How Steve Murrells aims to ensure more BAME leaders reach the top at the Co-op

The boss of one of the world’s biggest consumer co-operatives aims to hire more leaders from a BAME background to ensure the £10bn turnover business reflects the diversity of modern Britain.

Steve Murrells

Steve Murrells, the Co-op’s CEO, made headlines when he became one of the first major corporate leaders in Britain to speak out over the death of George Floyd, which led to riots in several US cities.

Mr Murrells, in a post on Twitter, said he wanted to work harder to ensure staff in his UK stores and funeral parlours are not subject to “judgement and discrimination every single day”.

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Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Murrells said: “I felt compelled to speak out about what we were all watching after the sad death of George Floyd.

“I wanted to remind all my colleagues that they have got my utter support and my ears are pinned back. As a white man, I cannot experience the challenges that black people face.

“But it is the right thing for leaders to speak out. Speaking out about issues like this is very much in our DNA. It’s what we do to try and influence other businesses including plcs. They are not just at the mercy of their shareholders.

“We are spending time trying to find out what it really feels like to be a black person working in our organisation.”

He said the Co-op, which operates 2,600 stores and more than 1,000 funeral homes, has a colleague network called RISE “to see what is getting in the way of career progress for people from BAME backgrounds”.

He added: “In the past, we could have simply hired more BAME people but we would have failed them as an organisation if we had not tried to help them in their career. We have committed to hire more senior leaders from BAME backgrounds.”

The Co-op supported Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend the children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays, which led to a Government U-turn.

The 22-year-old Manchester United striker was praised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his highly personal campaign, which forced the change in policy.

Downing Street on Tuesday announced a one-off £120m fund which will benefit some 1.3 million children in England over the six-week summer holiday.

Speaking before the Government’s announcement, Mr Murrells said: “It’s about collaborating with personalities to support what we have been doing since the pandemic started.

“If nobody acts, then the Co-op acts.”

The Co-op is extending its free school meals scheme throughout the summer holidays at 25 Co-op academies.

As a result of this initiative, 6,000 students will receive Co-op gift cards.

Earlier this year, Mr Murrells revealed that he was directing his own personal income to kick-start a Co-op Members Fund, which will be channelled into foodbanks, a funeral hardship fund and front-line community causes.

The boss of the £10bn turnover business confirmed he was donating 20 per cent of his salary over a three month period into the newly created Co-op Members’ Coronavirus Fund. The fund has been established so that the Co-op’s 4.6 million members can donate their unspent existing member rewards, totalling more than £30m, into these vital areas.

Mr Murrells said: “Making the £50,000 donation was the right thing to do as a business leader. Other leaders have followed suit.”

Mr Murrells, who became the Co-op Group’s CEO in March 2017 after leading the Co-op’s Food business since 2012, highlighted the importance of the mutual’s Yorkshire operations, where it has more than 240 stores.

He added: “I suspect there could be more store openings in Yorkshire as well. We stock 250 Yorkshire food lines - there is a really vibrant food production centre in Yorkshire. Local causes have received an £8m boost from the Co-op.

“Our business is unique. Our focus is on feeding the country. I do hope the country sees the huge effort we have all gone to. It is very much centred around placing colleagues and people before profit. The more successful we are, the more good we can do.”

Mr Murrells has overseen the acquisition of Nisa Retail Limited, which now sees the Co-op provide wholesaling services to more than 7,700 stores across the UK.

The Co-op is the UK’s largest mutual business with more than 4.5 million members, 63,000 staff and a presence in every postcode area of the country.

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