This week, Glassdoor announced The Highest Rated CEOs in the UK for 2017. So, we caught up with the #10 ranked Phil Loney of Royal London to discuss what it means to be a top CEO. We asked him how he takes inspiration from his family background in the Armed Forces and how his leadership has resulted in the doubling of company assets to over £100bn in just five years.
Glassdoor: What was your first job?
Phil Loney: I worked as a tyre fitter in a garage during my time at university to help raise money towards financing my education and social life.
Glassdoor: What is your typical morning routine?
Phil Loney: Wake up. Hide under the covers whilst in denial that it’s time to wake up. On a good day I have a short time of bible study / prayer before I head off to the office with the morning papers, coffee and some porridge.
Glassdoor: What does “leadership” mean to you?
Phil Loney: Constantly working to put our people in contact with the purpose and strategy of Royal London which, as a customer-owned organisation, is all about creating the best customer outcomes and experiences for our customers and sharing our profits with them. So everyone understands our vision, is enthused by it and understands their contribution in order to get us there. Otherwise it’s about aligning all the key aspects of our operations to bring the strategy to life (e.g. structure, culture, talent, capabilities) and engaging key external stakeholders who are critical to our success.
Glassdoor: What has been your most rewarding moment as CEO? And your most challenging?
Phil Loney: Most challenging was the early stages of selling our new strategic direction to the company in my first two years in role. We aimed to take seven pretty independently-minded specialist businesses and mould them into a single mutual champion. There were a lot of hearts and minds to be won, some key people to change, and it felt pretty lonely at times.
The most rewarding was when we launched the new Royal London branding and culture which marked the organisational tipping point in favour of the new strategy. Also seeing the sales of the organisation increase by over 170% in the last 5 years and the assets under management more than double to £100bn. All the result of teamwork by our fabulous people.
Glassdoor: What do you do to foster employee trust and engagement?
Phil Loney: Listening to and involving our 3500 strong team is the key. If you honestly explain that you want to make the business a great place to work then your people will keep telling you what needs to change so long as they see that you are truly acting on their feedback. We listen to our people through regular roadshows and cascade events, employee surveys, Glassdoor reviews and my regular coffee and question sessions and visits to different teams in the business. Then we involve our people to put the action plans in place based on that feedback and communicate honestly – successes and failures.
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?
Phil Loney: We believe that we have a noble purpose that is rooted in our mutuality. Who wouldn’t want to be an engaged employee in an organisation that is trying to lead its markets in terms of creating value for its customers and members? It’s important to keep finding new ways to keep telling this story so that everyone can feel part of something bigger than themselves that is worthwhile. Then it’s about constantly listening to your people, involving them in tackling the issues that they raise and communicating the progress warts and all. I don’t believe that we have yet truly become a great place to work. We are capable of so much more and that is exciting.
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?
Phil Loney: Great leadership is vital to creating the right culture which in turn creates the true brand of the organisation. We are working hard on supporting all of our leaders to lead in a manner that displays our core values of trust, empowerment, collaboration and achievement. We provide training support, coaching and hold them accountable for the way that they lead through their performance reviews.
It’s also really important to recognise and celebrate great examples of the culture and leadership style that you want to foster in the organisation. Remember leadership doesn’t just come from formal leaders it also comes from peers. In our Glassdoor reviews our reviewers constantly mention how great the people at Royal London are – this informal peer leadership and community are worth their weight in gold.
Glassdoor: Any advice for leaders of other companies?
Phil Loney: Personally I think it’s about having the vision and being able to to communicate it and bring others with you. But I wouldn’t presume to advise others.
Glassdoor: Why do you think you get such high approval from your own employees?
Phil Loney: I think that our people enjoy the community atmosphere at Royal London and identify with our purpose and strategy. I get some reflected glory from this but it’s their success really.
Glassdoor: It’s clear you inspire many of your own employees – who inspires you?
Phil Loney: I grew up in an Army family. My father was a senior non-commissioned officer and so I saw him leading people from a very early age. As I get older I increasingly realise how the early example of my father shaped my interest and pre conceptions about leadership with a public service ethic. So my Dad is my chief inspiration.
Glassdoor: What type of people do you like to hire and why?
Phil Loney: There isn’t any particular type of person. The last thing that a leader should do is hire to some kind of standard stereotype. I want an eclectic team around me who will bring strengths to the table that I don’t have, will challenge me, and compensate for my weaknesses. All I ask for is commitment to our cause and values and great operational delivery.
Glassdoor: If you weren’t a CEO, what would you be (in terms of a job or career)?
Phil Loney: I suspect a career in the Armed Services.