Learn from the experts in Public Affairs – Blogger #7 – Ben Ruffels – Head of Government & Industry Relations, Checkout.com
At which time do you wake up in the morning?
Normally somewhere between 6am and 7.30am. This depends on whether I’m working from home (in Brighton, on the south coast of England) or going into our office (in London, where Checkout.com is headquartered).
What is the first thing you do?
Chat to my wife, and also my two daughters (13 and 10), if they’ve not already left for school – while simultaneously drinking strong coffee.
Which news sites do you read in the morning?
I generally take a look at twitter to see what’s bubbling on my political, financial and tech journalists list. I’ll also have a quick glance at the headlines on Politico and my FT feed.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
At Checkout.com, we have a hybrid working model, which suits me well. On the two days I’m in the office, I start working soon after my train pulls out of Brighton station. This could be any time between 7am and 8.30am. On the three days I work from home, I get going by around 8.45am, on the back of a slightly longer sleep, which is great!
How many times a day do you check emails?
Like most other people, my inbox fills up quickly, and managing it is a never-ending task, so I try to be disciplined about how often I check emails. I’ll usually dive into them a couple of times a day, and keep a general eye on my email alerts for anything urgent or important coming in.
When is your first meeting?
Not normally before 9.30am, if it’s an internal meeting – and my last internal meeting of the day is generally no later than 6pm. But our business is global, spanning five continents, so my days sometimes start earlier or end later.
How do you plan your meetings across the week, and manage your calendar more generally?
We use Google Workspace, so I plan my meetings using Google Calendar. I have recurring meetings with my Comms team colleagues, our public affairs agency, and industry bodies, which shape the flow of each week.
I schedule other internal and external meetings around these, and block out diary time for work that needs focus, like forward planning, reviewing papers and drafting content.
Being able to visualize my workflow is something I find very helpful, so all of these different activities end up colour-coded in my calendar. This gives me a sense of how I’m using my time, and helps me manage it better.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
Overall, the split for me tends to be around 60% external and 40% internal, but this varies across the year, depending on our corporate calendar and, of course, what the political and public policy world is throwing at the fintech and payments sectors!
How do you follow news development between meetings?
I try not to get sucked into the breaking news cycle during the day. But if we’re proactively tracking specific external developments, I’ll use a mixture of twitter, Politico, and news website live blogs, like FT Live News or Guardian Politics Live. For big ticket moments like national elections, I may have BBC News or Sky News rolling on a side screen too, just for good measure.
How do you take notes?
I always have a notebook on the go – writing things down by hand is an ingrained habit. But I also send notes to myself on Slack, and use Apple Notes quite often too.
What is your relationship to Excel?
I tend to use Google Sheets rather than Excel, and I’m by no means an expert, but my relationship with it is generally positive! For me, Sheets is mainly a tool for forward planning, tracking activity or managing budgets. Nothing overly technical.
What is your favorite app & why?
Apple Music. I’ve been collecting vinyl for 35 years, and never thought I’d embrace music streaming. But I use this app every day without fail. It’s opened so many new musical doors for me. Whenever I get time, I listen to music.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
Very few. Typically, when they do happen for me, it’ll be to catch up with colleagues, usually at our local pub, The Eagle, in Shoreditch. I don’t think lunches play the same role in public affairs now as they did in the past. They certainly aren’t a key part of my approach to external engagement — something my waistline is thankful for.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
Through my own network, mainly. I started working in public affairs 20 years ago, for the first decade in consultancy and the remaining time in-house. I’ve stayed in touch with many consultancy contacts, and have also got to know my peers in other financial services and fintech companies. Lots of these people are a source of insight on ways of working and career development. I’ve always found my fellow travelers to be generous with their time — and great fun!
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
Finding time to step back from the specific tasks at hand, think about what the real priorities should be — in and out of work — and consciously try to keep these somewhere front of mind. I also try to notice when I’m feeling a build-up of stress, and proactively do something about it.
What do you do to unwind?
I like to listen to music, or go for walks with my family in the beautiful Sussex countryside or along the Brighton seafront, ideally followed by a pint of ale in a nice pub!
What is your favorite collaboration tool?
Google Workspace and Slack. I didn’t use either before I joined Checkout.com but they’re both critical to how I work with colleagues every single day, and I really like them.
How does your desk look?
At home, I work in a loft bedroom. There isn’t much space, so during the Covid lockdowns, I created a very streamlined home office set up — and I still keep my desk nice and tidy. Checkout.com’s office in London is quite minimalistic, and the desks are alway uncluttered, which I like.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
Yes, and I actually quite like the discipline of emailing from my phone, as I find it encourages more succinctness.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
Andrew Dunlop – although he’s no longer active in PA. Andrew gave me my first job, when he was still running Politics International, the public affairs consultancy he founded. As a mentor to me, he was always generous with his advice and encouragement. Andrew now sits in the UK’s House of Lords, and over the last decade served as both a Prime Ministerial adviser and government minister.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
No, I’m quite disciplined about this, and I’m lucky to work for a company that recognises how precious and important it is to take proper time off — a culture very much driven from the top.
Who is your idol?
My idols tend to be musical figures, rather than politicians or business leaders. I’ve always been drawn to visionary producers and composers like Brian Wilson, Quincy Jones, Nile Rogers, Lee Perry and David Axelrod (not the US political analyst, the other one!).
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading ‘Broken Greek: A Story of Chip Shops and Pop Songs’ by the music journalist Pete Paphides. With Greek heritage myself, I was excited to get into this one! It follows The Listening Party by Tim Burgess, which brought back happy memories of Tim’s twitter listening parties during lockdown.
Do you read anything before you go to bed?
Normally, I have a scan of the news, or a scroll through twitter, then put on a playlist.
Which time do you go to bed?
Normally around 11pm, after the kids are asleep and my wife and I have had a glass of wine and deconstructed the day.
Do you use LinkedIn and/or Twitter for work?
I use both for work, and visit them daily. LinkedIn has been a valuable networking tool for me, and a good channel to learn from peers, and keep up to date with industry developments. I find it a much more peaceful and friendly place to be than twitter, which I use mainly for tracking news.
Where is the PA department placed in your organization?
Government and Industry Relations is part of Checkout.com’s Communications team, which sits within Marketing. I work hand in glove with our excellent External Affairs, Internal Communications and Executive Communications leaders, and we all interact regularly with the Executive Team.
Ben has worked in public affairs for 20 years, initially in agencies and for the last decade in-house. He has experience across a range of sectors, including fintech, payments, retail banking, housing and transport. He currently leads government and industry relations at Checkout.com, the leading global payment solutions provider.
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