Stuart reflects on 18 months as Chief Risk Officer before moving into a new role helping to transform our Insurance business. He talks to Rachel Machin about the risks we face (which include health and safety, data, and security) and how he’s happy to leave the job in the capable hands of Andy Lang (former Co-op Finance Director who’s just been announced in the role).
If you came to our Support Centre at One Angel Square shortly after the Manchester Arena attack your bag would’ve been searched. Stuart made the call for that to happen.
Keeping us all safe was just one part of his job – a job I imagine came with a massive amount of pressure, but it didn’t seem to faze him. “It was no more pressured than any other job in the Co-op. I didn’t have sleepless nights because I was too tired,” he laughs.
“Occasionally I was a pain organising bag searches but when we did that we were doing it for a good reason,” he explains.
Stuart doesn’t fit into the mould of what I imagine a ‘risk officer’ to be. While his professionalism and attention to detail are clear to see, he’s also laid back, relaxed, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
He’s a lifelong Liverpool FC fan and a music lover who spent most of his youth rocking out to Deep Purple or listening to the blues with Muddy Waters.
But there were certainly no muddy waters when it came to the role he played in our Co-op.
“There are all sorts of risks facing our businesses every day. Managing them is all about creating clear and simple processes on how to do things and keep us disciplined operationally – which is the science.
“Communicating those policies to colleagues in a way that means something to them as an individual and helps them do their job, is the art,” he explains.
Stuart and his team have been doing the science bit for the last 15 months – working together with all our businesses to decide what good looks like in all sorts of situations.
Safer stores and depots
“There’s already some brilliant work happening across our businesses,” says Stuart. “In our Insurance business there’s lots of regulation already, but you only have to look at what’s happening in stores to see how far we’ve come. The Food team recently won an award for their work.
“Depots are also a great example. You go into a distribution centre and a number of things jump out at you: how clean and tidy everything is, everybody knows where everything should go.
“You’ve then got massive health and safety signs all over the place and there’s constant beeping of horns from forklift trucks to prevent accidents. It’s all very deliberate and conscious.”
Stepping into his this role wasn’t ‘deliberate’ or ‘conscious’ for Stuart. “It wasn’t a job on my career plan,” he admits. But his previous experience in Co-op Bank, British Gas, Centrica, Barclays, and his work leading our separation from the Co-op Bank, was the perfect grounding where “managing risk was part of my day-to-day existence”.
“When that work finished I knew I loved the Co-op and wanted to stay,” he says. “The team atmosphere, not just in my own team but across the wider Co-op, is great. People have tried so much to help and support me and been generous with their time.”
Perfect policies and procedures
In 2018 Stuart wants us to get to a place where there’s a standard set of central Co-op policies created by and for colleagues in Food, Funeralcare, Insurance, Legal Services and Electrical. “That work is well on its way,” says Stuart.
“I’d like to see a situation where if you took a food store for example, that everybody in that store is crystal clear about the procedures in place for health and safety, how to deal with cash, and how to manage wastage etc.
“And in Funeralcare where you end up with a simple operating manual on how to run a funeral home which is written in Co-op tone of voice and isn’t full of jargon,” he says.
Changing minds and habits
“We need to get to a point where colleagues see managing risk as just good business sense. That’s a cultural shift for us,” he admits.
“If you look at M & S, Waitrose, Sainsbury, Mothercare. They’re doing this stuff too. It’s no longer the preserve of financial services or energy firms – it’s just the right way to run a business.”
At the time of chatting it’s just been announced that Stuart will be taking on a new role helping to transform our Insurance business, and he’ll be handing over to Andy Lang who’s been here since 1998 in his previous role as Co-op Finance Director.
“I’ve massively enjoyed this role but I’ve been given a great opportunity to do something else which involves all the things I love – being part of a leadership team that’s running a business and delivering transformational change.
“Massive congratulations to Andy. He knows the Co-op inside out and will bring passion, leadership and the ability to collaborate and influence. The groundwork has been done but he’s well aware there’s still a massive job to do – and that’s about changing minds and habits.”