Catching up with the new recruits for some of Scotmid’s top roles

Q&As with four new faces in the governance and management of the retail society

Scotmid Co-operative has made a raft of new appointments at the highest level. Jim Watson (president), Eddie Thorn (vice-president), Craig Strachan (chief financial officer) and Alan Yuille (society secretary) have all had very different routes to the society; we caught up with the four as they begin their new roles. 

How did you first hear about Scotmid?

Jim Watson: As a child of the ‘50s, the local co-op was at the centre of all we did. All our interactions were with the co-op. Our groceries were bought at the co-op, as were our shoes, our clothes, our household goods, our electric equipment (especially the rented telly). We were insured with the co-op and we were buried by the co-op. We looked forward with excitement to the co-op gala day when we enjoyed all the fun of the fair and listened intently to local and national political figures. Magical times.

My involvement with Scotmid arose because of a determination that the merger between  the Dalziel and St Cuthbert Societies would be one of partnership. In the past 37 years I think I have contributed in some way to that goal being realised and I am especially proud that I am the first member from the West of Scotland to be elected as president of the society.

Eddie Thorn: I was born and brought up in Newton Stewart where the co-op store had prominence – so I was aware of co-operatives from an early age. It was in my working life with RBS that I became fully aware of Scotmid when I became their relationship manager.

Craig Strachan: While Scotmid is my first co-op in work-terms, I feel as though Scotmid has been part of my wider community for many years. I grew up in Law, and when Scotmid arrived in the village in 2010 there was an immediate impact, with support for the local gala day and Boys Brigade. This demonstrated a real willingness to engage the local people and, as I learned, the members; doing business in a different, more co-operative way. This inspired me to learn more and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to further my knowledge with the help of my colleagues since starting with the society.

Alan Yuille: There was a co-op convenience store in the town that I grew up in, so my first experience of a co-op was buying sweets in one as a kid! Later on, I studied law at university and we briefly covered co-operative and society law so I had a bit of introduction there to understanding how they operated.

Related: Meet … John Brodie, CEO of Scotmid Co-op

What does your role involve?

Jim Watson: My main role is to ensure the directors of Scotmid fulfil their role of determining the strategy of the society so it remains a successful, profitable business. Monitoring the strategy is key to our success. The board meetings I chair consider all aspects of our business and the forthright questioning of management is a necessary part of good governance of a modern co-operative.

The other role of the president is to represent the society to the wider Scottish community and the UK-wide co-operative movement. I attend charitable events willingly and am content to carry the co-operative flag for Scotmid at local and national gatherings. I represent the society at all UK co-op meetings and greatly look forward to meeting up with my fellow co-operators.

Eddie Thorn: In my role as vice-president I represent our membership, support Jim Watson (our president) and attend various committees. It’s also to represent the society at events such as Co-operative Congress, the Retail Conferences and generally be an ambassador. There is no typical day.

Craig Strachan: There isn’t really a ‘typical day’ here, either. As is usually the case in retail, business doesn’t stop, so the week will normally start on a Sunday getting up to speed with performance over the weekend, and preparing for a day of catch ups and information sharing on Monday. The rest of the week can vary with several staff meetings to make sure we are on track for internal and external reporting, ensuring projects are progressing as planned, preparation and presentations at board meetings, wider strategic planning, and co-operation with other co-ops in the wider business ecosystem. It really is a fast paced, exciting environment.

Alan Yuille: My focus so far has been on getting up to speed with the society’s governance framework and learning about Scotmid’s wider business. I was really impressed with the comprehensive induction plan that had been prepared for me and it has been great to meet and spend time with so many of my new colleagues so soon after joining.

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What are you most looking forward to in your role? What are the challenges?

Jim Watson: Having been vice-president to our recently retired president, Harry Cairney, for the past nine years, there are few changes I envisage being lined up for the society. The collegiate nature of the society will continue and the rapport Harry had with members and staff of the society I hope will continue during my tenure. I now assume the role of spokesperson for the society. I hope I can do it justice.

Eddie Thorn: Working with the president, serving the board and getting to better know fellow co-operators across the other retail societies. There are undoubtedly major challenges out there – in particular and to name a few, energy costs and the cost of living crisis.

Craig Strachan: I’m most looking forward to helping to lead, build and grow Scotland’s largest and oldest retail co-operative. There’s so much to learn across the whole society and I’m sure getting fully up to speed will take some time, but I’m up for the challenge and am surrounded with some amazingly knowledgeable colleagues. I also look forward to engaging more with the communities in which we operate and learning about the members who make Scotmid what it is. Hopefully, through hard work and co-operation, I can make a small contribution to improving the everyday lives of our customers, communities, and members.

Alan Yuille: I am looking forward to working with the board and developing my new role, as well as continuing to learn about Scotmid and the wider co-operative movement. My experience to date has been in the corporate and financial services sector so I am new to both retail and co-operatives. That was very much part of the appeal though and while I hope my experience will help I am looking forward to learning about something different. I was lucky enough to go to the Co-op Congress in June and it was interesting to hear about the challenges and opportunities for co-operatives. It feels like a good time to be getting involved.

What makes Scotmid unique? What is the society’s co-op difference?

Jim Watson: Scotmid is an independent co-operative with its headquarters in Edinburgh and trades in the north of England and Northern Ireland. Like other co-operatives we trade in convenience stores but uniquely we also have in Semichem a leading discount health and beauty retailer offering customers a fantastic range of products at affordable prices. 

What makes us unique is that we don’t have a member’s card in the traditional sense as we don’t pay our members a personal dividend.  Our card enables members to collect votes each time they shop in our stores and if they are unable to attend our AGM/OGMs to vote at our tills and choose which good cause groups receive a share of £168,000 each year.  We also support over 1,100 volunteer groups and charities each year by the award of monies to ensure local communities benefit from our continued success.

Scotmid is an independent co-operative with its headquarters in Edinburgh and trades in the north of England and Northern Ireland. Like other co-operatives we trade in convenience stores but uniquely we also have in Semichem a leading discount health and beauty retailer offering customers a fantastic range of products at affordable prices. 

Our board members must be elected to regional committees representing the East, West and North regions of our trading areas. Regional committees provide nominees to the board and must be elected by the membership at the AGM. All board members must undertake such training for office as prescribed by the board. 

While, like others, we like to think our society is unique, we remain content we are part of a wonderful co-operative family.

Eddie Thorn: The determination to serve our local communities through our convenience stores and the financial support extended to small charities operating in the area. The Community Connect initiative is unique and allows the members to decide upon which charity deserves top prize.

Craig Strachan: While Scotmid follows the same, important values and principles as other co-ops, I believe its foundations in Scottish communities makes it unique. The society, having operated in Scotland since 1859, has a wealth of experience and understanding of the communities in which it operates and the people who shop in store. 

I’ve yet to visit one of our stores where at least one customer hasn’t known the colleagues by name. This shows real engagement and caring for the people who shop locally, which is returned through customer loyalty, the knowledge Scotmid will offer a friendly face and great customer service. Oh, and we did have James Bond (Sir Sean Connery) as an employee!

Alan Yuille: This is not necessarily unique to Scotmid, but I have been struck by the culture and how friendly and welcoming everyone has been. It is also striking how much focus there is at a board and senior level on the community investment that Scotmid makes, with a lot of time and thought going into considering who we can help and how we can make the biggest impact. It is not something you would expect to get that much attention and I think that is one of the clear differences of being a co-operative.