How did you first hear about co-operatives?
I was aware of a local co-op department store that was at the end of the high street in the town where I grew up. I can also recall the jingle that was on the local radio station when I was a student studying: ‘Have you seen the change at Scotmid?’ After I married and moved there was a Scotmid with a very friendly butcher. That friendly butcher got a surprise a couple of years later when I told him I was now a colleague!
How did you get involved with Scotmid?
I was a chartered accountant working in practice and was involved with a number of co-operative clients. I was also involved in preparing a forward plan to allow Scotmid to do a banking tender and structure its borrowings. Many months after that was all complete, I got a call one grey November Friday afternoon asking if I would be interested in joining. My initial reaction was no, but I agreed to go for lunch and find out more.
By January I had started for what I thought would be a couple of years to broaden my CV! 30 years later I’m still here.
What does a typical day look like for you as CEO?
Adding it up I’ve worked for around 7,000 days and, as yet, I have still to find one that is similar! Initially, I thought that there might be a lack of variety as with the accountancy profession. I eat those words on a regular basis.
What is special about the co-op model?
There is a lot that’s special. One thing that struck me straight away was the friendliness of the people both within Scotmid and in other co-operative businesses. The culture and purpose were there for everyone to see and from a business point of view, being able to take a long-term view. At our 150th anniversary I can recall saying that we are just custodians for a short space of time. Even after 30 years, you realise that it’s not a long time when the society has existed for over 160 years.
This is your 30th year with the society. What have been the biggest changes in that time?
In many respects, there are too many changes to mention – some good and some not so good.
The ones I would highlight are:
- We closed on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons
- We had large non-food stores and large food stores
- We had massive computers spitting out green and white paper
- We had a questionable reputation that is nowhere as good as it is today
One change, I saw a stop-start pattern and since becoming CEO have pushed the continuous improvement philosophy that change is never ending and we must, however unpleasant, keep changing and adapting to our members’ and customers’ needs.
What are you most proud of? What have been Scotmid’s biggest impacts?
That’s an easy question to answer. Without doubt I am very proud of my colleagues, whether elected members or our employees who turn up day in and day out to do a great job for the society. They adapt when required and put the society before themselves. They live and breathe our core purpose, ‘To serve our communities and improve people’s everyday lives’. On specifics, the acquisition of the Spar chain Botterill’s in 2012 where I shook hands with the seller in a McDonald’s in the West of Scotland on a £20m plus deal!
That allowed us to expand into Southwest Scotland and when the opportunity to merge with Penrith Society arose it made the case much more logical. Also, Scotmid being in the Guinness book of records [for the largest Burns’ Night Supper, hosted in January 2020] as well as getting mentioned on Songs of Praise recently by a former prime minister are special. But the thing that makes me equally proud is when we do our membership and community report at our general meetings, and you can reflect on what a difference we make as an organisation.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Not surprisingly there have been a few challenges including the rise of discounters, Shoprite and Kwiksave, the financial crash, the 2014 issues in Manchester, the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis… Not to mention a few internal challenges to deal with as well.
Where do you see the society in another 30 years?
An even bigger and better society but still true to its values and being guided by its core purpose.