Matthew Speight has spent the last two years out in the field in charge of Co-op Food’s Central region. Now as Support Centre Retail Director he’s building a new team ready to do all they can to make life easier for the thousands of store colleagues who make this business what it is. He talks to Rachel Machin about sport, sausages, and how he plans to turn our ‘Support centre’ into a place where ‘support’ really does come before ‘centre’.

The game of rugby is all about strength, speed and strategy. So what’s that got to do with Matthew Speight and his new role at the Co-op? Number one, these three words could easily describe him and how he’s gone about things since being here. Number two, he’s obsessed with sport and loves the game. And three? A scrum involves players in a team packing closely together with their heads down and attempting to gain possession of the ball.

Think of the ‘ball’ as the retail market right now and you’ve got a perfect description of what Matthew and his new team in Co-op Food is trying to do.

“The business has been very successful for two years,” he says. “We’ve grown sales but we need to be more joined up. As we start to get into these wafer thin margins it’s about which retailer can be more efficient, organise itself really well, and stand out from the crowd.”

Colleagues are customers
When it comes to competitors Matthew knows his Asdas from his Aldis having worked for the latter as Finance Director and Operations Director for seven years before running half of the Tesco Express business.

And he’s clear about what makes our Co-op special. “Our colleagues are the heroes,” he says. “We’re here to make sure that everyone thinks about them before anything else.”

“The team’s purpose is to listen. When a colleague rings the office and says I’ve got a problem, it’s exactly like a customer complaint – but we haven’t always treated it like that. It’s just as important, if not more,” he stresses.

Consistency is king
Matthew’s team has a big job ahead but helping stores deal with change is undoubtedly top of the list.

Having recently attended an Executive Masterclass about how businesses can effectively deal with change, he’s gained some practical tips to help him in what will be a crucial year.

“In Food we’re facing into the biggest year of transformation we’ve ever had and we recognise our ability to lead and land change is crucial. We’ve spent two years building a team and getting the right calibre of leaders. The one thing we’ve not done very well in the past is making change stick.

“It’s about recognising that we’re a complex business and having a common language and way of doing things will help us land change quicker.

“The ‘what’ is always quite clear in a message but it’s the ‘how’ that’s often not. We know that our colleagues are the most important people in the business. To drive change it’s got to come through them. But that change has to be simple, meaningful and sustainable.”

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One million members
Our ‘Join us’ campaign is hoping to be just that. Recruiting one million new members in 2017 won’t be easy but Matthew is convinced if we all pull together we can succeed.

Our new Member Champions (60 former Back to Being Co-op hosts and store colleagues who are passionate about membership) will go into stores to help start conversations with customers.

“We saw in 2016 the impact of the Back to Being Co-op hosts. They were firelighters of change up and down the country. Colleague-led change is now blueprinted in the Co-op DNA. I think Member Champions are dynamite for us.”

“We also need to encourage everyone in the Support centre to do their bit in stores through initiatives like Lend a Hand. Get out there, work with colleagues and understand what reality is.”

Food glorious food
Our own-brand products will be at the centre of those conversations with members. “It’s always great to have the right tools to trade and I think our products are fantastic,” says Matthew. “If we can maintain our price being fair in the marketplace then I think we’ve got a lot going for us.

“We need our colleagues to be proud of our products – giving them time to have these great conversations – not necessarily just at the till but on the shop floor.”

Food and drink have certainly been at the centre of conversation in Matthew’s life. He’s a self-confessed sweet tooth, has a penchant for our Irresistible sausages, his Grandad worked for the Co-op as a milkman, and he started his managerial life at McDonald’s from age 16.

“I remember growing up going into supermarkets with my Dad on a Saturday and him doing maths tests with me on products and deals. He wasn’t a retailer but he’s a Yorkshireman – so that tells you everything!” he laughs.

Our winning line-up
Store colleagues will be familiar with the mantra ‘Good food, Easy shops, Friendly people’ but Matthew says this will only work if all of us line up behind our colleagues and make life simpler and easier.

“We’ve historically looked at ‘Easy shops’ through our customers but we need to think about colleagues. ‘Good food’ will only be brought to life by giving our colleagues time to have those conversations and ‘Friendly colleagues’ – that’s got to be what makes us different.

“The Co-op can’t be about the Executive, it’s got to be about creating 55,000 leaders with a common goal.”

Quick-fire questions

Favourite Co-op own-brand product
Irresistible sausages at any time of the day.

In three words, what kind of culture would you like to see at the Co-op in the future?
Empowering. Sustainable. Inclusive.

What’s your top priority in the next couple of years?
Change the way we operate our stores through a lens of simple, meaningful and sustainable.

What’s the one bit of advice you’d give to your fellow leaders working in our new Co-op?
Listen to learn. Ask great questions.

Most difficult moment at the Co-op: Making some tough people choices when I came in. Taking some risks when people were quite challenging.

Proudest moment at the Co-op: My involvement from an operational point of view on the launch of membership, our new brand and Being Co-op. Landing that change in a seamless way.

What three words best describe you?
Stretching, inspiring, tenacious [he asked his team!].

What makes you happy outside work?
Spending time with my wife Natalie and son Henry (he’s expecting his second child in June) and watching Leeds United FC win.

Personal ambitions
To be a great husband and a great Dad. To be the best me.