Zaki Cooper (Class of 1995), Director & Co-Founder, Integra Group
How did CLS get you ready for the world of work?
I think in two ways. First, on the education side, there were some great and inspiring teachers. I must mention Mr Knight, who taught me for both History and Politics A-Level. His intellectual firepower had an influence on me and on so many other pupils. But CLS also moulded my character. It’s been interesting to hear other people remark many years on, that you can “always tell a City boy” and it’s meant as a complement. Part of that character formation was about being in an environment with boys of so many different faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds. We learnt a lot from each other and were living what a future boss, Jonathan Sacks, called “the dignity of difference.”
What was your first job?
After my Masters’ in Social and Political Sciences, I was looking for a job with a policy angle. I sent my CV to various places and it was picked up by One 2 One, the mobile phone network (it was later renamed to T-Mobile). I worked on their government relations and had a very interesting time going to meetings in Whitehall and Parliament to represent the company. I also got a feel for being part of a large, fast-growing international organisation.
Your biggest professional achievement?
I am not sure if it’s an achievement, as much as a highlight, but it was working at Buckingham Palace leading the strategic communications of the Diamond Jubilee which took place in 2012 . The opportunity came completely out the blue but once I’d been offered the role, it was too enticing to turn down. On my first day in the job, feeling slightly apprehensive, it was arranged for me to meet the Master of the Household, a wonderful man called Sir David Walker. What did we end up talking about? CLS of course! He had been sent my CV and noticed I attended the school, having been an old boy himself some years earlier. The Jubilee was a spectacular experience, culminating in the 4-day weekend of celebrations in June 2012. Behind-the-scenes it took a huge amount of meticulous preparation and hard work.
Your most challenging professional moment?
I think it was going to work for the late, great Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. I was in my mid-20s and keeping up with the pace of work in a thinly resourced office, for someone with such a gargantuan intellect was challenging. You would mention a book to him and a few days later he had ordered it and read it! He did have a huge influence on me and his philosophy still does. I spend a lot of my spare time on inter-faith work through formal roles as Trustee of charities but also in more informal ways. I had the thrill of giving a TEDx talk a couple of years ago, “One Earth, Many Religions” which was both inspired by my work for Rabbi Sacks and also references my school days. Thinking back to my time at CLS and such a diverse environment, we were doing inter-faith without even realising it.
What inspires and motivates you at work?
I have always wanted to work with businesses or individuals with a sense of social responsibility. The charity, philanthropy and civic element has run like a thread through the various companies and organisations I have worked for. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or philanthropist, making change is hard. I think that business can teach charity hard-headed lessons about efficiency, budgets and governance. In turn, charity can teach business about passion, kindness and care. I am lucky enough to work with a range of inspiring individuals and families who are committed to bettering society through my current business, Integra, which I set up with someone I worked with at the Royal Household. We help our clients with their communications, philanthropy and public affairs, in essence to achieve the impact they want to achieve.
One piece of advice for pupils and other Old Citizens about getting into your profession?
One of my former bosses, Sir Lloyd Dorfman, a brilliant entrepreneur and inspiring philanthropist used to speak about trams and taxi drivers. Some friends have pursued careers on a particular tram line or ladder, whether that’s law, accountancy or medicine. My career has been more akin to a taxi driver, changing lanes, experiencing different sectors across private and public life. If you want to get into comms, there is no substitute for hard work, high quality written work and developing a strong network, which requires patience, determination and creativity over time. If you give your best in each opportunity, the future will take care of itself.
Zaki on LinkedIn