Volume 18.1 – CONFERENCE REPORT: Richard Higginson profiles Paula Vennells

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Paula Vennells gave the keynote speech at this year’s Faith in Business conference at Ridley Hall. Here we summarise the main points of what she said, as well as giving a short biographical introduction.

Paula grew up in Manchester and studied languages at Bradford University. Deciding on a business career, she started at Unilever in 1981, and then took on increasingly senior roles at L’Oreal, Dixons Retail, Argos and Whitbread. She joined the Post Office as Group Network Director in 2007 and was promoted to the role of Chief Executive in 2012. She is married and has two sons. Paula combines her demanding business role with being a self-supporting ordained minister to three parishes near Bedford. She often arrives home from a long week’s work on a Friday evening and then has to set about preparing a sermon to preach on Sunday. Yet Paula is convinced that both roles constitute God’s call on her life.

As she explained in her talk at Ridley, Paula actually finds many parallels between the Post Office and the Church of England. Both are highly valued national institutions providing care, support and services to many communities right across the country. Their presence is also valued by many who never bother to darken the doors of a local church or post office but who recognise the wider social purpose. They both require a delicate balance between central direction and local autonomy. Both need to value their history and legacy, whilst boldly embracing the future. Both face substantial challenges at the present time.

Paula became Chief Executive in the year that the Post Office separated from the Royal Mail. It was experiencing mounting losses and had been closing local post offices at a great rate. Yet Paula faced resistance to change from many different stakeholders: communities, customers, postmasters, unions and MPs. Paula said “We had institutionalised behaviours, outdated practices, political interventions, cumbersome support structures and much, much more”…

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