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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Richard Pennycook

2 minute interview with richard pennycook department for education
Richard Pennycook, Lead Non-Executive Board Member of the Department for Education, Chairman of Howdens Joinery, Chairman of 2 Sisters Food Group, Chairman of On the Beach.

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week? 

As a portfolio Non-Executive, I no longer have to tackle the challenges – that task falls to my great management teams. The biggest challenge amongst my portfolio has been with the Department for Education’s work to get children back to school. There has been an overwhelming move to make this happen with the public totally on side and that’s been great to see.  

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month? 

On the same theme, later this month 1.3m 18-21-year olds will be heading off to University not only to obtain the education they deserve but to enjoy university life. Social distancing measures will undoubtedly be a challenge for some of them!  

Similarly, the volatility of the travel market is extremely difficult. Intellectually, the public understands the need for quarantine, but their emotional response to it and the frequently changing rules makes it very difficult for the companies trying to provide the service. 

In retrospect what would you have done differently in lockdown and therefore, how may this shape your thinking for any future lockdown (local or national)? 

I have been inspired by the leadership shown by the various CEOs in my businesses. Their first priority was to ensure our people were safe, closely followed by securing the liquidity needed in our businesses. 

If there is a next time then we wouldn’t wait for government to “call” the lockdown; business has a responsibility to act on its own. In hindsight we should have locked down sooner. 

Given the reliance on technology during lockdown, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/ workforce transformation in the short-medium term? 

In lockdown we saw enormous acceleration of changes which previously would have taken years. Going forward there now needs to be consideration of what this actually means e.g.  a video appointment with the GP is not effective when a physical examination is required. So, working out what the sustainable changes are needs to be the focus. 

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation? 

Technology is great for transactional requirements but is not so great for people interaction.  Front line people can’t work from home but there will undoubtedly be a desire for those who can to have more flexibility. The move back to the office for some of the working week will be driven by the appetite for human interaction. 

There was a dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint during lockdown, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward? 

Undoubtedly business travel, especially international, will be reduced now that technology has evidenced what can be achieved.  

More widely, many businesses have taken government money in 2020 and as a result government can be more demanding on the ESG agenda. 

What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown period going forward? 

Prior to lockdown I was getting to the gym 3 days a week. During lockdown I’ve been saving so much time not travelling I’ve been able to exercise 7 days a week at home. I will look to continue this going forward. 

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous) 

Teachers have inspired me. I’m passionate about education but feel that it has become an undervalued profession. Teachers give our children their life chances and in getting our kids back to school post lockdown they’ve shown great collective leadership.   

Did you manage a holiday this summer and if so where / how did you spend it? 

A family bubble of 9 in the Scottish Highlands where the weather was fabulous. We had a wonderful time despite the volume of Zoom calls. 

Any words of wisdom? 

This month we’ve had the anniversary of the start of the Blitz 80 years ago. Reading some of the diaries and memories from those who experienced this makes me feel we should all make notes (if we haven’t already kept a diary) of our own lockdown experiences before the memories become too distant.