lead.

I represent the city of Exeter and dressing the part is key. Opportunities to draw business to the city can manifest at anytime and it’s vitally important to me that I always dress the part with confidence.

I also spend vast amounts of time preparing and practicing speeches in order to make them look effortless.  Whether I have 5, 10 or 15 minutes of allotted time, I’ll talk to the second and ensure that by the time I’ve finished, not only does the audience clearly grasp the message, but that they also have a better understanding of they themselves.

4. On recognising your weaknesses

Work hard to develop your strengths but recognise your weaknesses too.  Recognise them, then hire the best team to fill the gap. As Richard Branson says; “hire the best team, step out of their way and then let them get on with it”

I know that I can brief any one of my team with the simplest of instructions and that they’ll go out there and deliver.

I remember, during RWC2015 telling our project lead: Cath Hill that we had to get more people active.  That’s all I said.  Nothing more.  She went out there, got on with the job and delivered the best damn legacy I could have asked for.


5. On leadership

Leaders create leaders.  Developing talent is vital and key to the future of our city. Look beyond age and experience; look for passion, look for values and look for the spark.  Never underestimate the power of desire and the want to make positive change.  Skills can be developed, but an employee, whether 20 or 55, with great values, curiosity & drive, is priceless.

There also has to be authenticity in leadership, with your values at the core.  Too often we become disconnected from our instincts, our gut feelings and instead move forward on what we feel we ‘should’ do.  Our instincts will never let us down.  Follow them & throw away the rule book.  A great leader will take his chances, seize windows of opportunity and make history in the process.

6. On winning

A winning organisation, whether public or private, is an environment of personal and professional development, in which each individual takes responsibility and shares ownership.

It’s also one in which leaders need to prepare for change, even when you’re standing at the top.  You do this by investing, both in people and opportunities.  When those opportunities come along, you need to be ready to seize the open door and act fast before it closes. If you have a clear plan and a vision, you’ll know when & if the timing is is right.


7. On the female dynamic

Women bring an incredible dynamic to the board room.  Whilst we, as guys, tend to get caught up in the moment and the details, they’ll tend to look at the bigger picture and the implications of decisions. Getting the balance right and making sure you have decision making females at the table is key to moving forward in any business.


Follow Karime @ExeterCX


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