The lawyer proving it’s never the wrong time to rediscover your calling
Ben Ricketts once described himself as a 'greenie', and while he started his career in law with this ideal, life would ultimately get in the way. Here, he shares his journey and how the UQ MBA reignited his passion and transformed his career.
When I was young, I wanted to be an archeologist; actually, like most kids at the time, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I grew up in country New South Wales surrounded by sheep and wheat farms, a lifestyle that is often romanticised, but it just wasn’t the one for me at the time. I wanted adventure, and I wanted to see more of the world.
I began my career as a miner in the 1990s, a job that allowed me to travel and see a bit of the globe. While I enjoyed the experience and the opportunities it presented, I also saw first-hand the impact human progress can have on the environment. One thing my country upbringing did give me, is a love of nature and the outdoors.
I have always considered that we are custodians of the planet, and I guess it started from my childhood surrounds. It was impossible to see the problems and not want to have a role in fixing them. I really felt I had to take action, and in the early 2000s I started an environmental science degree, keen to change the world.
Many of my peers were proactive environmental warriors, spending weekends chained to trees in bold attempts to stop the damage. But I quickly saw the futility in that; you could protest, you could stand in front of every bulldozer, but at the end of the day, you weren't going to win because you were breaking the law. I had a realisation – if we couldn’t protect the environment because of the laws, the answer might lie in changing them, so I added a law degree to my studies.
When I graduated, I started working in planning and environmental law, getting to be the environmentalist I was at heart, but in a position to influence change. And it went well for a while, but then I started to realise I wasn’t having the impact I set out to have. In fact, I’m not sure I was having much impact at all, beyond lining the pockets of big companies.
It happens to many of us - we get mired in the every day and forget what drives us. I had a family and I had a mortgage, it seemed like my career had to be more about bringing in a decent pay cheque than any ideology. Then in 2015, the firm I was at started to lay people off and the legal industry was changing. It was a real reflection point for me, a chance to think about what I might like to do next.
I’d previously done a little study overseas, and I met some people who were studying at London Business School who had completed or were undertaking their Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees. Now that I was at a decision point in my career, I realised an MBA might just be a great next step. I'd done a lot of research, been to information events, looked at a lot of schools, and I was confident the UQ MBA would give me the business skills I was looking for to keep my career moving. What I didn’t realise is that it would reignite my passion for the environment, and inspire me to have more of an impact.
The first thing that struck me when I started my MBA – I was in a room that wasn't full of lawyers, there were people from all career backgrounds, and they all had one thing in common; they were all motivated go-getters. It reminded me of all the reasons I studied law in the first place – to change things for the better.
Throughout the two years of my MBA, I got to work with incredibly driven, talented people on every course, and I reached an epiphany – the business skills and knowledge I was building on the course was critical to my mission to have a positive impact on the environment.
It wasn’t always easy. I was a father to two young children, so there was a lot of balancing with my time, a lot of reminding them that "they and Daddy have homework to do," but it was always worth it.
The MBA really changed how I saw the world and although it might sound cliché, the experience was transformative; I felt like I was learning about myself for the first time. Alongside the business knowledge and skills, I came out with a whole new outlook on many topics and a stronger passion for the things I love.
I graduated in 2017, and today I am working as the Senior In-house Counsel at one of the top 50 companies in Australia, and involved in recycling and waste management. The team here are involved with recycling, composting, and green energy, to name just a few. Waste management and recycling are critical for environmental management because the way we handle our waste today will have an impact long into the future. In this role, I feel I really get to influence positive change.
It’s my belief, that we are simply custodians of our environment during our lifetimes, and we should all be committed to leaving a better world for our children and their children – the UQ MBA has steered me back on course to play a role in that.