The chair of the board of trustees at Active Gloucestershire reflects on the new CEO of Active Gloucestershire; the relationships forged and challenges faced.
Active Gloucestershire was at a pivotal point at the end of March, a point we had been preparing and looking forward to. Under the leadership of our previous CEO, Deborah Potts, we had built a new theory of change, plotted a new strategy, developed valuable partnerships and were embarking on new work with a newly appointed CEO, Tom Beasley, taking up post on 1 April.
Then Covid-19 took hold.
Here, Jan Bowen-Nielsen, the Chair of our board of trustees, reflects on what has made the chair-CEO relationship a success during lockdown.
What ran through your mind in relation to Active Gloucestershire, as the lockdown took place and you knew you had a new CEO in place?
Tom brought a strong leadership skill set, great communication skills and a wide network of contacts across the county; he understood and bought into our values and strategy. That said, we all faced an unprecedented situation, so I knew that Tom, the Active Gloucestershire team and the board would have to work closely together to respond effectively.
What did you ask Tom to do on behalf of the board?
Tom has met with us more regularly than usual, as we have had a number of additional board meetings to focus specifically on our Covid-19 response. We were quick to ask staff to work from home and made it clear that our priorities were – and continue to be – keeping the whole team safe and ensuring their ongoing welfare.
At the beginning of lockdown, what impressed you most about your new CEO?
Tom and the team have really impressed the board with their resourcefulness. The whole team effectively moved all operations from their offices in Gloucester to working remotely within a couple of days. I know that Tom even went to PC world himself to buy laptops to ensure everyone could work from home!
What did you learn about your new CEO in those early days?
Tom has shown how well he can manage highly challenging situations, not just practically, but on an emotional level; he has show this in his empathetic approach when working with and managing his team. I have also been impressed with how quickly he has forged strong relationships with our funders and stakeholders in a very short period of time.
Did you adapt your way of working with Tom? If so, how?
We planned monthly meetings and we have maintained those. The focus of our conversations has definitely changed, but apart from conducting the meetings by Zoom, our way of working hasn't changed.
What was important to you (and the board) in relation to the strategy that was in place for the organisation and how did you alter that?
Our vision and purpose around making an active lifestyle the norm in Gloucestershire remains the same, but Tom has responded to the lockdown situation by trying new channels and different ways to reach our priority audiences. As the government has established being active as more of a national value in response to Covid-19, we are looking at opportunities to sustain interest in being active post-lockdown. More importantly, we want to focus on those communities who may have been marginalised by the restrictions.
It is said that the key to a successful Chair and CEO relationship is openness, honesty and motivation. How have you encouraged this and what have you learnt about Tom in these last two months?
Tom and I immediately found a great working relationship. We are both clear on what our respective roles are and have very open with one another in communicating about the challenges we might face.
The role of CEO can be a demanding and lonely one which benefits from the support of the Chair of trustees. How would you say you have supported Tom in his first 2 months in the role?
You are absolutely right. I hope that Tom finds that myself and the board are there to help him and that he can contact us whenever he has anything he wants to discuss.
From Tom Beasley, CEO Active Gloucestershire
If my enthusiasm for this role was high on appointment, it only got higher when lockdown occurred; it has been a real challenge and opportunity to manage unchartered waters and keep the ship sailing in the right direction. What has been encouraging and supportive is the board’s confidence to let me run this my way. Jan’s ability to know when to ask questions and when to step aside has enabled us to establish what feels like a strong Chair/CEO relationship.