My News

There’s big and exciting changes ahead at Bromford!  Here’s a copy of the message I sent out to Colleagues on Tuesday:

A Lover of Learning…and a Lover of Action too.

MK editThree hundred and three score years ago, John Harvard, “a godly gentleman and a lover of learning” and a Stratford Upon Avon boy, left these shires for Boston, America and a year later endowed what became Harvard University, one of the world’s leading research universities. Fast forward to today and I find myself in the curious and exhilarating position of being about to follow in his shoes and make the exact same journey from Stratford to Massachusetts. More of that in a minute or two.

Back to the more recent past and two score and eleven years ago, half a dozen property people came together and resolved – probably in a smoke-filled room somewhere in ’60’s Birmingham, UK – to set up a new way of doing things for people in housing need. Around that time in 1963 I was just a kid really, a rebellious wannabe teenager vaguely conscious, amid a world trying to blow itself up, of people like John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King trying to make it a better place. Half a century later and the world seems just as scary. But that bunch of Brummie do-gooders – they called themselves Bromford by the way after the Bromford racecourse next door to their first scheme – morphed into something quite special and today Bromford has become a major force in UK housing – a beacon of light and hope in a mixed and turbulent world –  as part of the ‘third arm’ in housing. For 30 of those 51 years I have been both lucky and privileged to serve Bromford as its Chief Executive. But now, after 30 hugely enjoyable years leading this fantastic organisation, I have decided it is time to move on and hand over the baton to someone else. And to make my own personal homage to John Harvard of Stratford and Boston.

Colleagues who know me will know that this has not been an easy decision to make  – I am passionately committed to the organisation and what we stand for, our values or ‘DNA’ if you like, and I think of it as a ‘family’ that I am proud to be part of. I am also deeply proud of the special culture here – the extraordinary ‘ Bromford Way ‘ of doing things built upon an unshakeable belief in the good in people – and I like to think I have helped make a small piece of ‘social housing’ history along the way. The average CEO tenure is now about 5 or 6 years and I have bucked this trend for long enough. One day my luck might run out, health or otherwise, and so it’s time to make way for some one else to lead the organisation, bring in some fresh thinking and make their own mark.

And in that respect I am delighted that the Board has decided to appoint our Executive Director Philippa Jones as the next CEO. As many of you will know,  Philippa has worked tirelessly at Bromford for 26 years and has held leadership roles right across the business.

mk and pjShe lives and breathes the Bromford Culture – teamwork, putting others first, and she is a great fit for what the business needs going forward.

Philippa will take over from me at the beginning of January next year when I will head across the Atlantic from Stratford to commence a sabbatical year at Harvard University. You may have heard my mantra “we are all trainees” and I will be putting this into practice participating in Harvard’s phenomenal Advanced Leadership Initiative .

I am really excited about this opportunity to spread the word about Bromford and in particular to develop a number of ideas behind the “You Can” Foundation.

Also, just as I shared the learning from Harvard Business School in 2002/4, through the launch of our Leadership Academy and the ’60 Nelsons’, I will bring back my learning from this programme to support colleagues in an advisory capacity in the further evolution of the Bromford Deal and our social purpose of Inspiring People to be their Best.

Bromford has never been in better shape – we have just delivered the strongest ever set of results in our 51 years, and have a superb financial and cash position that is the envy of others.

We have weathered the storms and uncertainties of the credit crunch really well and although there are more economic and political challenges ahead, the tough decisions we took five years ago have stood us in great stead and now provide us with great opportunities and choices going forward.

We have a great strategy in place with a clear direction of travel; creating a great place to work, building financial independence from Government and inspiring people to be the best they can be, by doing things for themselves and by putting something back into the world. It’s the best strategy we could possibly have.

As for me, my personal strategy is now to rejoice in the forthcoming ‘once in a lifetime’ Harvard experience, relish the life-affirming events and opportunities of these last 30 years at Bromford and to climb many more mountain passes while my legs permit it. Oh, and to break bread with the best friends across the world that I have yet to meet.

A final thought from me: the biggest thing I think I have done here is to help create a platform on which other people can do their work, give of their best and exceed their wildest expectations. I never wanted Bromford to be like everyone else. I wanted us to #BeGood but to be #BeDifferent and proud of it.

I am proud to have served among you, to have known so many fabulous hard working colleagues, and to have made so many friends who I know will be friends for life. I will say this at the Bash next week, but I’d like to thank everyone now -without you Bromford is nothing.

To paraphrase another American, Abraham Lincoln, in his closing line in the Gettysburg Address : “the world will little note nor long remember what we say or what we think, but it will not forget what we do”.

So seize the day guys and gals, make your lives extraordinary.

Mick Kent


Are you in the Giving Vein today?

It’s saturday night at the Globe theatre down by the Thames and Mark Rylance is playing a blinder as  Richard 111…. the Duke of Buckingham has shed blood in his king’s name and turns to Richard to call in the promised favours.  But Richard is having none of it ; ” I am not in the giving vein today…”  In fact Richard is never in the giving vein….he knows that privileges and titles, like knowledge and information, is power …..and to give these away is a sign of weakness…

fast forward to today and the reverse is true…smart leaders get it that the more they give away, the more they empower colleagues, the more respected and more influential they become….but there’s also another battle being fought today, and it’s around information, transparency and culture rather than military might and kingdoms….in today’s  information age , where social and business media is turning upside down the old ways of communicating and controlling information (  top down and heavily censored ),  people and especially Generation Y-ers, now expect access to knowledge and information in a way unthinkable even ten years ago.

And the recent skirmishes around Bankers’ pay, LIBOR, News International, LOCOG and G4S ( never mind MP’s expenses ), have further dented public trust in our institutions and the traditional way of doing things. All this, in my view throws up an opportunity – for those brave enough to take it – to open up and make more accountable  the way decisions are made, how resources are used, leaders remunerated and power exercised…..and it is here that smart leaders can make their mark. Because we are at just the the start of what some  believe to be a working  revolution, but this time built around knowledge and information –  just as farmers 200 years ago left the land and learnt new skills to become factory workers in the Industrial Revolution, and then 50 years ago in turn had to adapt and learn new skills to become office workers, so information technology, mobile working and social media is bringing in the next phase of the evolution of the thing called “work”.

Beth Kanter explains this perfectly in her Blog  and talks about “networked organisations and networked leadership –  open and transparent,  that consider every person and organization in their network an asset for reaching their mission..where leaders exercise leadership through active participation, sharing by default, communicating through a network model, rather than a broadcast model—finding where the conversations are happening and taking part.”

And with this phenomenal change in technology and access to information, there are huge opportunities  to open up our organisations, get better input from others in decision-making – co-workers ( we call them colleagues @Bromford) , suppliers and partners, and customers alike.  If we are in the opening up and giving vein that is.

For a long time now  we have, at Bromford worked hard to ensure decisions are made as far as possible by colleagues working closest to the customer – this started to stall  about eight  years ago due in part to the governance  complexities of a new expanded Group structure, and at the same time the  increasing focus by the Audit Commission on prescribed ways of doing things and KLOE’s . Both of those are now thankfully behind us and we are emerging as a leaner, more efficient, simple and more open organisation, embracing technology and social media to the hilt.

As a result we can now have better conversations, share information much better, wider and faster. 800 of our 1200 colleagues now use Yammer, our own business network, and are much better informed as a result. We have open WI-fi in all offices, all colleagues can use soc media whenever they like ( yes, Twitter and Facebook at work!) , increasing numbers are Bloggers, and we have one very simple guideline ; ” If you wouldn’t shout it out loud in the work cafe, don’t post it ” ( control and sensible oversight of soc media is not an IT issue, it’s a managerial one).  We are trying to create a  more open, accountable and switched on bunch of people, and  it’s why we adopted 100% open plan offices 7 years ago and why noone has a private office anymore ( I gave up mine 12 years ago  in favour of hot desking ) and it’s why all Bromford leaders are expected, as a non-negotiable to be visible, in touch, approachable and aware.

And you can see some of this through our website, our Facebook pages and the increasing number of our amazing Bromford colleagues using Twitter ( a recent survey found that almost half of the most-followed people working in social housing are @Bromford ).

And So, what about the stuff that we now publish on-line? How transparent do we want to be? Well, we have made  a start and you will see from here that as part of what we now make available publicly, we have decided to publish stuff like Directors’ salaries & expenses, how we use our money, where it comes from and where it goes…our policies that guide decisions , and how  we are doing on the ground….and yes, as part of this break with the old way of doing things, we’re publishing any expenditure over £500 …because we want this information out there, to help inform everyone – colleagues , customers, stakeholders and people who might be thinking about working for us – to know about us, our values, how we do business and whether we are in the giving vein.

There has been quite a bit of fuss about whether the Housing Minister, @grantshapps is right to demand that we publish all the  £500 stuff. Well, even if you don’t really buy my ideas above, maybe you will this; isn’t it just a bit like social media?  “If we don’t participate it will be done to us.”

We actually made these decisions weeks ago, but just didn’t see it as a big deal, so have not shouted or press-released about it so far …After all, what’s the fuss about? It’s not as if we are losing our independence, nor  conceding power ( although I imagine Richard 111 would not see it quite like that). If anything it’s the reverse – it’s about giving away power and knowledge  but in turn building influence and a better, more open “networked” culture.  …but then, unlike the doomed King Richard, the best leaders already know that the more power you give away, the stronger you become….

So, Are you in the giving vein today?