Skip to content

Tom Bewick Interview

A delivery partnership between Arts Council England (ACE), the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and Creative & Cultural Skills (CCSkills) was formed in 2005 to oversee the investment in leadership development for the cultural and creative sectors.

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of Creative & Cultural Skills

‘A guy called Tom Peters who once said, “don’t get yourself a business get yourself a cause”, and for me that is what Creative & Cultural Skills is about.  We are a campaign and a cause to really raise the level of skills within the creative and cultural industries’

Creative & Cultural Skills is the Sector Skills Council for Advertising, Crafts, Cultural Heritage, Design, Literature, Music, Performing and Visual Arts.  CCSkills bridges the gap between industry, education and the government, to give employers a real influence over education and skills in the UK.

‘Leadership’ is about how to get the best out of people.  That could be the people who work for you or work in the organisation and it is also about how you lead people outside your organisation as well.  We live in an anti-deferential age and gone are the days when leaders could lead, purely by their pay-band or where they sat in the hierarchy.  So, a big part of my [leadership] philosophy, in so far as I have one, is the importance of looking to take as many people as you can with you. That is how you build commitment around a cause or campaign.

It is important when you are a leader to be inspired by other leaders.  If you are not, then it suggests that you don’t constantly inspire yourself to be a good leader, if you can’t really look up to and respect others.  I have always been inspired by other people like Sir Garry Hawkes, who latterly set up the Edge Foundation and has been a tireless campaigner all his life around opening up opportunities and life chances for people particularly in terms of practical skills and apprenticeships. I, also, have some pretty impressive leaders on the CCSkills Board that one would look up to, including: Tony Hall (CEO, Royal Opera House) , David Kershaw (Chief Executive M&C Saatchi) and Fiona Reynolds (Director General of the National Trust) to name but a few.

Leadership is a combination of both natural talent and professional [formal and informal] training. The art of leadership is formed very early on and it is often outside of the work place. Looking at some of our most inspiring leaders, across the piece, you usually find that there is something unusual about their stories, not necessarily in a work context, but unusual in their upbringing, about their passions or their level of commitment and that is one of the raw ingredients to being a leader. 

You can’t just want to be a leader.  It is fantastic to aspire to be a leader, but you have to be able to answer that question “What can I actually offer as a leader, in a given situation”. Your leadership abilities have to be self-apparent and, crucially, other people have to recognize those attributes as well. Leadership comes by consent, both the consent of the people that you are asked to lead or your peers.

At final session of the Advanced Leadership in the Creative Industries programme (ALCI) I was really struck by how a roomful of senior executives from the Advertising, Music and Design industries had realised they had so much in common that they could share, so many common challenges, but had never had any appreciation of that common ground before.  You cannot underestimate the role of the CLP in partnership with CCSkills, MLA and the Arts Council in bringing situations like those together.  To bring as many creatives from different industries together and see what happens.  For the first time the Cultural Leadership Programme provides a systematic approach to this type of leadership development and, importantly, the people who take part themselves, say, ‘we love this, we want more of these opportunities to cross fertilise.’

There are two key challenges facing a 21st Century leader in the cultural and creative sectors and they are interrelated.  The first challenge is the culture of the Government around the issues of training and support to the creative industries. There is a very uniform top–down way of approaching these issues. It is a culture that needs to change. The Cultural Leadership Programme is a bespoke way of delivering training within the sectors own terms.  The very fact that Government felt it had to support and invest in it, demonstrates to me that there is something not quite right about the overall culture of public bodies and education institutions, when it comes to support for workforce skills and training, particularly in our industries.  

The second challenge, interrelated to the first, is you have to change the culture of the sector itself towards paid entry level opportunities, continuing professional development (CPD) and management and leadership development.  Time, cost and inclination are some of the key issues that get in the way of the sector investing sufficiently, particularly in, CPD and management and leadership.  This is in part a reflection of the ‘deadline’ culture within the sector.  Everything is urgent, everything has to be done yesterday and the casualties of that process are often the individuals themselves.  If we tackle cultural issues of both the education bureaucracies and sector at the same time that would set a future environment for a sector that is far more professionalised in terms of its learning and development needs. 

A leader or in fact leadership is not a static thing.  Therefore, it is really important to have access to information, advice and guidance that supports the decision making process; whether individuals are aspiring to join the sector for the first time, whether they are in the sector and they are aspiring to move on up, or whether they are just looking for access to other people like them.  Creative Choices˚ provides that information, advice and guidance with 150,000 users since its launch. In three or four years time, Creative Choices˚ will be the destination site, for anyone who is thinking of working in the cultural and creative sectors.

One of the main achievements of the Cultural Leadership Programme since 2005 is to raise the level of debate, understanding and commitment to Cultural Leadership, which was not there previously.  Importantly, it [Cultural Leadership Programme] has done more than just be a conversation it has actually provided direct training, learning and leadership management opportunities to the sector and the independent evaluation demonstrated that.

Thinking ahead I am concerned, as indeed are most people, about the future of the Cultural Leadership Programme: indeed all of us who are in the space between the Government and Industry.   We are entering some really, really challenging times. It is a challenge for leadership, it is also a challenge for the investment going in and it is a challenge for how organisations work together in the public services.   We have all got to think differently.  Quoting Albert Einstein, who said a definition of insanity, ‘is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. We are entering an era where thinking you can do the same things over and over again, isn’t necessarily going to hold true.   That applies to the Arts Council, Creative & Cultural Skills, the financial institutions and most industries.  It is just where we are right now and it is likely to be those that managed risks and innovate who will come out stronger from all the changes currently going on.

Interview by Stephanie Haughton-Campbell, Independent Creative Consultant

"Importantly, the CLP has done more than just be a conversation. It has actually provided direct training, learning and leadership management opportunities to the sector."