Recently, I met James Owen Lewis who, at 28, has already had an impressive career that spans over 15 years. In this time James has worked across a highly diverse portfolio of clients including the Walt Disney Company, where he worked for Disney Theatrical Group and most recently as the Global Head of Corporate Resilience and Sustainability at Deliveroo.
James is proudly the second youngest person ever to achieve Chartered Safety Practitioner status and has an MSc in Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing. He is also the founder of the IOSH Theatre Advisory Group (TAG), set up to provide cross industry advice and standards for performer safety and help smaller, semi professional, amateur and school theatres.
I wanted to find out more about what motivated James to choose a career in H&S, especially considering he started in the sector at such a young age and what advice he would give others looking to get into the sector.
What attracted you to an H&S career?
“I never knew I wanted to be a Health & Safety professional and I don’t think many people make a definitive choice to be one, but from a young age, I was exposed to Health & Safety.
I was involved with events and theatre productions at school from the age of 12. When I turned 16 the School employed me to help produce all of their internal/external events and school productions. They also funded my NEBOSH Certificate, this was a point of realisation for me and fuelled my decision that I wanted a career in risk management as from a very young age I had always been taught to care for and look after other people.
My father runs a Building Contractor business and I helped him out from the age of 14, due to this I developed a strong work ethic and was given an understanding of how business works. I learnt the financial and commercial side of the business; this gave me a great grounding.”
What qualities do you bring to the profession?
“I am inquisitive, I always have been and this has served me well throughout my career. Through my experience of working for my father’s business, I understand how Profit & Loss works, how a business runs and the direct impact safety can have on the bottom line; this helps me to influence effectively.
My mantra is “Listen & Learn”; listen to other people’s experiences and learn from them! I also always try and utilise the skills of people who are doing the job and make them champions; it’s an important part to influencing people at all levels of an organisation.”
What do you most enjoy about the work you do day to day?
“The sheer variety of what people in our profession have to do; the people we interact with, the range of tasks we have to achieve and the challenge of interoperating risk management into commercial decisions.
I have been involved in the safety management of activities in a huge range of sectors including education, health and beauty, construction, entertainment and mechanical workshops. I take great enjoyment in working with people and listening and learning from them to help me improve professionally.
What advice would you give someone looking to join & succeed in the profession?
Listen & Learn, applying this to your job will create opportunities you weren’t aware of. Always seek out new information and never stop learning. Your enthusiasm and ambition will go a long way but don’t go over the top, don’t take on too much and pace yourself. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and ambition through your actions. Also, adapt your communications to the level of person to whom you are speaking. For example, a board director won’t want ‘War & Peace’ but clear and succinct information. Think about what your message is and how it should be delivered also utilise others, get them to speak to other people about the same thing, strengthen the message you‘re trying to send.“
Has anything surprised you about the work you do?
So much! Some things have literally blown my mind. I didn’t think at any point I would be working with Aladdin’s Magic Carpet, BB-8 or R2-D2. The technological advances in the entertainment industry are amazing to witness and to be a part of. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most creative minds in the world and that is so motivating, inspiring and rewarding. Working with them to enable creativity, building something unique and special that brings joy to so many, is something I have enjoyed so much.
What would you like to achieve next in your career?
“I want to continue learning, every day is a school day, I think my next academic step is a PhD based on an employee’s perception of organisational support and how it can impact the symptoms of mental ill health in the workplace. I have suffered from anxiety and depression so have a personal connection to the subject. It’s also what my MSc dissertation was based on and I am keen to explore it further, especially the potential impact it has on how we manage physiological wellbeing in the workplace and the potential positive impact it can have on individuals and businesses. Further down the line, I may go into more of an operational role within a business, utilising the skills I have developed through my risk management career or move into more of a legal career.