THE COSTCO CONNECTION: Had you always
aspired to run a business or organisation?
SUE WHALLEY: Not at all. I actually did
wonder whether I might make a career as a musician. It wasn’t until the months before I went to
university actually [that] I had my first opportunity to work in a commercial organisation.
And that sealed my interest in business.
It was really completely by chance that I
started my career with McKinsey after university.
McKinsey looked like a fantastic opportunity to
get some experience in a broad range of industries. I became very interested in businesses that
were going through more fundamental transformation with multi-year, multi-faceted change
programmes—cutting across culture, organisation, ways of working, as well as strategy.
What I thought would end up being a few
years actually ended up being 17 years. And then
during that time I had my three children, [and]
was also elected a partner in the London office.
At that time there were not very many female
partners. I was one of the first 10 to 15 in Europe.
And we were very much pioneering the way for
women and creating opportunities for women
in consulting and professional services, [devel-oping] the support that would be required to
enable women to be successful.
CC: What attracted you to Royal Mail?
SW: I wanted to be part of a management
team making the decisions and leading the
change, as opposed to part of the advisory team
working with businesses. And Royal Mail is a
highly loved and respected brand in the UK.
But I could see that even 10 years ago the company was facing some challenges because of
I feel absolutely passionate about what Royal
Mail does—that we connect communities all
across the country. I was excited to be part of
that business and to take on the challenge of how
we could evolve it to be successful in a different
and more competitive world.
CC: Which workplace issues keep you up at
SW: Within Royal Mail I’m now accountable
for ensuring that the nation’s post gets delivered.
I am accountable for running the operation. I
have around 130,000 people involved in collecting, sorting, trucking and delivering letters and
parcels in the UK. And that comes with 40,000
vehicles. It’s a very vast operation, and we deliver
six days a week across the country in all weathers, to 29 million addresses. It’s a very exacting,
regulated quality of service standard.
As a business, we are going through a very
significant transformation. Our marketplace is
changing. We have more parcels to deliver. Our
letter traffic, although still more than 15 billion
items a year, is declining as people use more
electronic forms of communication. And we’re
operating in a very competitive market-
place. There are many parcel delivery
companies in the UK. And so, as a
business, we need to innovate for cus-
tomers so that we can keep our repu-
tation for great service and quality. We
need to implement new and better ways
of making sure that they get their parcels
—making our network available over the
weekend, for example. And we need to
develop new and better ways for customers
to get their traffic into our system. We need
to take out costs so we are even more price-
competitive along with our great service
And as a recently privatised business,
we’re also going through a lot of cultural
change—changing the ways that we work,
how we work together, how we work faster
and how we make change happen quickly.
Within that there are the pieces that will
keep me awake. How do we do all of that at
the same time? It’s a massive transforma-
CC: Have you had mentors? If so, how
have they helped you in your career?
SW: At McKinsey, there were a number
of more-senior partners who were very
important to me for a number of reasons.
But one of them in particular was helping me
to have the confidence to be as successful as I
could be. And I think sometimes, for a lot of
women, a lack of confidence can hold
them back. And finding mentors and
sponsors ... can give you the courage to
take opportunities and move ahead. Also,
it’s very helpful to have somebody who
you can talk to and get ideas on how to
navigate tricky situations involving stakeholders, different groups, et cetera.
And [making a] career change is cer-
CONTINUED ON PAGE 24
• Received a Talent Pipeline
Award at Business in the
Community Gender Equality
• Awarded a Gold standard for
both gender and race in the
Business in the Community
Diversity and Wellbeing
• Delivery sector manager
Marie Forrester named 2016
Diversity Champion of the
Year at Women in Logistics.
• Received a Third Sector
Business Charity Awards
Community Impact (National)
Award, with the charity
• Named a Times Top 50
Employer for Women for
three years in a row.
• Listed in the Business in
the Community Corporate
• Listed in the Dow Jones
Sustainability Index as a
top-ranking company in the
Transport and Transport
Sue Whalley gets the
lowdown from Royal Mail