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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Shirine Khoury-Haq

Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview Shirine Khoury-Haq, CFO, The Co-operative Group
Shirine Khoury-Haq, CFO, The Co-operative Group

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

We are finalising our interim reporting as well as our forecasting for the next two years.

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

Revising the strategic plan in the context of a fast moving/changing economy. Shaping the thinking for the future based on learnings from recent months and looking to continually revise as new consumer behaviour emerges. This has impacts on our product mix, how and where we invest, as well as how we manage and structure our organisation.

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)?

The Co-op did well during the lockdown, with the real heroes being our frontline staff, particularly in FuneralCare, Stores, Logistics and Support Centres, who have delivered beyond imagination. 

Everyone delivered extraordinary results and I am very proud as I think of how we performed. Not just in our stores and our business, but the 11,000 vulnerable customers we helped through the Co-Community shopping scheme, the 20,000 vulnerable people our Member Pioneers have been supporting every month, the many millions we donated to good causes, the way we stepped up first to give food vouchers to Co-op Academy students who didn’t have school meals during lockdown, the more than 5 million meals worth of donations we raised for Fareshare. The list goes on.

If I had to pick something we would have done differently – if we had known just how long lockdown was going to last, then the requirement for more laptops would have been dealt with quicker, but this is being addressed.

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

People’s comfort with online as a result of the lockdown, is definitely driving an acceleration in digital. There is now a better understanding of the increase in productivity which results from both home working and flexible working.  Changing consumer buying patterns is adding to technology changes. Similarly, the ability to shop closer to home, which the Co-op offers, has also emerged as a consumer preference so this also needs to be factored into future thinking.

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

Social distancing, wearing of masks in store and PPE for colleagues will remain with us for some time. Moving our Support Centres to more flexible and online working is now part of how we work. We have consulted with colleagues who are defining what the new norm will look like. Many have missed the office, but few want to return to 5 days a week in the office, with the associated commute and time lost with family.

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

My goodness there is so much which the Co-op was already doing in this area and there are some major initiatives going forward, probably too many to include here.  

This year we relaunched Co-op Power, our business to business proposition, which enables smaller businesses and other organisations to purchase green energy as part of a larger buying group led by the Co-op. Our Property team has also developed a way to convert our food waste from our distribution centres into biogas energy which can be used in high efficiency Combined Heat and Power engines.  

We’ve invested in our environmental goals too. 76% of our plastic packaging is now easy to recycle, up from 72%.  

We’ve banned black plastic packaging, increased our use of recycled plastic, and rolled out the UK’s first nationally available compostable carrier bag to 1,000 stores.  

We are also on a journey which started in 2016 to reduce our emissions by 50% by 2025. 

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

I was already in an executive role when my twins, who are now four years old arrived. Thanks to my wonderful employers at Lloyd’s and here at the Co-op, I have always worked flexibly to deliver in role whilst also being there at key times for my children.  Being at home during the lockdown taught me a lot about home schooling as well as asking to be connected more to teachers and the curriculum, which I want to continue. 

The use of the chat function in online meetings is so powerful. It allows two conversations to happen at the same time as well as the ability to group questions and answer them more effectively and expediently. As a result we have shorter and richer meetings. I definitely want to retain this.

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

My amazing, funny, so-smart, Mom (who lives in Australia) for understanding when I haven’t been able to be in contact as regularly as we’d like during these strange times and for not making me feel bad about it. Instead, she has been keeping me regularly updated with the work she has done in researching our family history. 

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

As we only moved to Cheshire last year, we decided on a staycation to explore the area. We did the forests, the beaches, pony rides, nature and all fun things which 4-year olds love. They had a blast and so did we. 

Any words of wisdom?

I’m not great at offering words of wisdom to wide audiences.  If we take a lockdown perspective; however, everyone has had their own unique experience. Having thought about this my words would be, “Don’t feel guilty about things you need to do to keep yourself and your family safe and well during these difficult times, and actually at all times, including the juggle between personal life and work life that we all have to do. Family and your own well-being have to come first.”