Peter Cardy: Was it good for Bubb to stay so long?

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. So Sir Stephen Bubb is finally moving on after more than 15 years in the saddle at the chief executives body Acevo. Is it a good thing for a chief officer to stay so long?

A. Sir Stephen is unique in so many ways that he may be an exception to the norm, but my observation is that it's usually a bad idea. A small organisation becomes shaped around the chief executive; even more so when he or she has a high public profile. Likewise, the chief executive becomes shaped around the organisation, which inevitably limits ideas and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and innovate. The organisation and its leader become indistinguishable and, when the inevitable parting comes, it is harder for the organisation to recover its profile.

Q. Over the past few years our trustees have become little more than advisers to the executive team. The latter decides policy, sets strategy and current plans, and decides on priorities and the use of resources. Board meetings just approve what the executive has already done. Am I right to feel uncomfortable?

A. This is very common and you're right to be uncomfortable. It's fine until something goes awry, when you will be held to account in the court of public opinion, if not in a court of law. You and other trustees must regain the initiative. The simplest way is by scrutinising in more detail the reports that come to you, ensuring that you're content with what is being done in your name and intervening where you're not. Take it carefully, though - explain what you're doing and why. Alienating a successful executive team is not a great idea if they're doing a good job.

Q. I am chair of a medical charity dealing with horrible diseases. We proclaim publicly that we oppose vivisection, but I have discovered that some research projects we fund include animal experiments. What should I do?

A. If you're so bitterly opposed to using animals in research, you can't stay. But I suggest you first make sure you understand what is really happening. A lot has been done recently to minimise the use and abuse of experimental animals. Talk to your scientists and visit their animal houses (they will need to be reassured about your intentions, because of the well-publicised risks to their own and the animals' safety). And think about the people you know who have or have had disgusting diseases that could be cured or prevented as a result of your funding.

Q. The volunteer treasurer of one of our local branches has been caught in a scheme that siphoned money into a bogus account. He has been using it to take his wife, who has a wasting disease, on holiday. It's not a huge amount - about £10,000 - but he has shown no remorse, and says he would do it again if he had the chance. Should I go to the police?

A. Here's the saddest part. You should insist on a prosecution so that his name and record are published and he has less chance to do it again somewhere else. Money given to charity is for the purposes of the charity, not for personal benefit. The energy he put into scheming could have been used in seeking legitimate grants for holidays for his wife.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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