Sajna Rahman and Andrew Hulbert have enjoyed a highly creative professional partnership that is continuing to provide benefits to both industry leaders and younger colleagues alike
Having agreed to be the official media partner for Tomorrow Meets Today (TMT) prior to its latest event, FM Director arranged an exclusive interview with its founders, performance consultant and professional speaker Sajna Rahman and Pareto vice chair Andrew Hulbert.
Having met at industry events over the course of several years, their conversations revealed shared ambitions and a view of how they would like to improve the diversity and inclusion (D&I) levels within the FM industry and support young people in their careers. This led to the creation of the TMT concept, where young talented and ambitious people are given the opportunity to meet established industry leaders.
While the benefits to young people are obvious, many of the established industry leaders have also reported they have received considerable value from their participation, including those of ‘reverse mentoring’ that have helped them to appreciate how they can approach and tackle issues in different ways.
Ms Rahman explains how her industry career had led to the creation of a Meet the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) event, which proved popular with her employer at the time and led to her considering how to deliver the concept on a bigger scale.
“I began speaking to Andrew and he was very supportive, so we discussed how to create our own thing, which led to Tomorrow Meets Today,” Ms Rahman explains. “I can’t think of anyone better than Andrew for this, who was very much involved with the Young Leaders Forum at the time.
“He invited me to a committee meeting one evening where I met the rest of the team. Having met all these amazing people, I believed we could create something to support young leaders and Andrew loved it and believed in the vision,” she states.
Both Ms Rahman and Mr Hulbert state the main driving force behind the initiative was the lack of diversity seen in senior leadership teams in all areas of the FM industry and other sectors in the previous decade.
Ms Rahman shares her own previous experience: “Navigating my corporate career as a South Asian Woman presented its unique sets of challenges, but I persevered and ultimately achieved a successful career by crafting a strong network and forming valuable relationships, which I think of as my personal boardroom. This strategy was particularly effective when I reached the peak of my career, as my employers created roles for me that matched my skills. This experience taught me the importance of building a personal brand, becoming visible and getting noticed by influential leaders for career advancement,” she says.
Further discussions between Mr Hulbert and Ms Rahman resulted in forming the initial TMT concept of bringing two groups of people together that would not usually have any contact with each other. “We decided to create an event that would allow young people to network with senior leaders and we quickly saw that the conversations taking place at our events would not happen in any other circumstances,” Ms Rahman continues.
Mr Hulbert states that the creation of TMT came during the early stages of his Pareto career and coincided with his thoughts on encouraging greater levels of D&I. “I could see the overt discrimination that Sajna and others in our industry were facing and I’m very much aware that with my white privilege, I don’t face those challenges.
“Sajna was the only one I wanted to work with on this, because she has so much passion and experience that has made this an authentic movement for change. Having worked with the Young Leader’s Forum for around five years or so at that point, I had come to know the best 50 young people in the industry,“ he continues.
“And Sajna has this incredible network of senior leaders that is so diverse and from different industries and backgrounds, so it made perfect sense that she could arrange for senior and diverse leaders and I could get young leaders and allow them to meet and discuss their thoughts,” says Mr Hulbert.
He further explains the quality of Ms Rahman’s list of contacts that includes senior business leaders, some of whom have been recognised by the government and peers for their ethical working practices. “We had leaders from some of the most successful businesses and speakers that could charge tens of thousands of pounds to speak attending our events for free.”
Additional reference is made on the wider view within the TMT events and how these have assisted industry to address negative issues such as racism and bigotry in the workplace. The TMT partners agree on the message: “Sometimes to make change you have to deliver it.”
“And as an upstart entrepreneur no one was going to tell me how to do that, but Sajna and I worked together very successfully to deliver it,” says Mr Hulbert. Having met and agreed on the TMT concept in 2014, the search began for a suitable venue for the first event.
“Fortunately we had some great relationships within Pareto and that resulted in Candy Crush hosting us the first year [in the Soho area of London] and that’s an amazing place to go. We had Twitter hosting us in their offices last year, which is another great space, and there have been equally impressive locations at all our other events, as well,” he says.
The combination of diverse and experienced leaders with enthusiastic and talented young people meeting within well-designed and inspirational spaces has proved highly successful and has led to the creation of more opportunities to further extend the TMT concept and events. Ms Rahman and Mr Hulbert have both experienced changes within their careers that are allowing them to give more thought and stage events of even higher quality, providing yet more potential and support for further development.
Both partners also explain how the diversity and inclusion movement now includes all members of society and embraces mental health issues, including those who suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse, along with the issues suffered by some Armed Forces veterans and others. “Originally the diversity conversation was about not just having groups of white people doing everything, but it’s now much wider,” Mr Hulbert explains.
This has resulted in the latest TMT event representing all areas of society and business, including additional industry sectors to FM. The level of understanding between the two partners has also developed to the point where “it only takes a few WhatsApp messages to arrange an event”, says Ms Rahman.
Another important element has been the level of support received, as the social enterprise status of TMT means it does not have the funds to pay for venues, catering or speakers at its events. Mr Hulbert additionally states that the success enjoyed by his business has enabled it to provide more support.
“We’ve also reinvented ourselves at each event to get people to connect in a different way,” he continues. This has led to organisations such as Generation Success forming relationships with TMT to add further value to its highly successfully efforts.
Yet more value is perceived through the ability of TMT to align with the environmental and social governance (ESG) aims of global operations, which became obvious with the involvement of Twitter, now known as X, last year. “This is absolutely culturally-aligned with them and their values and we’re now working with ASOS this year, who have been amazing, and we have so many leaders and young people this year that it’s almost looking like a speed networking event,” says Mr Hulbert.
With 20 business leaders and 28 young people booked to attend the TMT 2023 event, he is keen to emphasise that each person “is an achiever in their own right”, helping to heighten the anticipation in its build up period. “The fact that it includes a big diversity element is excellent but ultimately people are there because of their talents and what they represent,” he says.
“It’s fascinating to look at the development of TMT,” Ms Rahman continues. “When we started this, it was all about D&I and sustainability and no one was talking about ESG, although the social side carries a lot of weight in the scoring system.
“Now there’s much more awareness of ESG and CSR, etc, and the exclusivity of our events – where everyone is hand-picked – are matching with these and adding further value, but anyone that receives an invite to our events is made to feel special, and that was our intention from the beginning,” she says.
“You cannot underestimate the power of someone being nominated for something like this,” says Mr Hulbert. “It’s often harder for women to put themselves forward for something like this and it’s often much easier for men to put themselves forward for these things, so we’re particularly pleased with the number of female representatives included in this year’s TMT.”
He also describes ESG as something that is immediate and affecting the FM sector and society in general, which is encouraging more business-related activity and engagement. The inclusion of representatives from all types and sizes of company in the latest TMT event is helping to forge even closer ties to the business community and help everyone to “do the right thing”.
“I really hope that one of the big six FM service providers come along to our events and try to replicate some of the things we’ve been doing,” he continues. “We’ve already had several companies asking to be involved in the next TMT event, which we’ve not had before, and there’s a real bandwagon effect with people asking to be included.”
Ms Rahman states that the next aim is for more consideration of how TMT evolves in the future, with options currently including the staging of numerous events in 2024, possibly incorporating a conference and other additions, but states the importance of considering all these with Mr Hulbert. “We have a great partnership and Tomorrow Meets Today could not happen without both of us being involved,” she says.
“Sajna has this remarkable vision that I describe as ‘shoot for the moon and land among the stars’, and I believe TMT can easily become a really successful enterprise, possibly including an academy, more elements around training, or even becoming a business entity in itself,” says Mr Hulbert. Both partners state that the most important aspect in any future developments will be the inclusion of the core values that TMT was founded upon.
Regardless of how the initiative develops in the future, one of the most important aspects will be that it includes no cost for the young people attending. Further to this, Ms Rahman provides valuable advice for those struggling to combine working for organisations while coping with the various dramatic events around the world.
“Now, more than ever, it is crucial for leaders to exemplify compassion and empathy, Leaders in the space DE&I face an intricate task,” she continues. “They must be adept at navigating challenging conversations and situations in the workplace. Striking a balance between addressing the concerns and emotions of all parties involved while maintaining and impartial stance is a delicate and essential skill for DE&I leaders.”
“Tomorrow Meets Today is not a political organisation but it’s important that we include representation from all areas of society in our people and events,” Mr Hulbert says. “We can all be different, but we can all achieve a higher purpose together.”
He provides the example of organisations seeking to align themselves with initiatives such as Black History Month, which requires more thought to be devoted to their efforts in some cases. “Just putting four people of colour on a panel for Black History Month is not necessarily the right thing to do, there are more sensitivities around all these movements that we have to get right, avoid tokenism and explain the reasons why these things happen to make sure everyone is represented in the right way.”
“The whole ED&I conversation is all about getting the right leadership and that’s what TMT has delivered in all our events,” says Ms Rahman. “Andrew and I have a great relationship and I believe that’s why our events are unique and valuable in so many ways, and supportive of everyone.”