Mark-Rose-Podcast

Podcast: Mark Rose | Fauna & Flora International

How do you grow a conservation organisation from 5 staff to over 500 in just over two decades? Why might Greta Thunberg be wrong to avoid air travel, and how is the conservation industry changing the way it hires staff in the 21st century?  

I discuss these issues and many more with today’s guest Mark Rose – Chief Executive Officer – Fauna & Flora International. 

Mark is a powerhouse in conservation, and has held the role of CEO for over 20 years.  

During that time he has been instrumental in transforming FFI from an organisation with a handful of active projects into a global conservation charity with over 100 projects in over 40 countries. 

He has spearheaded the establishment of innovative corporate partnerships that encourage big business to put biodiversity at the heart of their activities, and has extensive field experience doing things like conserving crocodiles in Papua New Guinea. 

I met him on a stormy day in the Sir David Attenborough building in Cambridge, and we had a fascinating chat about his career, how he’s grown FFI and where we wants to take it next, and how conservation organisations need to simplify their messages to have far greater impact. 

It’s an absolute must-listen episode. 

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Audio Transcript

Mark Rose   

I’m Mark Rose, and I’m Chief Executive of Fauna & Flora International. 

Nick   

Fantastic, so for the people who haven’t heard of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), how do you describe it to them? 

Mark Rose   

We are a conservation organisation whose prime focus is on saving species and ecosystems. 

Nick   

And what makes you stand out as unique in the NGO sector? So we have heard you are a big international NGO or BINGOS as we call them.   

Mark Rose   

We’re not, we’re not a BINGO. We’re sort of medium size international conservation organisation. What makes us stand out, a pedigree for one thing, we’re the oldest international conservation organisation in the world so we were the first. We were set up in 1903 as the Society for the Protection of the Fauna of the Empire, the Wild Fauna of the Empire, SPWFE not an acronym we liked, not a name, which was easily rolled off the tongue. That changed over the years to the Fauna Society and then Fauna and Flora Preservation Society when I joined and now Fauna & Flora International 1981. So what’s different about us? I think the big thing is that our sole raison d’être is building capacity. So building capacity at all levels, we build capacity at government level, at corporation level, at local community level, at international and national NGO level. We founded a number of international NGOs because we were the first international NGO. We laid the seeds in for things like IUCN, WWF, TRAFFIC. In fact, I was one of the first employees for TRAFFIC in 70s, in a small little office in SohoCarnaby Street. And I’ll tell you a little bit more about that when we talk about my sort of career a little bit, you know how I sort of got into this whole business. So we work across we work in 42 countries around the world. We have about 500 staff. We raise and spend about 50 million dollars globally. 

Nick   

And what were the roots of the establishment of FFI or SPWFE as it was called in the days back in 1903? Why was it established?  

Mark Rose   

It was established, because a small but very eminent group of gentlemen realised that the game trophies were getting smaller, and that the game even then was running out. And so these were people like Lord Kitchener, Lord Salisbury, who was then Prime Minister of the day, the Duke of Bedford and Teddy Roosevelt joined a little bit later, it was some big hunters in there and they recognised if we carried on the way we were going, then there wouldn’t be any wildlife left in the Empire and so they set up the society. They didn’t need any money. They didn’t have to pay anybody. They used their influence to gazette areas within the Empire and the first area they gazetted was Southern National Park in the now South Sudan. The next was the Kruger National Park, then Haley National Park. In fact, most of the big national parks that you’ll see in India and Africa, were established by the society between 1903 and 1954. And then they set up one of the first conference on species in 1930, called the London conference. And that was all around endangered species and connected areas, that same structure still going today. The last one was held in Mozambique a few years ago. 

Nick   

So people often think of conservation is quite a modern movement, but actually it’s been around for more than 100 years. 

Mark Rose   

It has and if you read the minutes of our first meeting, which was held in October in the Natural History Museum in 1983, many of the issues, wildlife trade, then capturing animals for circuses, was an issue on the agenda, education of the young was an issue on that agenda, habitat loss was an issue, over hunting was an issue. All these things that we know today, they were issues in 1903. 

Nick   

And you’ve been CEO now for 20 years?  

Mark Rose   

26. 

Nick   

26 years. 

Mark Rose   

So I joined in 1993. 

Nick   

How has FFI changed over your tenure? What’s it like looking back the last 26 years or so? 

Mark Rose   

Well, when I joined, there were five people in a basement with no windows in South Kensington. We had a very good journal. It’s much better now. It was good then. We had three projects, one in Turkey, one in Nigeria, and one in Rwanda. And we had a running deficit. Not a lot of money in. So that’s how we were then as I said today, we’re now in 41 countries. We spend about 50 million a year about 500 people, and we’re here in the David Attenborough building in Cambridge with 130 staff based here. 

Nick   

How did that transformation occur? What did you and your team do? What have been the key things that enable you to go from five staff in Soho to 500 staff and 130 are here? 

Mark Rose   

The key things were gaining a vision of what FFI could do. When I started and I went around and I talked to people I met at the World Conservation Congress. It was held in Argentina that year. And I said, you know, to people, what do you think of FFI, good pedigree, had a good past, pretty boutique now. It’s not really relevant. But you know, so you then say, what should you do? And they sort of shake their head and so I don’t really know, you’ve probably been superseded by other organisations coming into this space. So I thought to myself, well that’s not very helpful, but you know, I did ask. So I thought about it. And then I thought about just prior to my joining FFPS as it was then I’ve actually been doing a contract for the World Bank in Jordan, looking at how they could invest that 10 million in a protected areas management project. So basically, they wanted to build a capacity in Jordan to manage their own protected areas. In doing so I went to Jordan and the first people I was introduced to were UNDP who said, well, we’re the people who take the money and we will implement it for you. 

Nick   

The United Nations Development Programme. 

Mark Rose   

Yeah. And I thought, but who’s got the responsibility here for it? So I went to the government, they said, well, we’ve delegated responsibility to this organisation called the Royal Scientific Nature Conservation and they’re doing it. So I went to see them and I walked into the office, and there were two young men, graduates, and an older man who was from the forestry department, he was retired from there. And they were given the princely sum of 80,000 dollars a year to run the whole of the Protected Area authority in Jordan, which had some quite sizeable areas. So my colleague and I when we wrote up our report for the bank, we suggested that this organisation should have the money and that we should use some of it to build their capacity. And the bank came back and refused and said no, they asked to go to the government. We said, well, and so they said, can you change your report? We said, no, that’s what we think. So they then came back to the right, would you manage the building of capacity of this organisation, Royal Society of Nature Conservation with half the grant, and the other half can go into director and we that’s what we did. And it was a real success and it’s a success today. One of those young men became the Chief Executive of that organisation. He went on to become the Minister for Environment. He’s now a regional representative for the environment in the whole of the Middle East. So out of that, you know, and that organisation is the premier conservation organisation in the Middle East. So when it came to FFI just finished that and I was thinking, you know, this has got to be the future conservation. You know, prior to that I worked for FFO, FAO in the United Nations and they were very much a direct implementation organisation. They set up a project, ran it for three years, maybe closed it down, maybe renewed it, but they never went for very much longer than that. And I could see all the errors in that.  

Nick   

Sort of boom and bust almost. Yeah. 

Mark Rose   

But what we did in Jordan is what we’ve adopted at FFI. So really, I did a bit of a gap analysis within the international NGO sector. A lot of them said that they build capacity, but they were building individual capacity, and they weren’t doing it in a holistic way. So what we do at FFI, we do it in a holistic way, we’ll take a government department, leave and take a country, or we’ll take a small bunch of community, or we’ll take an international NGO, or even a large multinational corporation, and we’ll help them build their capacity. And so that’s what we do. That’s been our raison d’être and that’s really been our success. So once having got the vision it was then getting the talent to implement that vision. 

Nick   

Would your goal be in many cases to actually step back and leave the organisation, whether it’s the country or the department or the NGO to be sustainable? 

Mark Rose   

Our success is redundancy. That’s what we measure our success on. I mean, the RSNC in Jordan is running itself doing very well. Don’t need us any longer every now and then, they might ring me up, or contact one of our staff for some help. And that’s it. It’s a very light touch. 

Nick   

So you set the vision, you have this idea about how conservation could and should be achieved sustainably. That is about bringing the right people in to make that vision into reality. How do you go about finding people to kind of make this vision come true? 

Mark Rose   

A lot of them found me, which was quite interesting. They were watching the space but I have one rule is that I always try and hire people who are smarter than I am. 

Nick   

Never be the smartest person in the room.  

Mark Rose   

Absolutely. And so that’s what I’ve always tried to do and that’s worked quite well. So getting a talented group of individuals around you be they staff or trustees, because that was a challenge that I had, you know, when I started talking to our trustees about this concept of building capacity, they said, well, that’s just training. And I said, no, no, it’s much more than that. So it was quite a selling job and some of them bought in, but most of them didn’t so they were replaced. And that was a challenge in doing that. And so, in some ways, you’re not just when you’re working for an international NGO or any NGO in this field, you’re like the meat or the filling in the sandwich, you know, you’re managing up, which is your trustees, and you’re managing down, which is your staff. And that’s a very important concept to grasp. 

Nick   

How important are the trustees and the patrons and the other often high profile individuals that sit above you, if you like, come into the organisation, you have some quite well known individuals, you know, as founder patrons and Sir David Attenborough certainly jumps out. While the list is extraordinary how important are they to kind of achieving success at FFI? 

Mark Rose   

They’re all important in different ways. The patrons and vice presidents and presidents, they’re all selected for different things. Some of them are because they’re international people in their own right, they are part of the theatre or they might be part of the television. They’re famous to the general public, others less so, but equally in their sphere are eminent as well, people, captains of industry, etc, etc. And so we use different vice presidents for different audiences.   

Nick   

Do you pick them strategically? 

Mark Rose   

We do pick them strategically. And then of course, we have all rounders at the top like our President Princess Laurentien and our Patron the Queen. And again, they have their own sphere of influence. So they’re all picked in different ways for different audiences. And also to achieve different goals. 

Nick   

Its almost like your team on the bench.

Mark Rose   

They are and then below that we’ve got there but equally as important, we have our trustees. And they are also every one of those is hand selected for a reason. And that reason is around making us a centre of excellence as an organisation, both in terms of good governance, in terms of leadership, in terms of skill sets that we don’t easily have internally. So we add those at the top in our trustee list, and they’re all our trustees are very, they don’t just sit there. They’re all actively engaged.  

Nick   

When we look at or when I look at FFI from the outside, and when I speak to staff, we spoke to Nick Bubb recently on the podcast also and I will speak to others as well going forwards, what comes across is I think innovation, it seems like you are on the cusp of exploring new ways of working within conservation. You’re working with corporate partnerships and have been for a long time exploring that space and seeing the growth that you receive as a role and the vice versa you’re conserving as a result. How kind of integral is innovation and creative thinking within FFI to seeing the impact you want to achieve in the world?  

Mark Rose   

Well, hugely, I mean, our strap lines innovation since 1903. We take it into account in every way. Part of it is, but we’re not corseted by having, although we’ve got a five year strategy, you know, but our strategy is laid out in such a way that we are flexible. We don’t have a set of countries or things that we’re going to do in the next five years. We do but we leave ourselves space around those. So because we work to local needs people come to us. And so we always allow the space around what we’re doing for people to come to us. 

Nick   

So you have an idea of where you want to get to, but you figure out you are being agile, how you going to get there.  

Mark Rose   

Yeah. And that goes through the whole thinking of the organisation. So if you’re always being agile in thought, then you’re going to pick up innovation, you’re going to look at things in a different way. You’re going to attract people who bring new ideas to you, which perhaps won’t get funded or implemented any other way because they go to somebody else they say, oh, no, we got a plan for next five years. And that’s it. So after that we can probably add you in, we would never say that we would actually look at it and say, well, do we want to do this? Well, if we do if it’s going to achieve conservation outputs, we’ll do it. And we’ll find a way to do it. 

Nick   

Do you have an example of that in action so?  

Mark Rose   

Well, okay, if we, if we go back to you mentioned, working with industry, you know, 17 years ago, we realised that, and this was through some work we were doing with BP at the time that you know, BP are giving us some money, but and that achieve something. But this is organisation working globally here in such a big footprint, what are we doing with the rest of it? So we started talking to the managers that we had an interface with, and it was just too big for them to grasp the idea of the business case for biodiversity in a multinational organisation. So in the end I went to their new chief executive, John Brown, Lord John Brown now, and he said, look, you’ve got half an hour he said, tell me why, tell me how and tell me how much. 

Nick   

What did you say?   

Mark Rose   

Well, at that time, the business case for biodiversity wasn’t very well worked out, it was just a thought. So I had a go explaining to him why the planet would be much better off, his company would be much better off if they adopted a process of mainstreaming biodiversity throughout all their operation, mainstreaming biodiversity considerations. And at the end of that half an hour he said, all right, let’s give it a go. I never told him how much and he said, you’ve got carte blanche with the organisation starting 8:30, tomorrow morning.   

Nick   

Wow.  

Mark Rose   

And at 7:30 that morning, I started getting phone calls from senior managers saying, you know, we’ve been told, to expect a call from you. So what do you want to talk about? And so what we did is, we set up a straw man, which was their biodiversity policy for the group. We then tested that out in Indonesia first, and I remember their director in Indonesia saying, I haven’t got two days to waste on this. I said, no, we’ve got a workshop, we’ve set up with your staff. We’ve got external people coming. You know, we would like you there to at least open it. Okay, I’ll come. He walked in the room. He saw who was in the room. It was the Director of Mining, the Director of Energy Resources, you know, the Minister, and they’re all sitting around in the room and he stayed for the two days. After that we rolled out that process across BP. But at that time, when we did it, BP was becoming more and more successful. They just had taken over Amoco. They’ve taken over Castrol. They’ve taken over another American company; I can’t remember the name of. John Brown was the darling of the business world. So people were all eyes on what he was doing. And so very quickly, we had Tinto, Any, Shell, British American Tobacco, British Gas, all those people joined this group and we were flat out working throughout the industry working and also we had to recruit new skill sets. You know, at that point, we were a bunch of biologists.  

Nick   

What do you know about corporations?   

Mark Rose   

Exactly. So we quickly bought in some new skill sets. Most of those people are still with us today. I have to say, and now we’ve got even more, and we delivered for them. But we learned a lot of lessons along the way. 

Nick   

Was it exciting or terrifying when he said, half eight you’re starting.

Mark Rose   

Exciting, definitely exciting. I pumped the air as I walked out of the office. 

Nick   

As CEO, what are the bits you enjoy most about the job and what are some of the challenges you might want to share? 

Mark Rose   

Of course, success. Success, getting something done and thinking that was a great piece of work and look at the conservation impact. I’ll give you an example. I remember we’ve been working in Liberia for a long time. We worked prior to the Charles Taylor era, which most people listening might know about. They don’t read up on it. And during his time as a despotic President of the country, during which time he was taking out 186 truckloads of wood every 24 hours out of the upper Guinea rainforest. It was very depressing to watch. He used to go on the radio and say things like, and it was aimed at the international NGOs, us in particular, this is my Pepper pot, leave it alone. Pepper tree sorry, pepper tree. It was a very challenging time. We had to really be careful about security for our staff travelling in travelling out, not going there with any laptops, for example, because they were always seized and checked for any information. And if you had one, they could make your information look as though it was slanderous to the government. So you had to be very, very careful as not being branded a spy, or an enemy of Liberian government. So, difficult time. History was on our side, the Americans came in, they arrested Charles Taylor at some point. And there was a move to have a new government in place, so an opportunity for us. So we quickly hired a Liberian American trained lawyer, and she came to work for us, and she rewrote all the forestry laws for the government and they were passed through the first sitting, six weeks after Taylor left the country. So we have a six-week window and we took it, we rewrote forestry laws to protect the forest. They were granted, and they exist today. When we had done that, and it went through the new parliament that was something I was very pleased, huge moment of success and something I so those are the things that you live for. Those are the things that sort of keep you going. 

 Nick   

What do you not look forward to? What do you not enjoy that you’d like to share? 

Mark Rose   

Well what I don’t enjoy is what’s happening in Brazil. You know, on the bigger front where you got a new President comes in and all of a sudden it’s de rigueur to clear out the forests, and because nobody enjoys that nobody in their right mind anyway. And we have that stuff happening to us on small scale all the time. But, you know, the winds are there, the winds are there. I think, personally, I used to think that we were a bit of a kamikaze state that mankind was Kamikaze. I don’t think that anymore. I actually think we’re like a good parasite. We keep our hosts going. And I think that’s what we will do. I think we are at a crucial moment in time; we are at a crucial moment in environmental time. 

Nick   

You’ve been looking your strategy for the next five or so years, and you’ve been in role now for 26 years. Where do you see in that context FFI 20 years from now? Do you have a vision looking forward? And are you optimistic about it? 

Mark Rose   

Well, I think our visions, I do think we have to be flexible. If we’re really successful, we’ll be smaller. If we’re not so successful, we’ll have to be bigger. So that’s the way I look at it. And in terms of how we look at things going forward, at the moment, I’ve just said, we’re at a critical time. There are two things that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to save our old growth forests, and we’ve got to save our ocean. So those are the two things we’ve got to do. And so getting caught up in arguments about transport I think is wrong. I think the conservation movements are going to be very clear. What are the silver bullets that we want? The silver bullets are trees are the best sequesters of carbon on this planet. Old grown trees are the best. Let’s stop talking about tree planting, let’s start talking about natural regeneration and saving our old growth forests. Because if we don’t do that, if you go back 10 years to the Stern report, what that said was that if we stopped all the illegal deforestation in this world, we would save as much carbon as we do on the whole of the transport system. So Greta, don’t get in your boat and go across the ocean, thinking you’re going to save the planet that way, that’s not going to be popular. People do not like you, when you start saying you can’t travel, you can’t go on your holidays. But if you start talking about saving the old growth forests a little bit more, saying that’s what we’ve got to do. That’s all we’ve got to do and save the oceans. That’s a much better message.  

Nick   

Do you think we need to simplify the message?   

Mark Rose   

We’ve always got to simplify. I think this is where conservations gone wrong. If 10 years ago, we’ve been talking about climate change, instead of global warming, there would have been much more acceptance of what was going on in the world. There are too many people thinking global warming. Well, it’s getting cold around here, you know, or it’s, you know I don’t know what you’re talking about. Climate change is a much better term. If we talked about nature instead of biodiversity, that would have been easier to grasp, as it happens now biodiversity in the name and terms coming of an age, and people now understand it. It’s being used every day on the television.  

Nick   

But 5-10 years ago, it was very unfamiliar.  

Mark Rose   

I can remember somebody it was a senior executive of BBC, could you define biodiversity for me, because nobody in our shop knows what it means. We mean nature. Yeah, that’s what we mean. But nature suddenly disappeared and biodiversity. So I think where we failed is to be clear in our objectives, and be clear in our communications. 

Nick   

And by we, you mean the conservation? 

Mark Rose   

The conservation community as a whole. But as FFI going forward, the marine environment, old growth forest, I’m not saying we’re going to ignore other habitats, but they are two areas which needs special attention. 

Nick   

And are you optimistic about what can be achieved by either FFI or the movement as a whole within say 20 years? 

Mark Rose   

I am, I’m optimistic for probably three reasons, maybe two. One, I’ve got great confidence in man’s ingenuity to do things. Secondly, as we’ve seen in this country, over the last five years, conservation of the environment is on the verge almost was on the verge of becoming a voting issue. If we look at the election before last labor got a big swing on the young vote, and a lot of that young vote was about the environment. 

Nick   

We had the first climate change debate in this recent election in the UK. 

Mark Rose   

Yeah, we did. And my daughter came to me and said, and she’s 27. And she said, look dad I’m going to vote labor because they’ve got a great green manifesto, and conservative and all four. That’s what’s influencing me. And a lot of her friends did exactly the same. So I think the fact that environment is so high up the agenda is going to make a huge difference to what’s going on and in the future. I think in the past, we lost 10 years, because environment was almost there in 2008 then came the banking crash. And then it was all hands to the pump industry, governments all forgot about the environment for 10 years. It’s now back on the agenda. The signs are so, so much there now, that this is impacting on the world’s future. And I was at DAVOS two weeks ago, and five of the big risk factors at the top of the tree were environment related, and three of them were biodiversity related. So that’s never happened.  

Nick   

So it’s right at the top of the agenda of decision-makers and leaders.

Mark Rose   

Last year, I was at DAVOS and it was really just about climate change. And there was no sort of recognition that nature played a part in this. Well, this time they recognised that nature plays a big part in climate change and is a big respect to the sense of business.   

Nick   

Changes happening rapidly.  

Mark Rose   

Changes are happening so instead of pushing a closed door, we’re now pushing, not at one ajar, but at a very open door. And our mission now won’t be to get people to listen, it will be get people to realise what they can do and what needs to be done? The listening is over. People want to know, business wants to know, governments want to know, the Commonwealth meeting, which is going to be held in Rwanda this June, environment is right up the agenda whereas before, it was always bottom the agenda and commerce and trade was always at the top. 

Nick   

How do you think that’s going to influence or change the job market for people looking to work in conservation? 

Mark Rose   

It’s going to get bigger, it’s going to get much bigger, and there’s going to be a real requirement for good people, and a broad range of good people. But when I started in this business, and we can talk about that, if you like, conservation was about translocating, some rhinos here and there and managing some habitat. It’s a broad church now, in this building in our office we’ve got as well as ecologists and zoologist and botanists. We’ve got lawyers, we’ve got economists, we’ve got bankers, we’ve got surveyors, we’ve got anthropologists, finance people. I mean, we’ve got a whole range of people, and they’re not here to run this organisation, they’re here to build the capacity of others and get the job done.  

Nick   

So it’s a professional industry in its own right.  

Mark Rose   

Professional industry in its own right.  

Nick   

And that’s evolved rapidly, hasn’t it?   

Mark Rose   

Yeah. And it’s become more and more professional. 

Nick   

So where did your career start then, looking back a little bit what have been the key moments? 

Mark Rose   

Quite a long way but I suppose my career started when I was a, my memory of it anyway was being small child and being very interested in natural history, and, you know, sort of ages seven or eight I can remember that far, you know, I used to catch snakes and lizards and frogs and toads and it felt like, I was the only person doing that. And I felt, in some ways a bit of an oddball. A little later on, I started to read books about subjects, and particularly one by a chap called Maxwell Knight, who was that nice sort of old fashioned naturalist type, and I suppose he brought me some comfort that I wasn’t unusual. Although his first book was, I think, Pets, Usual and Unusual. And I, of course, was interested in all the unusual ones. And so I suppose that reaffirmed that I was an unusual sort of person, I don’t know. But he was an interesting character because I didn’t know what his profession was and it didn’t seem he had one he seemed to be a retired gentleman who used to just write about natural history, wrote new naturalist guides and things like that and natural history collecting for young people and all sorts of stuff, which I still got today. And he used to write very well and he tells you how to go out and catch snakes and things and talk about their lives and how to keep them and what their natural history and everything else. So he was an influence. Fairly recently, it was discovered that he was a very senior person in MI5 so it was a television programme about him about three months ago, which actually said that he almost won the war for us in terms of tracking down economists and spies in this country. He was the MI5’s foremost spy catcher. So very interesting. There were other people around as well. So Maxwell Knight was the first person who sort of fed my appetite. But there were people like Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough also who I read avidly at that time. And it was, I think Gerry Durrell, who sparked my enthusiasm to going off to Africa and being an animal collector, which I did, having done a brief stint in the zoo, so I went to Africa and I drove across the Sahara, set up business in and became an animal collector.  

Nick   

In your 20s, 30s?  

Mark Rose   

I was 18-19. I know I could drive because I drove a lorry all the way across so I must have been 18 probably. But when I came back from there, you know, humdrum Britain, you know, worked as a furniture removals assistant for a while and stuff like that and I decided, you know, I really wanted to be a zoologist. Light bulb moment, really, and this is what I had to do. But problem was no O levels, no A levels, no university, you know, so did all the O levels and A levels, packed those into 18 months and worked in operating theatre at night and got into Royal Holloway College in London, did zoology there. And I think it’s while I was there, that I realised actually that I didn’t want to be a zoologist. I wanted to be a conservationist. I wanted to be a wildlife conservationist. 

Nick   

You didn’t want to just study and understand you wanted to protect and conserve. 

Mark Rose   

Yeah, so that sort of changed again and so in my middle year I started to use this time to network out and get yourself some people in the net, get to know some people. So because I was particularly interested in reptiles, I was particularly interested in crocodiles. I designed a project I went to what was a fledgling little unit run by Flora and Fauna Preservation Society in London called the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Unit based in Carnaby Street. It was three people in a room six by ten you know, with a lot of files and I’ve took to them a project I wanted to do on studying the trading crocodile skins globally, where it’s coming from, where it was going, and they liked that idea. So I spent three months working with them and I made sure I knew where all the international conferences were going on. And I attended a couple and through that I got to know, people. And then in my final year, I wrote to some of them and said, look, I’m finishing university. I’d really like a job. Can I have a job, please? And I sent four letters, and I got two back. I got three back. The one was no, and the other two yeah, come tomorrow to Venezuela, and the other one was come tomorrow to well, it wasn’t come tomorrow, the other one was, would you attend an interview in London for a job in Papua New Guinea as working on a crocodile programme 

Nick   

Did you respond to both?   

Mark Rose   

I responded to both but I took the one in Papua Guinea. I’ve been to Papua Guinea into a very remote region, where I was working with crocodile programme as the wildlife officer for that district. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was boy’s own stuff. I loved it. And I became district officer for a while and then I was headhunted got and run set up a crocodile ranching operation, a commercial one that became the biggest crocodile ranch in the world, it still is. It was very successful. We combined it with an airline and a coffee business, a table business, chicken business so that the chickens’ offal went straight into the crocodile’s mouth literally over the wall. It was a great and I enjoyed the business side of it. I enjoyed managing the whole thing. And that’s where I had another little light bulb moment I thought, you know, I’m only a really mediocre wildlife biologist. I’m actually quite good at this, this management stuff. I quite enjoy this and I get a bigger buzz out of getting things done. When we completely obliterated the illegal trade in crocodile skins through trading really good quality legal ones, that was a big moment for me. That was a big moment for me.  

Nick   

You can see how that can then be transferred into what you’re doing. 

Mark Rose   

And since then, you know the crocodile population when we first started that project was you hardly saw any crocodiles in the water. Now they’re everywhere, the crocodile population’s gone up.  

Nick   

What species of crocodile?  

Mark Rose   

Salt water and fresh so Crocodylus porosus and Crocodylus novaeguineae, so we have both.  

Nick   

What happened from there then? The other light bulb moment? 

Mark Rose   

I probably would have stayed doing that job for some time. Unfortunately, personal circumstances, family health, and I had to come back to the UK, not my health, but you know, I had to come back to the UK. And it was I was devastated. You know, there I was going what I thought on one trajectory and was thoroughly enjoying it, everything I wanted to do dreamed about. And the next minute, I was back in the UK without a job. 

Nick   

All over again. 

Mark Rose   

So I was sort of sitting there having to start again. So I remember going to somebody I knew remotely, he said, why don’t you come out for a pint, you know, so we went to a pub in Highgate, in London, which is near where I was living at time. And he said, have you ever looked in this magazine is often your sort of jobs and I started getting that magazine. I can’t remember what it was now. I don’t think it exists anymore. And I saw a job in there working for the wildlife trusts what is now the wildlife trust. And it was in Suffolk. And during my time in New Guinea, I bought a small house small cottage in Suffolk. And so it was all up set and go live in the cottage and job. So I went for the interview and realised that I was quite well qualified and quite unusual. I went to the interview and they said, oh, it’s very good. We will let you know. And I said, okay, let me know. But it will be a no, if that’s the case.  

Nick   

You said that.  

Mark Rose   

Yeah. And they said, What do you mean? I said, well, I’m here. If you want to offer me the job, it’s now, and if I have to walk out this door, it’s no.  

Nick   

That shows the confidence you had at that age.  

Mark Rose   

So you decide what you want to do. And this chap, well, turned blue. So they were quite unprepared for this. So they went out and had a chat. And one of them came back and he said, you’re on. And that chap was then running the trust. And he was a great guy. He died recently, but he was a chap who really made a difference in conservation in a very special way. And part of that was his willingness to take risks. Like, he took a risk on me.  

Nick   

What made you kind of force their hand there and then? That seems like a very confident, assertive.  

Mark Rose   

I think I was really fed up in the position I was in that, you know, I had to move out of something I was really loved and was doing and into a position where I was thinking, you know, I don’t really want to be in England, I don’t really want to be doing this. I want to be somewhere and I couldn’t put up with that time. But something missing me about, just impatient. I actually thought this is a good job. I could do this really well. And I suppose I took a, mentally I took a risk. I also thought if they’ve got two of us lined up, this will push the button now. 

And if they say no, okay. 

Nick   

Any other gaps then, to fill in from that role at the Wildlife Trust in Suffolk to where you then became…

Mark Rose   

Yeah, then because I was in Suffolk I was Conservation Manager and I then took on, I was there for, I can’t remember it probably a couple of years and I enjoyed it very much. But I wanted my own ship. And so it was a job came up with Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust, which was failing. It was pretty much in fact, I took the job and then they said, oh, by the way, we don’t have enough to pay salaries this month. So that was pretty tricky. So I had to sort of restructure things in order to, yeah, that’s what it was. So I had an enjoyable time there in the end. It was hard at the beginning, restructuring finances, you know, restructuring staff and trustees, and building up a team. And in the end, what I did was I merged the Cambridgeshire Trust with the Bedfordshire and Huntingdon and Northampton Trusts, put them all into one. So they became a viable unit because none of them were really viable on their own. And people say, well, how did you do that? Because the wildlife trusts are notorious for being sort of individual and a bit eccentric, and they certainly were in those days and I think when I look back into how did we do that the key was the chairmanship that we had. We had Lady Richenda Huxley as our Chair, who was then married to the Master of Trinity Sir Andrew Huxley, and everybody liked and trusted her.  

Nick   

And that goes a long way.  

Mark Rose   

And because of that, the Chairman of the Bedfordshire trust and also the Northampton trust, said, if we merge you can be the Chair, we want you as Chair. We’re very happy with because normally it’s always the Senior Silverbacks who sort of argue in these things and I had a very good relationship with the senior conservation personnel and in those trusts, and they were happy for me to become Chief Executive, but the Chair was critical. And she pulled that together very well with a lot of talent and skill.  

Nick   

Did you then move from that role to FFI?  

Mark Rose   

Yes, I did. And I was headhunted for the role. And I got a phone call one day saying would you put your hat in the ring? And I said, well, I don’t know. And I’ve been a member of FFI since I’ve worked in a small office, which was then became TRAFFIC. And I had a lot of time for, you know, I really liked FFI. I liked the journal I liked everything it stood for it was. It did some great work, particularly in the UK on species conservation in the 70s and 80s. It was, you know, the doyen of organisations at that time. Yeah. So I was a bit sad at what happened to it, it’s gone really down the tubes the chief executive had a falling out with the Chairman. I won’t bore you with all that. But it wasn’t in a good shape. And they were looking for a new Executive Director, just to sort of sort it out. So in the end, I said yes, but on the basis of what you’re offering me isn’t enough. So the package isn’t worth me moving right now. So, okay. And so they came back and says, oh, well, alright. And so they put that to the trustees and the trustees decided that they didn’t want to pursue things with me. So they left it and then about three months later, they came back to me and said they do. So I said, okay, well, I’ll entertain it. And so I went to some really quite bizarre interviews, which I really didn’t understand then and don’t now, but anyway, those we interviewed and, and I was shortlisted out of those interviews, and then I wasn’t selected. They selected somebody else. I think once he had a look at the books, that person decided he didn’t want to do the job. And so they offered it to me, and I said I’d do. So I wasn’t first choice. I was second choice. But I didn’t mind that because by that time, I wanted to sort the organisation out. I was determined to help. 

Nick   

It piqued your interest.  

Mark Rose   

It piqued my interest. Yeah. And I thought that FFI had such potential, which was being unrealised, and the world needed it.  

Nick   

And the rest is history.  

Mark Rose   

So to speak. 

Nick   

Yeah. Switching gears slightly into careers advice. You know a lot of people who listen to this looking to secure that first paying role, whether they’re graduates, job seekers or even career switchers. Do you have any advice for people like that?  

Mark Rose   

Two things. If you really want to do this, then do it. If that’s what you want to do, I’ve always thought whatever you want to do, you can do if you’re tenacious enough, persistent enough. And you want to do it hard enough. Secondly, don’t be put off by the fact that you might come from a different discipline. I took on somebody in 1995, who came to see me with a boa constrictor and a maths degree, and said, I’d really like to work in conservation. He now runs one of America’s biggest conservation organisations, and he started work for me as a volunteer in Vietnam.  

Nick   

So if someone is in that kind of unrelated role, let’s say right now they’re working in banking or communications or something else, what in your view do they need to do to secure a role within an organisation like FFI?  

Mark Rose   

They need to come and talk to us, and we will give them a realistic idea whether they’re suitable. What I’m saying is that if you want to do it badly enough, you’ll do it. But there is a path that you might not know about or not realise for yourself. What skills you might want to pick up on the way? What is the access point for you? Because it might vary depending on what your background is, in terms of skills and qualifications. I know people who haven’t got any skills or qualification, well, they’ve got skills, but no qualification yet, and they’ve got in and been very successful. I’m not saying that’s for everybody. That’s for some people. And a lot of it is about personal qualities and determination. 

Nick   

So when you hire staff, you look for personal attributes? 

Mark Rose   

Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. And we always when we’re interviewing, we do the selection. And then we look at each other and say all what is the wild card we’ve left in the pack? If there isn’t one? That’s okay. But often does somebody we overlook because they don’t quite fit the tick box criteria that you’re looking at, but somebody in there who actually turns out to be the best person and they might be a bit of a risk, but I think paired here we’re prepared to take risks.   

Nick   

Yeah, which speaks volumes.  

Mark Rose   

Yeah. I think if you talk to people on our shop floor, so to speak, there’s a whole range of people in there who perhaps don’t fit the bill. They didn’t come in the traditional route. You know, we’ve got dancers, we’ve got bankers, we’ve got accountants, we’ve got lawyers, we’ve got all sorts of people.  

Nick   

And it’s all once you said, you know, get in touch, talk to us what should people do? Pick the phone up or send an email or?  

Mark Rose   

Send an email. Yeah, I don’t want to open the floodgate. 

Nick   

Of course I understand.  

Mark Rose   

But yeah, just send an email and   

Nick   

Talk to people. 

Mark Rose   

Talk to people, because we’ve given a lot of advice to people about different entry points, and it’s always served quite well I think.  

Nick   

That’s great advice. Thank you. And then just wrapping things up. I’m very conscious of time. I don’t want to use any more your time than is necessary. We’ve talked about this a bit already, actually. But when we look at the conservation movement, we are winning a few battles, but we’re losing the war. In fact that biodiversity is still declining globally. The challenge is still there. FFI consequently, are growing, at least I hope you are.  

Mark Rose   

We are.   

Nick   

What the conservationists needs to do more of what we need to do better as a movement as a whole? 

Mark Rose   

I did allude to this earlier on, we need to communicate better, we need to be clearer in our thought processes, we need to say exactly what we want from power and business, really focus on the important thing. So, communicate and focus. These are two things I would say. And I’d say in terms of what the other question was, was, you know, looking at the future; we are seeing change at the top. You know, you used to go to conferences and things, and it would be nobody there in any power, there’d be nobody there with any influence, they are all technical people, you know, who we’re talking about saving the last tiger or say, studying it to death. But really now there is more talk in places like DAVOS and decision making forums around these issues and not just talking shops, but what to do about. That gives me a lot of sense of optimism. Sorry, optimism, but we have got to know what we want them to do. And we have now got to help them sought that out.  

Nick   

And do you talk to other conservation leaders about this? You know your message.  

Mark Rose   

We do. It’s something we talked about 10 years ago, but people weren’t listening. Now they are.   

Nick   

Mark Rose, thank you very much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. If people want to support FFI to get involved, where should we point them? What should they do?  

Mark Rose   

Look at our website. Go to our website, there’s even a careers section 

Nick   

We’ll link to it from the podcast. Thank you very much.  

Mark Rose   

Thank you. 

Nick   

Okay, well, I hope you enjoyed that everyone. If you did, then please do hit that subscribe button to get notified when new episodes are live. And also give us your ratings it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews, we’ve collected the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free eBook, which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @conservecareers. We’d love to hear from you. Okay, till next time, guys. This is Nick signing out. 

 

Main image credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI

Careers Advice, Organisational Management Conservation Jobs, Podcast, Senior Level

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