Matt Stringer, RNIB's new CEO, smiling to camera
RNIB's Chair, Ellie Southwood, spoke to Connect Radio’s Basil Oxtoby about the recent appointment of the new, permanent Chief Executive, Matt Stringer.

Tell us a bit about Matt’s background.

“Matt has over thirty years experience in the retail sector. He’s had some quite senior leadership roles in companies that many people will have heard of; M&S, Carphone Warehouse and, most recently, Mothercare. At Mothercare, he played an important part in helping them to transform their business. They had some quite significant challenges, different to RNIB, of course. But, he provided the leadership that got them through a really tricky time. So, what I think’s most interesting about his experience and what really stood out to us, through the process, was his connection with customers.

I know sometimes we talk about customers and it doesn’t quite feel like the right word, but if you think about customers as anybody who comes into contact with RNIB; our volunteers, blind and partially sighted people, anybody in our community. What really stood out about Matt is, his experience in understanding what it is people need and want from us and, therefore, how we should respond.  I know that he’s super excited about getting out there and meeting as many people as possible, so that he can get a really good sense of that.”

Many people within the community may be asking, is jumping from retail into the third sector a big leap?

“It is a change and I know that lots of people, leaders in the third sector, have already volunteered to help Matt to get to know who’s who. And, there are lots of people, within our own organisation too, who have a lot of voluntary sector experience who will be able to support and guide him on his way. I know that he’s very open to having that support.

Matt’s made it clear to me, that one of his first priorities will be to get out and about to meet people. There are some formal forums, but he’s also keen to go and visit people who are delivering services, meet our community, get out into the networks, and see what’s going on. He wants to see all the fantastic work that is happening right across the UK.”

What was the recruitment process like?

“We worked with a company called Odgers. They specialise in searching out candidates for these kinds of processes; working with those candidates, working with us to find who, not only has the kinds of skills and experience we’re looking for, but who’s management style and values, really fit with what it is we’re looking for. So, the Board and I, were very clear that we were looking for somebody who can galvanise everybody in this organisation, and outside it, around our core mission, which is smashing the barriers that still exist for blind and partially sighted people every day.

That was our brief to them, if you like; find us some fantastic people who will help us do that. The candidates who came forward came from a whole host of backgrounds and I’ve met some amazing people through this process from all sorts of walks of life.

Candidates went through the sort of interview process that you would imagine; firstly, with Odgers and then with us. They also met some of our customers and some of our change champions within the organisation.

So, they’ve been through quite a rigorous process and Matt absolutely stood out in that final round of interviews as the candidate who could take us to the next level, and who could be part of the next, exciting, chapter in RNIB’s story.”

Does Matt, himself, have a visual impairment?

“Matt doesn’t have a visual impairment. He shares a real passion for our mission, though, and I think this is why he’s so keen to get out and about and meet people. Not only to understand about what people need and want from RNIB, but also, to learn and to hear what the experience of being blind or partially sighted is like in the 21st century UK.”

With the big brand re-launch, the 150th anniversary at the end of 2018, and now a new CEO, is it an exciting time for RNIB?

“I am super excited, as are all the other Trustees as well. I think it’s been a tough couple of years for us, as an organisation and I know lots of staff and volunteers have really felt that. We are in a much, much better place financially and I think, primarily, the credit for that needs to go to Elliot Lyne [interim CEO]. There is definitely still work to do to make sure that the things that we’ve put in place become habit and are sustainable. But, we’re a million miles from where we were. Of course, we are still under regulatory scrutiny by charity commission. So, that enquiry continues and, of course, Matt will be navigating us through that over the coming months.

Our refreshed brand and identity, and our renewed focus on what we’re actually here for, is having a really positive impact. When I talk to people now, it’s about a version of RNIB that I’m really proud to be Chair of. I think it’s exactly the sort of organisation that we need to strive to be, to be the best for blind and partially sighted people in the UK.”

Do you think RNIB has become more modern, as a charity?

“I think we’re more modern and a bit more flexible and adaptable. But, I think we still respect our heritage and that is something I’ve been really keen to get the balance of. We have 150-years’ worth of amazing heritage and history, and that’s part of our now and part of our future, as much as all of our new, modern approaches are.

So, it’s finding the right story, which takes our heritage and uses it to project us forwards. We talk about how the lives of blind and partially sighted people have been transformed, and yet, how much more there is for RNIB to do. With Matt on board, I think we can build on some amazing foundations that Elliot has helped us to lay, to take us to that place where there are no barriers for blind and partially sighted people”.