Discover more about our wonderful range of speakers from the Co-operative Retail Conference 2019...

James Walton, Chief Economist, IGD

James will kick off the Retail Conference programme with his session titled Remaking Retail. His role at the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) is to help businesses anticipate and cope with strategic events, including economic pressures; geo-political change; social developments; and environmental stress. IGD's Chief Economist is well known for speaking at both UK and international events and provides interviews for TV, radio and the press. He also creates original reports and articles for the expert grocery market analysts.

James has worked with clients across the grocery industry as well as with non-industry groups including government departments, financial businesses and NGOs. He joined IGD in April 1999 and has served in several roles, becoming Chief Economist in 2004. Prior to joining IGD he worked for Hillsdown Holdings, Northern Foods and Rank-Xerox.

Gareth Swarbrick, CEO, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing

Gareth has been Chief Executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing since December 2008. He has led a process which has seen RBH’s transformation from local authority-owned Arm's Length Management Organisation (ALMO) into the UK’s first tenant and employee owned mutual social landlord to which the Council transferred its 13,700 homes on 26 March 2012.

Gareth's session is focused on member involvement in a co-op's decision-making processesd - with a specific look at the creation of corporate strategies.

Phil Ponsonby, CEO, Midcounties Co-operative

Phil took up the role of Group CEO for the UK’s largest independent Co-operative in August 2018 having originally joined Midcounties to run its food business in 2015. Prior to joining, Phil was at the Southern Co-operative, where he was Chief Operating Officer for seven years.

He is a Board member of the Association of Convenience Stores and a Director for Federal Retail Trading Services, which binds the relationship between the UK’s co-operatives involved in food retail. Phil is a member of the Happerley Advisory Board which is a scheme focused on improving traceability and allowing consumers to verify the origins of their food and ingredients.

Hannah Gallimore, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Central England

Hannah gained a degree and post graduate qualification in law before working for Bass Breweries and then KPMG for 16 years in various resource management roles. Since joining Central England Co-operative in 2015 as Corporate Responsibility Manager, the society's responsible business programme has grown in strength and reputation - gaining five stars in Business in the Community’s CR Index in January 2018.

Hannah’s role as facilitator and engagement leader encourages a holistic approach to responsible business, balancing individual stakeholder interests including the environment, community, colleagues, customers and suppliers. As well as facilitating the wider agenda, Hannah has project managed significant deliverables including the deployment of 300 community defibrillators and the rollout of the food redistribution programme in partnership with FareShare East Midlands.

Simone Connolly, Director, FareShare East Midlands

Simone has lead the FareShare East Midlands team for the past 4 years.  FareShare East Midlands is part of a network of regional centres with a common vision that no good food should go to waste.   This is the vision as there are millions of people in the UK that go without good food on a daily basis.  There’s nothing complicated with the vision – simple but impactful.  A bit like Simone's personality really!

Outside of work Simone is mum to two boys and spends most weekends stood on the side line at football matches. Such fun!

Lee Hammond, Head of Co-op Secure Response, East of England Co-operative

Lee has 13 years’ experience in retail management and security operations, working for a variety of retailers and security providers. He has worked for the East of England Co-op for the past seven years and was lead investigator, completing varied investigations for the both the society and other clients, before taking on the role of Head of Co-op Secure Response.

Lee is a strong believer in the ethics and values of the co-operative movement, with those principles instilled into the whole team. He believes co-op ethics and values are integral to the operation of Co-op Secure Response and the service offered to clients. 

James Blackburn, Head of Funerals, Scotmid Co-operative

James joined the funeral profession in 1989, gaining his Diploma in Funeral Directing in 1993 and is a member of the British Institute of Funeral Directors. After a 15-year career working for Dignity Funerals in London, he moved to Scotmid in December 2008.

James a former President of the National Association of Funeral Directors and is a member of the Cross Party Group for Funerals and Bereavement at the Scottish Parliament.

Stephen McDow, Director of Membership and Development, Keystone Development Center

Stephen has over eight years of outreach and marketing experience and is dedicated to bringing together rural and urban America for the purposes of achieving an inclusive economy. He previously managed membership and stakeholder relations for National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA). turning around a five-year decline in membership by recruiting 20 times the amount of members year-over-year.

Prior to NCBA CLUSA Stephen handled membership outreach and retention for the Montgomery County Medical Society (MCMS) and MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society. Before joining MCMS and MedCh he worked on the Ward Four City Council campaign of Dr Edwin Powell in Washington, offering critical assistance to Powell in the development and execution of his community engagement strategy.

Stephen Gill, VME

Stephen Gill is the CEO & CTO of VME, the largest technology co-op in the UK. He has been working with co-ops for over 23 years, and in that time he has helped 18 different UK consumer co-ops solve their technology problems. He designed the ‘FRTS Link’ software that is used in 9 of the 13 independent coops.

He is passionate about seeing consumer coops grow market share; by helping the independent coop movement thrive, opening new stores, and hopefully new independent coops. He believe that all co-ops, regardless of size, should pay the same price per store. This helps the smaller co-ops grow, and larger co-ops benefit by spreading the cost of new technologies; like mobile co-op apps.

Stephen believes strongly that if co-ops don't co-operate to beat the competitors, the competitors will co-operate to beat co-ops.

Richard Bridges, VME

Richard started his career in 1996, working for Clydebank Co-op. In 2003 he joined VME, where he started in Customer Support. He quickly progressed up to management level and now sits on VME’s executive team. As VP of Sales, he is responsible for bringing new co-ops on board.

Richard travels regularly, but still lives in Clydebank with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

Nick Thompson, CEO, The Phone Co-op

Nick is CEO of The Phone Co-op, the UK’s only telecoms co-operative. A true telecoms expert, Nick has paved the way for others to excel in this arena and happily advises others on cloud, connectivity and communications.

Nick is at the forefront of The Phone Co-op joining Midcounties Co-operative, one of the largest co-operatives in the world, with annual turnover in excess of £1 billion. 

Doug O'Brien, President and CEO, National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA)

Doug has been with NCBA since 2016, where he has served as the Executive Vice President of Programs before becoming president and CEO in January 2018. Prior to NCBA CLUSA, Doug led the work of the White House Rural Council and served in top positions at the US Department of Agriculture Rural Development. Doug has also worked in the US Senate, US House and for two Governors.

Doug's experience in academia includes teaching, researching and writing at the University of Arkansas Agricultural and Food Masters in Law Program and Drake University Law School. He was raised on a diversified farm in Dubuque County, Iowa, and holds degrees from Loras College, the University of Iowa Law School, and the University of Arkansas Masters in Agricultural and Food Law Program.

Doug lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with his wife, Alisa, who works in policy and communications consulting. He enjoys biking, travel, spending time with his three children and his memberships in a number of consumer co-ops.

Robin Fieth, Chief Executive, Building Societies Association (BSA)

Robin joined BSA - the voice of building societies in the UK - as Chief Executive in December 2013. Previously he was Executive Director, Members and Operations at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). Robin originally joined the ICAEW in 2002 as Director of Finance. He has also held a number of other senior positions in the corporate sector, including Group Finance Director and Company Secretary at AIM listed Transacsys plc. He spent the first 10 years of his career with PwC.

Robin is a fellow of the ICAEW, a non-executive director of Co-ops UK, a member of the Executive Committee of the European Association of Co-operative Banks, a member of the CBI’s Trade Association Council and a Trustee of the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association. He is married with three grown-up children.

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