The Co-operative Group: A noble business failure?

The Co-operative Group has its place in the social and political history of modern Britain. Yet it is in deep crisis as its departing leader Euan Sutherland declares it ‘ungovernable’

On March 11th 2014 the following statement appeared on the website of The Co-operative Group

The Co-operative Group announces that Euan Sutherland has resigned as Group Chief Executive with immediate effect. Richard Pennycook, Chief Financial Officer, has been appointed as Interim Group Chief Executive.

The statement then quoted its former CEO’s damning indictment of its professionalism and governance:

“It is with great sadness that I have resigned as Chief Executive. I have given my all to the business and had hoped to be able to lead its revival. However, I now feel that until the Group adopts professional and commercial governance it will be impossible to implement what my team and I believe are the necessary changes and reforms to renew the Group and give it a relevant and sustainable future.

“Saving The Co-operative Bank and with it The Co-operative Group from administration was a huge task, but the changes required do not stop there, with fundamental modernisation needed to safeguard the future for our 90,000 colleagues and millions of members.

“The Group must reduce its significant debt and drive major efficiencies and growth in all of its businesses, but to do so also urgently needs fundamental governance reform and a revitalised membership.

“I will not accept the retention payments and long term incentive payments previously agreed for the delivery and protection of value in the Group and the Bank, even though this was successfully delivered. “I would like to thank all of the Co-op’s hard working colleagues for the support they have given me during my time. I wish them all well. The Co-operative has some wonderful people who deserve a great future.”

Concealing more than it says

Even without further background knowledge by the reader, the news item is of interest to any student of leadership. [Hint to tutors. Try redacting the name of the company and offer the resignation statement for class discussion.]

The resignation statement may be read as a farewell message, concealing more than it says. Why did the CEO fail to achieve the ‘fundamental modernisation’ he believed necessary? What does a revitalised membership imply? How do we interpret the statement that ‘The Co-operative has some wonderful people who deserve a great future.’

A missing story

As editor of LWD I am disappointed that after 1000 posts I have not reported one that dealt directly with the important history and current financial problems of the Co-operative Society. Even a juicy scandal earlier this year did not warrant a mention, although it led to the departure of Euan Sutherland’s predecessor. The story is one which includes one of the most powerful forces towards an alternative capitalism merging socialist ideals with self-help and corporate effectiveness.

What do you think?

I will offer more of the story as an addition to this post. In the meanwhile, I would be particularly interested in receiving the views of LWD subscribers who are unfamiliar with the history of the group, and their assessment of the situation as indicated in Euan Sutherland’s resignation statement.

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2 Responses to The Co-operative Group: A noble business failure?

  1. Pleased you re-blogged. The post’s first day tally of visits was substantially above the norm. Try the archives for retail stories.

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