Rupert Tappin

rupert tappin

We really enjoyed chatting with Rupert Tappin, a leader who shares our values and having raised millions of pounds for charities throughout his career has gone on to forge a successful career as Country Manager at Talents UAE. Like us, Rupert ran a face-to-face fundraising company, later developing Decaid Consulting, which he still runs. Often at the forefront of innovation in the regular giving sector he helped set up the Fundraising Academy. A pioneer focussed on delivering genuine long term results, Rupert is now responsible for creating experiences in cultural locations across UAE, taking visitor experiences to the next level. 


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

Good to Great by Jim Collins was introduced to me by you Mark when you mentored me years ago. This taught me that leading a company isn’t about being ‘the big I am’, standing up in front of everyone and being the loudest in the room, or coming up with one great idea that changes everything, What it is actually about is what you do in small ways, small steps that you take daily to help and influence the people around you (whether that’s in work or at home) that over time make big impacts.

This is Marketing by Seth Godin

Having recommended those, what I really believe has helped me, more than any book I have ever read, is experience. More about that later…


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

I’m not really a gadget person or a thing person. But I do have a Spotify subscription and listening to music really helps me switch off and relax.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours? 

I lost my business that I’d been running for 10 years, about seven or eight years ago. I was throwing good money after bad to try and keep it afloat. I’d put my heart and soul into it and also my inheritance. When it finally failed, it was like hitting concrete. My back was against the wall, all my money had gone and I was questioning the skills I had.

Then, a friend of mine offered me a two-day week job, which then turned into a full-time one, which then led to the role I have now in the UAE…

…then Covid hit. Because we are operating in the tourist industry, we lost most of our contracts.

The learning I’d got from the experience of losing my own business meant that this time round I was able to cope with the challenge head-on. It meant that I was resilient, I understood that it was possible to come back from a difficult situation and how to remain calm in the face of it. It almost feels intuitive now, knowing how to handle that type of adversity. Amongst other things, we quickly cut our staff down from 35 to 5. We reduced everyone’s (including our own) salaries and we survived.  

When tourism started to come back, we were suddenly under pressure to get started again and I was able to help that same friend that gave me an opportunity when I was at my lowest ebb, by subcontracting him to supply the resource & capacity that we desperately needed (they had really struggled through Covid too and that really helped him) and that felt great. 

Since then, in just 12 months, we’ve grown to 58 people and we’re looking to double or triple in the next couple of years.

I still sometimes do suffer from imposter syndrome, but looking back I know I’ve done a lot of positive things, learnt a great deal and I’ve used this failure and this past pain positively.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?) 

Don’t overly worry, it always gets better.

No matter how low you feel, things will improve, never give up hope just because you don’t see it today. Tomorrow, a solution and a way forward may come. I know from personal experience.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) 

Investing time with my children is good for all of us.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I love maps (my mum also did). I like looking at maps of old railway lines. I also like to find old disused canals and then plan walks and bike rides along them, which I do with a particular friend. I’m a self-confessed transport geek.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? 

I have a tendency to be too much of a perfectionist. I’ve learnt to try my hardest to make a positive impact, but I don’t need to achieve perfection anymore. If it’s good enough, that’s fine, I’ll let it go and move on.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?”

Here’s three:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Focus on something you have an interest in.
  • You don’t need to plan your whole future and have it all laid out. If you’d asked me in my 20’s if I’d be living in Dubai running a company, I wouldn’t have believed you. Embrace the opportunities and the failures, life is a rich tapestry.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

This is true in any industry. There’s always a balance between quality and costs. Value for money doesn’t come from simply driving down costs. I’d like to see more reward for long-term value.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips? 

I do find it very hard to say no, and I can be a workaholic. However, I have got better at working a little less and I do know when I need to stop and switch off now. I recognise that whatever I’m doing can wait till tomorrow


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life? 

I was thinking about this more in terms of a balanced life within a company. 

I think it’s important to be rewarded for work, so pay people well for the value they bring, but it’s also extremely important to create an environment that’s respectful, ethical, quality driven, where people are listened to and where they enjoy working. 


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

To relax I listen to music and if I’ve really lost focus, I go to bed; tomorrow is another day. The other important thing is that I remind myself why I’m here, my family,  and that focuses me on what I need to get done.

Strangely, after the challenges I’ve faced in my life I’m good with big problems; the earthquake will hit and we’ll deal with it, but small things can wind me up. It’s something I am conscious I need to keep working on.


What does leadership mean to you? 

It’s about inspiring and empowering others to do the best that they can. Creating a framework for achievement – collectively not individually – and giving people ownership.

I used to think that as the leader you had to be the best across all areas and do everything yourself, but now I’ve learnt that you have to identify your strengths and weaknesses, hire people that are better than you at those things and delegate to them, so all the areas are covered.

It’s also about creating a culture of persistence and resilience and taking responsibility when things go wrong, encouraging failure and helping people learn from it. If you’re not failing occasionally, you’re not pushing the boundaries or challenging yourself.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

My very first boss, at the science museum, could see that I was very passionate and that my heart was in the right place. He had a huge amount of patience for me. He really inspired me, and continues to do so to this day as we now work together again after 25 years!

My Mum inspired me to be outgoing and my Dad through his work ethic.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

I live by them. They’re essential. Without them what are we guided by? Believe me, if you lose your money and your relationships, you go back to your values. They are everything!


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

If you could rewind the clock, what would you say to the ‘you’ starting out in your career? What would you wish to have been told? So, how can you now help the next generation? How do you intend today to give back to the leaders of tomorrow? 


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

I need to be more structured with my time management; I need to learn to say no more, I need to build in time for proactivity and not be driven by reactivity and I also need to delegate more.


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

Yes, I did a mentoring program with you Mark years ago, during the transition at the end of my company and afterwards. I found it very valuable. 

I also have a coach at the moment in this business, which is focused on helping with sales and marketing. Offering an external perspective can be incredibly valuable. We never stop learning.

Topic: 50 in 50