On 21st June, Glassdoor announced the Highest Rated CEOs in the UK for 2017. We caught up with the #1 rated CEO, Anglian Water’s Peter Simpson, to discuss exactly what it takes to be the top boss in the country, how to treat employees in order to increase productivity, and he reveals his interesting encounter with Richard Branson.
Glassdoor: What was your first job?
Peter Simpson: I was a grounds man on a golf course near to my family home. My first job with Anglian Water was as an Analytical Chemist in our laboratory. I still have a passion for my craft as a scientist, and I am pleased to have worked in so many roles within the company.
Glassdoor: What does ‘leadership’ mean to you?
Peter Simpson: Creating an environment in which people far more able than I am can flourish and deliver their full potential.
Developing and communicating a picture of where we are going.
Glassdoor: What has been your most rewarding moment as CEO? And your most challenging?
Peter Simpson: The most rewarding was receiving the Queen’s Award for Sustainability from HM the Queen. It is the highest accolade to celebrate business success – in recognition of the significant contribution made in setting new national standards for sustainability, and embedding sustainability throughout our operations. We were extremely honoured to receive such recognition, not just of Anglian Water’s work but of our customers, each of our 4,000 employees, and all of our partners who contributed to by supporting our vision for a more sustainable future.
The most challenging was selling some of the international businesses which I’d been involved in developing.
Glassdoor: What do you do to foster employee trust and engagement?
Peter Simpson: Being open and being myself and treating everyone as I’d like to be treated.
Glassdoor: Your employees love working here as we see the strong rating on Glassdoor – How do you make this a great place to work day in and day out?
Peter Simpson: A great place ‘day in and day out’ implies nirvana which Anglian Water isn’t. We have an important role in providing a tenth of the UK population with a vital service that’s essential for life, for business, and for the environment. And understandably there are pressures, as there are in any company, but we all take pride in what we do and the responsibility that warrants.
We do focus on developing great leaders, on the wellbeing of employees and creating a positive working environment. We’ve invested in a substantial leadership programme to support managers, I personally chair the BITC wellbeing taskforce, and we take great pride in being a responsible business, which is why winning the Queen’s Award was such a high point. Overall, I believe we get more of this right than wrong and that’s what makes it a great place to work.
Glassdoor: Good leadership is not just one person – How do you work with your leaders and management teams to make sure employees have great leadership here?
Peter Simpson: By making sure that leadership development is central to our business. The work we have done over the last few years with a programme called ‘Transforming Our Leadership’ – a programme developed with an organisation called “Lane 4” led by the ex-Olympic gold medallist swimmer Adrian Moorhouse, and in conjunction with Loughborough University – is a recent and good example of this investment in leadership. From CEO to front line managers, we’ve all been through it, or are on the programme currently. It’s a truly strategic programme, owned and shaped by the Management Board, and it’s transforming the way we do things and work as a team to ensure we’re all pulling in the same direction and “making the boat go faster”. Doing this programme myself at the same time as the other leaders within the business was both personally and professionally valuable – we all learned and improved together.
Glassdoor: Any advice for leaders of other companies?
Peter Simpson: My advice to any leader at any level is to be authentic, build on your own strengths, don’t copy others and remember to appropriately flex your ‘style’ according to situations.
Glassdoor: Why do you think you get such high approval from your own employees?
Peter Simpson: I’m flattered but also surprised – I hope it’s because at least some of the time I model some of positive leadership behaviours.
Glassdoor: It’s clear you inspire many of your own employees – who inspires you?
Peter Simpson: Sir Richard Branson – when I last met him he mistakenly thought I was part of the Red Bull Formula One team when he (Virgin) were sponsoring Brawn. He came over and congratulated me for being behind a Vettel/Webber 1,2 finish and beating ‘his’ team at Silverstone. It reminded me at the time of one of my favourite quotes of his about “happiness being the secret ingredient for successful business”.
Glassdoor: What type of people do you like to hire?
Peter Simpson: Enthusiasts.
Glassdoor: If you weren’t a CEO, what would you be (in terms of a job or career)?
Peter Simpson: A role where I got to work with and develop people and teams in the pursuit of doing something meaningful where I can see the impact of what we’re doing.