Thought Leader Interview: Ryan Jackson, CEO of Culture First Recruitment in Dubai

Tell us about yourself and your background. What is it that you do?

My name is Ryan Jackson, I am a serial entrepreneur, author, business mentor and family man.

I have been in Dubai for 12 months now, and prior to that, I lived in Bali for 2 years. I was born and raised in the UK, where I founded and scaled my first company, Gemini Parking Solutions, which was a huge success. I scaled the company to multimillion-pound revenues and won various industry and business awards due to the work we were doing and the amazing culture we had created at Gemini. Although I wasn’t necessarily passionate about the parking industry, it did help me to evolve as an entrepreneur and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in business. I exited the company around 18 months ago and wanted to replicate my success in an industry where I can be of greater impact and so after moving with my family here to Dubai, Culture First Recruitment was born.

What is the inspiration/motivation behind your new venture, Culture First Recruitment?

My inspiration for Culture First Recruitment really stemmed from my approach to the business I founded back in the UK. The model that we used within the organization was values-based and I truly believe the culture of the business allowed us to achieve the success that we did, given the fact we were competing in a marketplace of corporations with greater resources, budgets, and market share. We created something unique and special, and what I realised along that journey was that it showed the contrasts that exist within business culture. So many organizations operate in the old paradigm and haven’t embraced the power of creating a great company culture. When I sold my company to a large organisation, I received feedback from previous employees about the culture we curated vs the culture the organisation that bought us brought in. Sadly, it was worlds apart and wasn’t conducive to the happiness and wellbeing of employees and resulted in many of them leaving the business.

When I moved to Dubai, I noticed that there is a big issue here with company culture and that there was an opportunity for me to be of impact using the knowledge I have. I am lucky that I have reached a point where I don’t really need to work, but I love to be involved in something that can make a positive difference and bring about change in the world. If I can help change the shift, of ‘old’ company culture in Dubai, that will be a most satisfying achievement for me.

Why did you choose Dubai as the headquarters for Culture First Recruitment?

Dubai has become the global hub for business, it is six hours on a flight to pretty much everywhere and there is a lot of investment coming in from the Middle East, so it made logical sense to start a business here.

What makes Culture First Recruitment unique?

It is our culture-based approach. Many recruitment firms are run by recruiters meaning they have never stepped outside of the recruitment world. I believe coming into this industry and bringing the successful ideas that I have will start to shake-up and disrupt the typical recruitment process. Many recruiters look purely at expertise, qualifications, and experience, which are relevant, but if they don’t have the right cultural fit or put culture first, they won’t build high performing teams and achieve greater success.

What is your greatest company achievement?

Exiting the company back in the UK was my greatest achievement. Many people get into business and make it profitable. They think they’ve won, but the next stage of entrepreneurialism is to be able to build a business that you can sell to other companies or investors. To have achieved that is my greatest business accomplishment.

Why are you so passionate about recruitment and talent acquisition?

I think as an entrepreneur you are naturally made into a recruiter because you must be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of employees coming into the team. Over time you refine your craft and you start to lean on your intuition. You must be able to read energy and understand people because the success of your business is determined by your hiring skills – if you hire poorly the business flops. The success of my previous business is largely down to the company culture which has meant recruitment/talent acquisition was the natural progression.

Why is achieving the correct cultural fit for an organization so important?

If you hire poorly, especially at a leadership level, it can be detrimental to the success of your teams and the company. If you have the wrong business leader who displays the wrong values, it can disrupt the status quo and destroy the hard work that you’ve worked so hard to build. By hiring the wrong business leader, what tends to happen is they won’t reflect the behaviours and values of the company, the team leaves and they go on to employ more people who are more like them. You then have groups of people who disrupt and unravel the business internal dynamics. This creates toxicity, kills productivity, and negatively impacts the bottom line.

What are your top tips for companies looking to hire?

  1. Carry out a cultural assessment of your organization; look at what you believe the business culture should be and at where you want the culture to actually be.
  2. Hone your values; once you understand the current culture, develop the values you want your business to have, to form a baseline from which to start.
  3. Create an employee superstar avatar; write a bio of who you’re looking for and be specific for each role. Get rid of old templates that just list job responsibilities, write down what the competencies of each employee are and drill down to the specifics.
  4. Make sure that when you’re interviewing, the interviewee displays the correct values and that they are happy to work in the current environment. Everyone has different wants and needs, so if the candidate appreciates your businesses culture, you’ll start off on the right footing.
  5. Create a streamlined onboarding process; making sure you are organized and clear from day one as to what your new starter is doing. Ensure that helpful and constructive processes are in place and do not overwhelm them with information as slow and steady wins the race.

What do you see as the future of recruitment in the UAE?

I think we are going to see more companies embracing the importance of company culture and hiring accordingly. We may see more roles evolve like Head of Culture & People, whose job it is to focus purely on developing the alignment of employees and the company.

We will also see further digital transformation with the introduction of artificial intelligence. AI is likely to come into play in a big way, but hopefully, it won’t remove the need for the human element which is essential. We will also see a wider embrace of diversity and inclusion where businesses are employee-led, along with added flexibility being given to remote working and hybrid models.

What are your business goals for Culture First Recruitment in the UAE over the next five years?

Increasing our market share across the UAE and becoming the leading brand when it comes to recruitment. We would also like to extend our offering beyond recruitment to become a one-stop- shop when it comes to culture-related practices, whether that be company training, cultural assessments and tailored consultancy services.

How can readers find out more about yourself?

Give me or Culture First Recruitment a follow on LinkedIn. You can also find us at

I also have a book coming out about workplace culture; it will be an invaluable resource providing a deep dive into my knowledge and insights, which is intended to enhance and benefit the business leaders it is read by.   

Editor-In-Chief of Bizpreneur Middle East