Diversity toolkit

Business leaders give unique perspectives on creating a diverse workforce

Diversity Toolkit Interview

Ken Olisa OBE, Chairman

Ken Olisa OBE

Chairman, Restoration Partners

Ken is Founder and Chairman of Restoration Partners, the boutique technology merchant bank. Ken’s technology career spans over 30 years, commencing with IBM from whom he won a scholarship while at Cambridge University. After IBM he ran worldwide marketing and then EAME operations, Wang Laboratories. He founded and floated his previous company Interregnum. In 2014 Ken was named in the Powerlist as the most influential black man in Britain.

Interview - Role models

In 2009 Ken attended a City dinner hosted by JP Morgan to celebrate the publication of that year’s Powerlist, an annual publication profiling the most influential people of African and African Caribbean heritage in the United Kingdom. During the dinner a lively discussion arose about how they could become more proactive in making a difference – and the Powerlist Foundation was born.

The Foundation runs summer leadership programmes for undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds giving them exposure to inspirational role models, as well as life experiences they wouldn’t normally encounter. Creating a wide range of highly visible role models is vitally important in the business world, as everyone benefits from having something to aspire to.

The programmes have been so successful that in January 2014 the Foundation announced its plans to build a sixth form academy in South London where leadership will be its core focus. The college will identify tomorrow's top leaders irrespective of their race, gender, faith or ethnicity and provide opportunities to accelerate the development of these young people as leaders.

The business world has changed significantly through the decades and Ken talks positively about how he feels that business has finally got the point around diversity and inclusion. The key to success is ensuring the message and actions at the top are very consistent and that they are communicated to everyone in the organisation, not blocked by those individuals in the middle who may be less supportive. Dealing with this middle stratum is critical to the success of building a more diverse workforce.