Heart of England Co-op promotes food chief Steve Browne to CEO 

Browne, who has been with the society since 2018, replaces Ali Kurji, who is retiring after 20 years at the helm

Heart of England Co-op has appointed Steve Browne as its new chief executive, succeeding Ali Kurji on his retirement in October after 42 years’ service, including 20 at the helm.

Browne, 43, joined the society in 2018 and is currently general manager of its food division, overseeing 37 convenience stores and two Bewiched branded coffee shops across Coventry, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

Prior to that he held a string of senior retail management positions including head of convenience at McColl’s, retail operations director at Xcel and head of retail at Nisa. In his early 20s he managed a Co-op Group food store before being appointed in 2003 as manager of Iceland’s flagship store with 40 staff and a £3.5m turnover.

He described his promotion, which follows an extensive recruitment process involving external consultants, as “humbling”.

“I feel privileged to have been selected to take over the leadership of the society as Ali Kurji’s long and successful tenure comes to an end,“ he said. “I thank him for his mentorship. I will be a protector of his legacy and of everything we have collectively established. I am immensely proud to have been charged with this challenge and it is one which I am relishing.

“It’s also a very proud moment for my wife Karren and my two teenage daughters, Kacey and Olivia. I admit to having had a lump in my throat over my parents’ joyous reaction to the news. I come from a loving family who had little but offered so very much.”

Born in Blyth in Northumberland, Browne enjoys being out in his VW camper van with his family and going on walks with his Labrador, Isla. With a keen interest in sport, especially football, boxing, darts and golf, he enjoys socialising and relaxing over a good film or box set.

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Recently, he gained an MBA with distinction at Coventry University, which, he said, was one of his most satisfying personal achievements.

“It was a superb experience as it allowed me thinking space. It ratified some of my developed experience, but also enabled me to think differently,“ he said.

Looking to the future, he pledges to lead the society with “authenticity, integrity, transparency and passion“.

He added: “As a co-operative, it is imperative we remain at the heart of the communities we serve and continue to give back to them in a meaningful way.

“I will strive to do my utmost for my colleagues, seeking out opportunities for their personal growth and development. I will operate an open-door policy and offer a listening ear to ensure no opportunities are missed which could benefit customers, members, clients and colleagues. 

“Creating more for all of them is central to our plan while we continue to be a great neighbour, acting sustainably and protecting our planet. We are currently ploughing more than £1.75m into a new wave of green projects after investing £2.36m on eco-friendly initiatives in 2023.”

One of his “most important and difficult tasks“ during his time with the society was steering the food business through the pandemic. “Keeping my colleagues and customers safe and providing our communities with an important lifeline at their time of need was both hugely challenging and immensely rewarding,“ he said, adding that he has “no illusions regarding the fresh challenges that lie ahead“. 

“I will need to steer the society through the strong political and economic headwinds we face today,” he said. “However, I am driven to continue the transformation of our proudly independent organisation and determined to build on its rich 190-year heritage.

“We also have to be aware of, and respond to, changing consumer and client needs. We must ensure we are able to recruit and retain top talent. There are societal shifts which we need to embrace too, such as ongoing high living costs and an ageing population.”

Nevertheless, he plans to embrace his new role with “great excitement and not fear”.

“The prospect of growing the Heart of England Co-op for the benefit of existing and new communities is something I am looking forward to immensely.”