Transcript - Helen Anne Alexander CBE, President, CBI

Nicholas O’regan, Professor of strategy and innovation talks to Dame Fiona Reynolds about the different strategies and tactics of an NGO

Nicholas: Dame Fiona Reynolds Thank you very much for coming down to Bristol. Just a few short questions-

 In forth profit organisations, the dominate stake holders are shareholders and the key objective of course is maximising their value. In non-profit organisations the objectives, are they less clear? and stakeholders are far more numerous. What are the main challenges of managing a non profit organisation?

Fiona: Well the main challenges are knowing who your stakeholders are actually, I would say. We have a very easy task in the national trust, very easy to say quite hard to do. Which is our accountability is to the nation, we have an active parliament that says so.

So that’s brilliant sense that I’m very clear that who I’m thinking of not all of the lobby groups and all the endless interest groups who do have a very particular angle on us. However, thinking about the nation is quite a bit challenge so actually being able to articulate a clear vision when your constituency is so big is probably a common challenge for NGO’s.

Nicholas: So what are the key strategic issues facing the national trust?

Fiona: Well I think for us it’s very simple we have two absolutely fundamental jobs to do. One is too look after places forever, and which forever is a very long time, which means we have to be sustainable to be able to fund ourselves forever and we have to have a very long term view when it comes to making decisions.

The other is we look after places forever, for everyone. So we’re constantly thinking about our dependants, our millions of people, millions of people join us, millions of people visit. People need to support us to keep us going. So we are really thinking about the customer and what they need and were they’re coming from and how their needs are changing.

Nicholas: So what are the key internal and external factors that influence the future strategy of the trust?

Fiona: Well mainly people actually. People, because we are so dependent on support from our members and supporters and donors all over the country.

So we really have to think about Are we meeting their needs? Our properties, Are they interesting enough? Are they lively enough? Will people want to come back? And then of course we do really have to be good at conservation because our whole ethos depends on us having confidence and people having confidence in us that we really are looking after these places.

Nicholas: It’s often assumed that organisations in the tertiary sector are free from competition, Is this the case?

Fiona: No, not at all. Actually we’ve got lots of competitors and I think that’s very healthy. We’ve got English heritage, We’ve got the royal palaces, we’ve got all the gardens in the country, we’ve got the countryside, with got national parks you know you name it. But actually, our biggest competitor is competition for people’s time.

And that’s a really interesting issue because people have endless choices about how they are going to spend their times these days and why would they come to us? We got to make it really exciting and tantalising and make them really want to enjoy it so much they come back again.

Nicholas: Now taking you abroad, on to recent earthquake in Haiti, a number of Non government organisations started blaming each other for delays and it appeared many of them were reluctant to cooperate with each other, on the other hand private sector firms that compete fiercely also enter into strategic alliances. Was this a one off case or are strategic alliances more rare in the territory sector organisations?

Fiona: Gosh, I think Haiti must have been an incredibly difficult challenge. I mean just think about the scale of the emergency, the scale of disaster, how difficult is was to get people there. I think it’s not surprising there were some challenges.

 I have to say I think that third sector organisations are very good at cooperating because most of the times they haven’t got enough money to do what they want to do. And they are actually very, very frugal, very careful and therefore quite good at working out; well I can do this bit , you can do that bit. For example we don’t compete with other organisations ever to buy land or property.

We always look around and say well maybe the wildlife trust will be interested in this or there’s another organisation that can set up a special trust can look after that piece of heritage. But I think when push comes to shove in times of emergency when you really have to act fast that does put tensions on people.

Nicholas: There’s a great deal of writing about effective leadership in the private sector and but little in the tertiary sector. What are the attributes of good leadership in the tertiary sector?

Fiona: Well, passion and vision, I think are absolutely essential. It’s got to be authentic vision as well. You do need to have all kinds of skills really. Goodness, no ones got them all, around management around the ability to run an organisation.

But fundamentally you’ve got to feel it in your heart and be able to communicate not only to your staff but in our case to our volunteers and certainly to our constituencies, out there and what it is we stand for where it is we’re going and why people should support us because we’re so dependant as a third sector on peoples support.

Nicholas: Concerns have been raise about the small number of woman appointed as top management posts. How has your career shaped your views on this?

Fiona: Well, I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been a chief executive since I was 22 but mind you that organisation had one and a half staff in it. So you know, it wasn’t a huge competition. I think the third sector is very good in this respect, there are some fantastic woman Chief Exes of the charity world.

Infact, we all meet for dinner, we get on very well, we talk to each other a lot, because many of us come through similar experiences. So I think the charity sector is good. I do notice that in the private sector particularly woman aren’t as well represented, and I do think that there are real opportunities actually for woman to add something to other fields but personally I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been in the charity  sector most of my life and I have been a chief executive three times now.

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