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Ken Burgess
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
First Degree: 
Chemical Engineering
Consultant & Coach
Pet Hates: 
Time travel
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
Under the age of 11 I didn’t have a wish to be anything. But from secondary school it was apparent that science was the way forward
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
No question my grandfather. He was into science (he used to make gunpowder and build telescopes). He would have grown up and seen the likes of Einstein, H.G. Wells…people of that ilk. When I was about 12 or 13 he bought my friend and I chemistry set. We set it up his garage.
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I think there’s a lot of integrity in it. I love science as a route to the truth – I’ve found out that’s very important to me. Science by its very nature brings integrity with it.
What would you change? 
I don’t think so. I enjoyed working for a company but since I went out on my own working with different clients there’s been more diversity.
What qualifications did you take at school? 
For A’levels I did Chemistry, Physics, and Maths
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
BSc Chemical Engineering at Imperial, Masters and PhD in Biological Engineering (Birmingham University), Masters in Food Law (De Montfort University), MBA (Strathclyde Business School)
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell them my job can be broken down into three issues. 1. Technical systems; food safety/quality; environmental issues; health and safety. 2. Leadership and helping people develop management systems. 3. Coaching and mentoring people, which I’ve found is where a lot of technical people need the help. Often quite people are good technically, but they need help with self-confidence and relationships with other people.
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
After doing a PhD at the University of Birmingham, I started in R&D in the food industry in Ireland, which I did for four years. Then I concentrated in dairy in the UK and spent 15 years as the group technical director at Dairy Crest, responsible for all the technical functions in the business (including quality control, engineering, process development, health and safety, environment). To give you an example of the type of work I do now, I recently worked with the largest supplier of eggs to UK retailers. Last year they realized that their technical organization wasn’t up to the standards that UK retailers expected (i.e. the competence of their technical people and the way they interacted with others). I worked with them for a number of months to make sure they appointed a technical director with the right relationship for the commercial and operational sides of the business. Another example. I’m working with a cheese company who wants to significantly develop their amount of business in cheese, but they don’t have many in-house skills. I’m helping to define their processes, train staff, and do some coaching of their middle to senior managers. It dawned on me 15 years ago as a scientist I had one certain language which worked great with other scientists and technologists, but to get any further I needed to be able to speak with the commercial guys as well. My MBA was a big help. I realized you can have the best technical systems in the world and the best appreciation of marketing and HR, but the next step in terms of making progress is to understand what makes people tick in order to get the best out of them. In my work I use as much psychology as I do technical training.
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
To be cross-disciplinary is very much part of my personality. I want to deal with lots of different areas. I first realized this when I was doing new product development and was involved with every part of the business (marketing, engineering, purchasing, distribution etc.) For food scientists, working in new product development is a great opportunity to get involved in all the different parts of the business.
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
I see a trend that most businesses will increasingly use consultants to fix short-term problems and long-term strategies
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
An element of serendipity. Ten years ago when I was at Dairy Crest I was asked to double up as a technical director of a joint venture business (Yoplait Dairy) which brought with it a whole new set of problems and taught me a whole new way of dealing with things. I realized as you progress through your career, science is important but you’re got to increasingly focus on relationships and the people side of things
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Being the technical leader on the project team that rebuilt our flagship cheese factory – Dairy Crest. It was crucially important – involving a £60 million investment which saw the company double in size but continue to produce the same quality of cheese (in the supermarket, you might recognize Cathedral City). I was part of the board that made sure the money was spent on right parts of project. I brought my project management skills to that project and put the right strategy in place to ensure we got the right quality product at the end.
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
My family’s grown up with me doing what I do. I’ve got a wife (with a botany degree) and four grown-up daughters. None of my girls is working in science, although one did a degree in biochemistry but is now a tax consultant. The oldest did geography but is now an HR manger, as is another one. The other daughter works for a lobbying company as a consultant. There’s science in what they do and they all do jobs with a lot of people interaction, which can be difficult for a lot of scientists.
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
My biggest interest is in astronomy. I also enjoy getting a vegetable patch ready. I love reading a host of stuff. Fiction makes up a third of what I read, psychology-related stuff is half, and the rest is trying to keep updated in the science disciplines.
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
If you look at the professions (i.e. accountants, engineers) they’ve had chartered versions for a long time. Ever before CSci came out I was thinking about becoming a Chartered Engineer. But because I was a member of IFST for so long I preferred to go for chartered scientist. It tells potential clients you’re a professional…not a cowboy
What is the value of professional bodies? 
The value of professional bodies is a lot higher today. A lot of businesses are using consultants and they’re looking for credentials. They know professional bodies have codes of conduct so they know a person will work out well. Whoever’s employing you, in whatever field they’re in, they’re looking for those credentials that they can rely on and increase their confidence that the person is going to be competent and reliable.
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
CPD has been happening long before people called it CPD. I think of Habit #7 “Sharpen the Saw” in the book the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. CPD is about keeping up to speed, re-tuning, and keeping up to date with the world.
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Don’t get stuck in the rut of your first discipline. It’s important and it’s where you start off, but you have to work with all types of people and disciplines. You only get things done by people working together. It’s important to understand the psychology of that, be positive and learn about yourself.
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
A lot of what I do is coaching and mentoring. Mentoring is really about talking to people in a similar field and helping them to understand the senior management in that area a bit better. Coaching is more general. It’s about developing the individual as a person, growing them as a person. Mentoring I see more as helping someone in a specific career
How would you define “professionalism”? 
A profession is where there is a set way of doing things that has been established over the years which the people in that subject area follow. The obvious example is the accountant. Over the centuries they’ve developed a standardized approach which has proven to be best practice. Being a professional means you’re following those best practices.
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