Chief encounters: James Cant of British Heart Foundation Scotland

Peace at last cropped

​James Cant, director of BHF Scotland, on why he works in the third sector

1st February 2017 by TFN 0 Comments

What makes a good day at work?

I’m really lucky. When I say no two days are the same it so perfectly describes my job. A huge part of it involves saying thank you to our amazing supporters without whose loyalty none of our research could happen. I also meet so many people whose lives have been directly affected by heart disease. And our incredible researchers who are changing the face of cardio-vascular disease treatments around the world right here on our doorstep in Scotland. Always humbling. Always fascinating. Never a dull moment.

How many hours do you normally work in a week?

I’ve always tried to balance being a good parent with being a good professional. So I’m out early in the morning to try to get home at a decent hour. The 4.30am alarm to get to London or Belfast or Cardiff is enough to leave me jetlagged for the week – without leaving the timezone!

What do you procrastinate over?

Consultation responses! Thankfully I now have some great people who work with me who lead on this stuff. I come in at the end and add value…. or nit-pick, according to them!

James Cant,BHF Scotland

James Cant,BHF Scotland

I love being in a job where I can make a small difference in an organisation that makes a huge difference to people’s lives

Why do you work in the third sector?

I kinda fell into it as you’ll see below. But I feel really at home here. I love being in a job where I can make a small difference in an organisation that makes a huge difference to people’s lives.

Is it better to work for a big or a small charity?

I’ve experienced being in small and medium charities, being able to identify great opportunities and developing new ideas but having no resources to make them happen. Great for forcing you to develop powers of persuasion but hugely frustrating. I love being part of an organisation that is a world leader in medical research. We invest over £63 million in research in Scotland alone. To go back home to Glasgow University and see the BHF Centre of Research Excellence there and the amazing work it does gives me a real sense of pride.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I find we work best in the third sector when we see it as a team game. The best example of this was securing a ban on smoking in cars when children are present. This came into force last December but was the result of many years’ joint work across the sector with some amazing colleagues.

Who is or was your role model?

My biggest inspiration comes from our supporters. Almost all of them will have been directly affected by a life changing condition. Their response it to fight back, positively, to help us win the battle through medical research. 

If you could give one piece of advice what would it be?

If you find yourself somewhere very stable but completely unfulfilling it’s called a rut. Get out. ASAP. Life’s too short.

How did you end up in your job?

I was leaving the civil service because as a single dad with young kids I wasn’t going to relocate to London. I had done some time on secondment in the third sector so applied for a job with the British Lung Foundation. I kind of blagged my way in and found that it was my niche. Seven years later and now with the British Heart Foundation it’s the best and most fulfilling job I’ve ever had.

Is this a step on the ladder to success or your final destination?

It’s the perfect place for me at this point in my career and life. 

What's your favourite film and record?

The Odessa File. I still look nervously over my shoulder when there’s a train approaching! And Tinseltown In The Rain by the Blue Nile. Soundtrack of my youth.

2017 - reasons to be cheerful or fearful?

I’m the ultimate glass half full optimist but even I am struggling this year. It reminds me of my childhood and youth in the 1980s. Very political, a big bit scary. It meant a lot then as an impassioned teenager. It means so much more now as a parent.

Brian Denis Cox or Brian Edward Cox? 

The Dundee one!  I like films more than science….maybe I’m in the wrong job!