From Sandhurst to New Century House

THE Co-op&#039s "First Lady" is not sitting on her laurels after winning a top accolade from business leaders. Julia Rogers, the Co-operative Group&#039s Central Services General Manager, really...

THE Co-op&#039s "First Lady" is not sitting on her laurels after winning a top accolade from business leaders.
Julia Rogers, the Co-operative Group&#039s Central Services General Manager, really enjoyed her moment in the sun after being voted "First Woman of Business Services" in a competition organised by the Confederation of British Industry.
But this feisty lady is always one step ahead in her career. As a young woman, she was one of the first females to be accepted at the Sandhurst Military Academy, having joined up at the age of 19.
"I come from an Army family. We lived in Windsor and my father was in the Household Cavalry.
"I had failed my A Levels because I was obsessed with riding and spent far too much time on the back of a horse! My sisters were very academic but I knew I wasn&#039t.
"However, I was very good at organising and very physically fit. The Army seemed the logical choice. Sandhurst was a tough training-ground, very challenging, but I loved it."
Julia soon impressed her military colleagues and went on to be appointed as one of the group of first four women officers in the Royal Military Police. She then became the Army&#039s first female adjutant, an achievement which earned her a place at the Woman of the Year lunch in London in 1991.
But shortly afterwards she had to decide whether she wanted to go for a full-time officer commission – and another 14 years of service in the forces.
"I had had a really fantastic time in the Army, but I also had to think about things like whether I still wanted to be there when I was 40. I didn&#039t.
"It was scary but I needed to see what else I could do. I don&#039t regret a minute of my time in the Army and I don&#039t regret leaving it."
Julia&#039s military training stood her in good stead as she pursued a number of increasingly responsible roles fighting retail crime, including a spell based in Salisbury as head of regional security at Woolworths in the South-East.
In 1998 she moved to Manchester and joined the Co-operative Group (then CWS) as Head of Security, a post which had typically been held by male, ex-police officers.
"There was a tradition that those who worked in security were very senior old police officers. So when I joined the Co-op there was a lot of consternation because I not been in the police, and some of the initial meetings were a bit strained."
Despite the difficulties, once again her abilities shone through and Julia was appointed as the society&#039s first (and youngest) General Manager at the age of 37. What motivated her to join the Co-op?
"A lot of my family had worked for John Lewis, which is run on co-operative lines. I liked the whole ethos of the Co-op; the values plcs have are just not the same.
"Co-ops are not a cynical business ploy. I joined because I felt what they stand for really means something and that it would be exciting. The sheer diversity of the business and the opportunities it offered were more than anywhere else."
One of Julia&#039s first moves was to propose to the Co-op Group&#039s Executive that a new Central Services operation should be created – adding value to the organisation and helping realise central cost savings.
She promptly delivered a major financial benefit to the Group in the form of a &#163 1 million cost saving through the reorganisation of its Postal Department
Julia has a pivotal role within an organisation which has annual sales of over &#163 8 billion, 3000 retail outlets, and employs around 70,000 people. It is a responsibility she takes very seriously indeed.
"We spend all of our time thinking about how we can make people safer and how we can make sure our staff are happier in their work. Staff morale has a direct correlation to the profitability of the business and at the end of the day without the people out there I don&#039t have a job."
Julia also serves on two Home Office committees, working with ex-offenders and aiming to make a difference as part of the "bigger picture" in the fight against crime.
"Our strategy is one of engaging to try and make a difference in terms of how crime affects our communities."
Her mentoring role recently culminated in a unique exhibition of prisoners&#039 art, poetry and prose being staged at New Century House in Manchester. Julia also works with the Manchester Community Foundation, which organises out of school clubs. But her main concern is protecting shop staff – and customers – who are often victims of crime or anti-social behaviour.
"Unfortunately society has got a lot more violent and we have to look at ways of dealing with that. Customers don&#039t want to have abuse and both staff and customers want to feel safe."
Julia is keen to use the knowledge and experience she has gained during her working life to help others. Since joining the Co-operative Group, she has, in her own time, mentored a number of female employees in the absence of any formal scheme. It&#039s that kind of personal commitment which helped her to win the award from the CBI against considerable competition.
"I was very flattered that the Co-op Group nominated me for the award and delighted to win. I had no expectation of that whatsoever. My team said it was the first time they had seen me lost for words, but I was gobsmacked."
In the months ahead, Julia is determined to press on with further improvements "At a time when the organisation faces a number of business challenges, a cost-effective Central Services function is ever more essential."
She says she particularly identifies with the Co-operative Group&#039s social goals and would like nothing more than to be able to obtain funding for a new co-operative business venture, which would provide either care homes or crèches She is also leading a venture called Project Synergy.
"We&#039re looking at whether there&#039s an opportunity to have shared services so that we can avoid unnecessary duplication of departments.
"It&#039s my job to get the best deal for business and for security. I have a lot to do here and I am really happy doing what I do.
"I have one of the best teams in the Group. I have a clear plan and I want to be a part of that for a long time to come."

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