The Big Hire: Charles Byrne

The new director-general of the Royal British Legion talks about the 'huge sense of responsibility' in his new role

Charles Byrne
Charles Byrne

The new director-general of the legion, Charles Byrne is no stranger to the charity, having been promoted from within. But the charity's former director of fundraising is a relative newcomer to the voluntary sector.

He began his career running high-street shops for the wine merchant Oddbins before becoming head of retail for the under-construction Heathrow Terminal 5 in 2002, developing its shopping space. He later became head of sponsorship and experience just before the terminal opened in 2008.

His working life took a sudden change of direction, however, when his father died of cancer, inspiring him to join Macmillan Cancer Support in 2009 as head of corporate partnerships and events. "I came from the commercial sector, which had processes and standards for everything, so the third sector seems less disciplined and grounded," he says. "But the quality of people you get is incredible.

"You tend to get people from the corporate world coming in and thinking they have all the answers. But I think we can get the best of both worlds - both have something to offer. You just have to keep an open mind and be a bit humble sometimes."

Byrne is learning tai chi (from a former cage fighter), which he says is teaching him to relax physically and mentally, becoming more reactive and flexible.

He says he is proud and excited to be taking up the position, but there is a "huge sense of a responsibility and stewardship that comes with the role".

Byrne joined the legion in 2012 as director of fundraising and, having been promoted from within, says he's familiar with the charity's work and has "a fundamental belief in the dual purpose of the legion - remembrance of the dead and the support of those who are still living".

He adds: "It's a very personal thing. My grandfather was on the western front - whenever I go out to the battlefields, I meet people who have a relative buried out there. There's always a sense of wanting to remember and say thank you.

"And the people you meet from the ex-service community and their families are so inspirational in the face of adversity - I come away humbled."

Historically, public awareness of the armed forces ebbs and flows, he says, so the charity must engage younger generations.

"The charity has to be around for the long term - partly because remembrance is life-long, but also because many of the people we support have life-long conditions," he says. "We need to ensure it remains relevant."

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