I have been involved with the Patchwork foundation for the last 3 years. During this time I have been privileged enough to attend masterclasses with Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Mishal Husain and even former Prime Minister Rt Hon David Cameron.
However, I was most looking forward to the masterclass with Sir Mark Sedwill. As Cabinet Secretary he takes the minutes at cabinet meetings and advises the government on public policy. As the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Mark is in charge of setting the strategic direction of the civil service workforce. He also holds the role of National Security Advisor. When conducting my research my interest in Sir Mark grew. Unlike his predecessors he career was mainly with the Foreign Office, rather than the Cabinet office or the Treasury.
On the day all who had attended were very excited. The attendees included people from the current cohort and Patchwork alumni, many of whom were now working in the Civil Service. To add to the occasion the event was hosted by KPMG, at their headquarters in Canary Wharf. We were all nervous, but Sir Mark immediately put us at ease. He joked that we looked army officers, when we stood up as he walked in.
He started by telling us about his humble upbringing. He grew up in a small town and attended the local grammar school. He then joined the Foreign Office and was posted to multiple countries. This included Egypt, Syria and later Afghanistan as the Ambassador. From 2013 to 2017 he served as the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, working with Rt Hon Theresa May, before becoming National security advisor, and then taking over from the late Sir Jeremy Heywood as Cabinet Secretary.
The most memorable comment that Sir Mark said was that he had “never planned his career”. However he did say that he was very competitive, and tried to set a high standard for every role that he had.
During the Q&A the Cabinet Secretary was asked about his role and advice that he could give to young people interested in a career in the civil service. When asked about leadership he spoke about building coalitions within the civil service, the public sector and the private sector. He gave three key tips, which were; “getting the big ideas right, building teams and to remain calm whilst maintaining a work life balance”.
The masterclass exceeded all of my expectations. Sir Mark was very open and honest with us throughout the evening. As an aspiring civil servant, I was encouraged and inspired by the session we had with the Cabinet Secretary.
Written by Daniel Oso