Interview: Matt Hyde

The new chief executive of the Scout Association wants to rethink its marketing

Matt Hyde
Matt Hyde

Top of Matt Hyde's to-do list as the new chief executive of the Scout Association is a challenge common to many charities these days - how to recruit and retain volunteers. More than 30,000 young people are waiting to join the scouts because there are not enough adults to supervise them.

Part of the problem, Hyde argues, is marketing. "We need to start selling it properly, as a way of putting something back in and changing people's lives for the better, while developing your own skills," he says. "The other question is how to design volunteering opportunities so they are flexible enough for people's modern lives."

Hyde rejects the idea that there are mixed feelings in society about adult men working with young people and that this might be having a negative effect on volunteering. He says there is no data that indicates this. "Scouts are for boys and girls, and men and women can be volunteers," he says. "It's about breaking down barriers and encouraging generations to understand each other - that is what I cling on to."

Hyde was a cub and a scout between the ages of 8 and 13 and says his best experience was "being made sixer of the month, which led to a lot more leadership positions". Most recently, he was chief executive of the National Union of Students for seven years and is credited with transforming it into a financially stable organisation and increasing member satisfaction levels.

Management style

The Scout Association is already in rude financial health, with an income of £25.9m in 2011/12, compared with £23.6m the previous year, and he is quick to credit his predecessor, Derek Twine, and the senior management team for this achievement.

Twine, who is now retired, spent nearly all his working life in the scouts. Will Hyde, who is 38, bring a different management style with his comparative youth?

"It is difficult to say how I will be different, because I have not worked with Derek, but I am building on firm foundations, which he established," he says. "My age is irrelevant, because if you have the skills, the aptitudes and the behaviour, then you're good enough for the job.

"Ultimately, I will be assessed on outcomes, regardless of how old I am. The NUS was in a very different place when I joined than the Scout Association is now, so some of my skills are less applicable. But some things are relevant, such as vision, inspiring people and being a good employer. It's about spending time with the members, listening to them and then providing a clear direction."

He says that when he was thinking of applying for the job he was struck by what the Scout Association has said it wants to achieve by 2018, which includes preparing young people to be active citizens, amplifying their voice and extending scouting to areas where it is not yet flourishing.

"I thought these were the three things I would have focused on," he says. "They articulated where I would have taken the organisation."

Pay controversy

And what about the row over the £100,000 salary awarded to Ben Kernighan, Hyde's successor at the NUS, with one trustee criticising the 16 per cent pay rise? Does Hyde have a view on high salaries for charity chief executives?

"Every organisation has to make an assessment of what the right amount is, given the complexity of the role and the nature of the organisation," he says. "Ben is an excellent appointment."

Hyde was recruited soon after Julie Bentley's appointment as chief executive of Girlguiding UK. Bentley has declared her charity to be "the ultimate feminist organisation" and begun to make it less cautious about speaking out on issues that affect girls and young women. Will Hyde do something similar and take the scouts into the spotlight by being more outspoken?

"I've met Julie and she's terrific; I'm looking forward to working with her," he says. "We're about becoming active, global citizens and we want to amplify young people's voices as part of that. In the digital age, we have the ability to hear young people's voices in ways that would have been impossible previously."


2013: Chief executive, the Scout Association
2007: Chief executive, NUS
2006: Deputy national director, NUS
2001: General manager, Goldsmiths Students' Union
1999: Deputy general manager, King's College London Students' Union

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