From the Royal Navy to charity chief executive

Richard Leaman, the new man in charge of Guide Dogs, tells Kaye Wiggins he doesn't know much about dogs but he does know about management and policy

Richard Leaman
Richard Leaman

Richard Leaman, who became chief executive of Guide Dogs in March after a 35-year career in the Royal Navy, says the job caught his eye because he used to watch Blue Peter as a child.

"Guide Dogs is a national treasure," he says. "Seeing the dogs as pets on Blue Peter when I was young made me respect the charity's work. When I saw that it was advertising for a chief executive, I thought 'that's for me'."

For some time before he left the navy, Leaman had been planning to move into the voluntary sector. But he says the sector tends to be hostile towards ex-military men who take on senior roles in charities.

"I was at a stakeholder meeting the other week and I heard someone say 'what on earth does an admiral know about dogs?',"he says. "But Guide Dogs isn't paying me to know about dogs. We have 700 dog trainers who do that."

The new role has more in common with his previous one than critics might expect, he says, because much of his work in the navy was about management and policy. "About 85 per cent of my work here is similar to what I was doing in a blue suit until March," he says.

Leaman has joined Guide Dogs at a difficult time: the charity's legacy income, which accounts for two-thirds of its voluntary income, has fallen by about 5 per cent this year.

"I don't think we've done enough in the past five years to raise awareness of what Guide Dogs does," he says. "The RNLI's legacy income is going up by 10 per cent a year because that charity has put a huge effort into raising awareness."

Leaman says the charity will increase the proportion of its fundraising budget that is devoted to legacy marketing. But his first priority as chief executive, he says, will be to cut costs.

"When I worked in the military, our budget was declining in real terms for my entire career," he says. "I'm always looking for ways to achieve the same things for less money."

Part of the cost-cutting plan is to appoint a consultancy firm to identify savings, and pay it based on the level of savings it recommends.

But Leaman says the charity will also look for ways to collaborate with other sight-loss charities, which could involve forming a consortium that bids for local authority contracts.

He also says he has a firm approach that is necessary for the charity. "Because of my military background I'm financially rigorous, and I like to physically make sure things get done," he says. "It's not necessarily a sector-wide attribute."

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