On the mic with Anand Dattani: Roots to Routes

Anand DattaniFrom Founders and CEOs, to musicians, authors and more, Anand Dattani (BSc Investment and Financial Risk Management, 2011) interviews changemakers on his podcast Roots to Routes to find out more about their backgrounds and to see how their family history has impacted their purpose and drive for change.

We discuss how the podcast was born, the power of personal history, what other children of immigrants can gain by seeing themselves reflected in success stories, some of Anand’s favourite podcast moments, what he gets up to when he’s not interviewing guests, his interesting route into Bayes and some helpful tips to lead a fulfilled life. Find out more…

Please tell us about your podcast Roots to Routes.

Well, firstly I hope that the name already gives people who read it some idea of what it could be about. After all, that becomes the sign of a good podcast name! But in essence, Roots to Routes (R2R) looks to explore the family backstory of changemakers, to see what influence this family journey, and the pivotal moments during their upbringing, have had on the legacy that the guest is looking to leave.

We define changemakers as people who stand by a particular value, or change, that they want to spread, and are now dedicated to bringing that positive impact to the world around them either through their work, passion, or a skill they’re recognised for. Previous guests have included entrepreneur founders and CEOs (of companies some people may already be familiar with), authors, actors/actresses, activists, musicians, keynote speakers and many more. The purpose of the show can ultimately boil down to three main areas. Firstly, to inspire people in the same way I was inspired by my own family journey, by giving them a chance to see how the decisions and risks  taken by the guest’s family have had a profound impact on the opportunities and success stories they’ve become known for. Secondly, it serves to make modern history relevant. Looking back at my own schooling, I didn’t really have much interest in history. But I realise that’s because what we learned was usually from centuries ago. Not to say they’re not important, but they didn’t feel as relatable to me. Now with the show, I get to uncover very personal stories linked to more recent moments in our history; moments that impacted the move of various cultures to the cities we now live in. It gave an opportunity to put people’s different background and ethnicities into perspective and, in turn, increase people’s empathy. Lastly, it gave a chance for guests to raise awareness of just why they stand so strongly for the message they spread through their work, whether it’s a fitness startup, releasing songs about being free-spirited, writing theatre plays about mixed race identities or anything else that’s already come out of the show.

Why were you inspired to start it?

It all began over lockdown, like I imagine many people’s creative projects or ideas may have done. I was on a daily walk with a very close friend, and we often used this time to talk about creative ideas we’ve been having with all that new-found spare time. This included the things we’d look forward to doing or people we’d be happy seeing again once lockdown was lifted. On one of the walks, we were speaking about those unfortunate people who weren’t able to see their loved ones or be with their family, especially those who had experienced loss during this time. It sparked the idea of collecting the stories of our parents’ generation. Not only so that it could give a way to connect with loved ones we may not have seen in a while, but also for their stories to be passed down to future generations, to those who may not have the chance to hear it directly from them. I already knew I had a passion for collecting people’s stories; back in 2015, when I’d first heard about ‘Humans of New York’, I decided to start doing the same thing in London (until a few weeks in, I fortuitously came across the group of people who’d been running ‘Humans of Greater London’ for months already).

So, this was all the inspiration I needed to reach out to all my aunts and uncles, to start gathering their stories in a podcast format. And it all took off from there. I knew these stories would be highly appreciated by members of my family, but what I didn’t expect was for other people I knew: friends, ex-colleagues, old school friends etc. to come across it through my social media and reach out to me telling me it was a great idea that really resonated with them. So, the podcast evolved from there. I first began with inviting these same people onto the podcast to tell me about their own family roots, what they’d learned about their family journey, and ultimately the role it served for their values, perspectives, and the goals they now strive for. As the show grew and the network expanded, it all naturally evolved to the point at which I now interview well-known and highly regarded changemakers on the same topic.

How important is it for other children of immigrants to see themselves reflected in success stories like those of your guests?

One of the greatest things I love about podcasting is how each listener can take value in different ways from the exact same content and talking points. One of my favourite quotes comes from Brian Chesky, founder of Air BnB, who said:

“I hope my story inspires people – not for remarkableness of it,
but for the ordinariness of who I was before”

When I heard this, I immediately saw how this tied in to one of the main aims of Roots to Routes. Through the success stories, I hope that the listeners who share some relatability with the guest (such as through their own heritage, backstory, upbringing, or passion) are inspired by the fact that if the guest was able to reach a certain potential, or overcome a life challenge, then the listener can do the same too.

Aside from inspiration and motivation, I’d also love for listeners to go through the same journey of gratitude that I went through. By becoming aware of the stories of our previous generations, and the risks they took for a better life, it certainly helped me appreciate how each of the decisions they made (something which today would often be seen as entrepreneurial) have played a pivotal role in where I was born and the chances it’s offered me. These are two key messages I believe people can really benefit from. To also add, and this is a value of the show I’ve realised more recently, is that listeners often appreciate they’re not alone in their way of thinking or current situation. Even within these success stories, whether the guest is an established author or journalist for example, the topic of underrepresentation sometimes arises. So in situations where individuals feel like they’re a ‘minority’ in their line of work – whether it’s gender, race, the way they speak or anything else – even my guests, who’ve managed to create a name for themselves, will have faced or are still facing these similar type of challenges; but it should fuel hope of what is still possible.

What has been the most enlightening moment on the podcast so far?

This is a tough one! Something that I’ve reflected on as the show has grown, is how even the smallest milestones early in my podcasting journey were as meaningful as some of the larger ones now. But this is the same for nearly any industry – it’s all relative. I remember when I was given my first referral from a guest who is an international keynote speaker. She loved our conversation so much that she put me in touch with four other people – two of which have become guests. The feeling that the show offered so much value to someone who has already been on many other podcasts was certainly empowering and evidence that I’m creating valuable conversations.

Anand with Jay ShettyAs Steve Jobs says: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”  I think this is something that’s really worthwhile doing as it gives you a chance to reflect on just how far you’ve come, and the time and effort you’ve put in for the opportunity to come about. More recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Steven Bartlett, who unsurprisingly is a big inspiration of mine for what he’s created (alongside Jay Shetty who is also a Bayes alumnus and, luckily for me, my closest friend ever since going to secondary school together). I managed to speak to Steven about the podcast I was doing and gave him a hard copy of the Podcast One Pager as I know he’s trying to build out a network of podcasts next year, so fingers crossed. But the point to make here, is the opportunity came about through various connections that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for my podcast.

We understand you’re hosting the podcast alongside your data strategy and integration role at Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). Please tell us about your work and what you enjoy most about it.

For those not familiar with D&B, they’re an age-old company that have established themselves as the largest provider of company data and, in some regions, an official credit ratings agency. So, like your personal credit rating (through Experian for example), D&B have their own D&B rating, which many large companies and public institutions would use as their official risk assessment tool.

In my particular role as Sales Acceleration Manager (International) – Data Integration, I support our international partners’ sales teams in selling our integration products: APIs and connectors. In brief, these are solutions that allow them to access D&B’s data and analytics directly within their own systems and/or data cloud, without the need to access a separate D&B portal/user interface.

Now with the technicalities of the role out the way, honestly the most enjoyable part of the role is just how dynamic it is. As you may have got a sense from my answers so far, I love understanding different people’s cultures, perspectives and ultimately what motivates their character and behaviours. And believe it or not, this role requires a lot of understanding how people think, behave and approach situations. It’s no secret that psychology plays a big part in sales, and many books will reinforce that ‘customers first buy into the person (seller), not the product.’ As I’m dealing not only with clients in various markets worldwide, but also the sales teams and account managers in these markets, this means I’m engaging both my technical (product) knowledge and also interpersonal skills, while also learning more about these cultures along the way.

How have the skills acquired during your BSc Investment and Financial Risk Management (IFRM) degree supported you with the podcast and your current role?

I’ve always been good with numbers, so I was confident with my analytical abilities when it came to coursework. But the in-depth and highly practical nature of the modules I took for my degree proved invaluable. From speaking to school friends who took similar Business, Economics and Maths-related courses at other universities, I quickly realised that IFRM consisted of a lot more group tasks, as well as the use of tools such as Eviews, Metastock and the modelling functions in Excel (such as Solver), which they had never been exposed to. Given my first role in the strategy team, I had to crunch a lot of numbers that would support senior decision making and was quickly given the opportunity to present my findings and suggestions to senior management. This is where the experience of giving presentations during my degree came in handy. I’d quickly matured how to give concise and valuable insights to the analyses, as well as how to answer questions effectively. Similarly with the podcast, the presenting side of it speaks for itself, but the embedded understanding of how to analyse the data of episode views, marketing, and scheduling media content are strengths I owe to what I learned on the course too.

Why did you choose Bayes for your degree?

Choosing Bayes wasn’t entirely a decision I can put down to my own doing. I’d already done one year of studies at Cardiff University. I loved it there, met some great people, and performed well in my first year – but the future of the science-based course was not for me. I remember speaking to my best friend back in London, who was in his first year at Bayes while I was re-applying for new courses. I knew studying business and something more numerical was the route I preferred over science. I already had the likes of LSE and UCL in mind, as well as Nottingham where the bulk of my school friends were. But as my closest friend, I trusted the advice he gave of how unique, hyper-focused and practical Bayes’ curriculum was. And it was backed by having, I believe, the best employment rate of students who went straight into jobs after university. Ultimately, he sold it to me very well – and after looking at the courses and specific modules, I went on to apply for Investment and Financial Risk Management. (To note – he did later tell me his ulterior motive was to ensure I came back to London to study. But I appreciated his sentiment). Bayes prided itself on attracting talent from all over the world. This was also a huge appeal given my interest in different cultures, and it lived up to this. I still see the benefits of it today – with the friends I keep in touch with based in Sweden, Cyprus, Portugal and Dubai.

Were you able to make use of the careers team once you graduated?

As I did a one-week internship at BNP Paribas and the summer scheme at Deutsche Bank at the end of my second year, I was fortunate to go into Year Three having already secured what I wanted to do after I’d graduated. However, I had used the careers centre during University to help refine my CV (which needed a lot of work!). This certainly would have played a role in helping me to secure these offers, but more than that it also helped me to understand the value of all the experiences I’d accumulated to date. Sometimes we don’t realise how many skills our extra-curricular activities and hobbies offer to us, and they did a great job not only at helping me articulate them, but even learn how to apply them in my graduate role.

Do you have any standout memories from your time studying?

Anand and friends at graduationTwo starkly different, but equally joyful memories stood out to me as soon as I heard this question. The first happened at the end of Year Two of IFRM. I remember getting my results for the end of year exams; and I was really pleased with them! I felt that I’d worked hard during the revision period and did well in most exams. Even then, some results came out better than I’d expected. It turned out that I’d achieved the highest overall grade for Year Two, and along with that, won the Corporate Institute of Insurance (CII) Award for highest grade in the Corporate Risk Management exam. But it was the way I found out that was the most memorable. It was the day before going into Year Three of the course after the summer break. A close friend from the course called me and said, ‘well done you smashed it.’ I hadn’t shared my results with him so I wasn’t sure how he knew. And then he told me that I was featured on the University website with a congratulation for those two achievements. So, I suddenly walk into lectures on the first day and some people are looking at me, people I hadn’t spoken to much before, and some would say ‘well done’ outside lectures. One person in particular I remember, we were walking up the stairs to a lecture together and she said ‘congratulations… I admit I was surprised, I never expected you to be that clever.’ I guess I’ll take the back handed compliment.

What advice would you give to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

My journey hasn’t been linear, or at least following my tenure at Deutsche Bank. After six and a half years there, I wanted to dive more into digitisation, which was a key talking point around 2017. I reached a crossroads of whether to stay in banking or try the tech startup route. I opted for the latter. It was also around this time that I was questioning more about what my own purpose and career satisfaction meant. I realised I needed a more autonomous work environment, where there was more scope for me to be creative, make important decisions, and see where my efforts were being implemented. But I also realised this wasn’t just a job-related desire, it was something I felt I needed in my ‘out-of-work’ life too – something where I could add value through my own creativity and interests.

So, I’d say, it’s first about really understanding what it means for someone to have a fulfilled life – and it’s not something you’ll figure out straight away. My first boss told me ‘plan for three to five years ahead, because things will change.’ And he was right. I agree it’s great when you can figure out your long-term goal, but just know that there will be the need to change and adapt along the way.

Thank you to Anand for sharing his humorous, enlightening and inspiring story with us! Listen to the podcast and reach out to Anand if you’re a changemaker with an interesting familial backstory.