Meet your new Chief Executive - Matt Harrison

Name: Matthew Harrison

Job Title: Great Places Housing Group Chief Executive

Brief employment background:

My filthiest ever job was rubbing graphite powder into asbestos gaskets by hand in the days before health and safety laws existed. My first proper job was as a Development Officer at North Cheshire Housing Association which, by historic quirk, turned itself into Equity a couple of years after I left. After that I did various other development jobs before being lucky to be offered the opportunity to lead Great Places as CEO. Given my history with North Cheshire / Equity it’s really exciting to get the chance to lead the new, merged organisation.

Number of years at Great Places:

26 years, almost 27!

What is your greatest career achievement?

This is a really difficult one. I’ve been lucky to have been involved in some amazing projects over the years that have made a massive impact on people and communities. I suppose, overall, I’d just say that being involved in a journey that took the then Manchester Methodist HA from a small, marginal organisation to one of the ‘go to’ HAs for development and regeneration is something that I’m really proud of. Two of my favourite places are Park Hill in Sheffield and New Islington/Ancoats in Manchester. I can bore the pants off anyone about both these amazing places and I’m very proud that the partnerships I worked on with so many colleagues over so many years have delivered such stunning results. I quite like nipping into Manchester on non-football Saturdays and usually end up in Ancoats for a walk.

What do you like to do at the weekend?

My weekend habit of a lifetime has been Sheffield Wednesday and since the kids left home things have got worse. I’ve turned into a home and awayer, which takes up lots of Saturdays and most of my energy and emotion! Thankfully, my other loves for travelling around and the quintessential English pub handily fit with the life of a Wednesday fan. I also like a bit of live music and still make it to the odd gig.

What is important to you as Great Places CEO?

This is another quite hard one to answer. Ultimately, I want to lead an organisation that genuinely delivers on its values and its social purpose. There’s a sweet spot for running an effective, financially strong, values-driven business that delivers for customers and for colleagues. That’s what I want to strive for, but it takes a lot of give and take.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My 360 feedback tells me that I’m approachable and that I look for consensus in decision making. According to a leadership profile I did a few months ago, I like to see things happen, am pretty results focussed, can be a bit competitive and don’t mind taking big decisions (after I’ve first sought consensus, of course!). They all sound about right.

Why is the partnership with Equity important?

I’ve said all along that Great Places and Equity make a brilliant strategic fit. In the increasingly competitive world in which we live, delivering on our objectives requires us to be that bit stronger and that bit more resilient. There is no point whatsoever in having grand ideas that we can’t deliver. Bringing Equity and Great Places together gives us that strength and makes all our mutual ambitions all that more deliverable. I’ve no doubt we can do great things together, achieving our social purpose and delivering great homes and services both for existing customers and new. And that’s what being a Housing Association is all about.

How can customers of Equity work with GP after the 1st April 2020 to ensure our voices are heard?

I’m really excited about the changes we’re talking about in terms of customer relations. Having Rachel Mills (Director of Customer Experience) in charge of a re-vamped Customer Experience model will build on the excellent work to date in both companies and ensure that customers get to be a big part of the conversation. At present we both run Customer Scrutiny panels and they will come together to continue their work. However, that isn’t enough and we need to find new, innovative ways to get customers from across the demographic involved in our work, helping shape decisions and influence our service offer. Great Places and Equity were both early adopters of the National Housing Federation’s Together With Tenants initiative and with a new White Paper coming we need to make sure that we’re absolutely focussed on this crucial area of our work. Bringing Plumlife and Equity Living together also has huge potential to ensure that a body of sometimes under-represented customers, leaseholders, have more of a say.

How would your customers refer to Great Places?

We clearly don’t always get it right but I like to think that in the round our customers get a good service and when we get it wrong, that we accept it and do our best to put things right. We managed to get ourselves in the Manchester Evening News the other day with a story about a customer complaint about one of our homes. As usual, there was more to the story than meets the eye, but the response from some customers on social media was amazing. Here are a couple of quotes: “I’ve been with Great Places for 18 years and they are fab.” “I’ve been with Great Places for a year and a half and I’ve never had any problems. They’re such an amazing housing association, I can’t thank them enough.” If we can land like that for the vast majority of our customers, that’ll do for me!

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

If you’re in a hole, stop digging.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in the sector at the minute?

The biggest looming issue that we’re going to have to get to grips with is the zero carbon agenda. Society as a whole isn’t treating this as the emergency that it is fast becoming and, as housing providers, we have a significant role to play in terms of both housing quality, heating efficiency and both customer and colleague behaviour.

This is big stuff and will cost a lot of time and money over the next few decades. So, I’d say dealing with this whilst ensuring all our buildings are safe / decent for customers, getting our relationship with customers right and continuing with our ambition to grow our development programme to meet the housing needs of an ageing population and the next generation are the big things for the sector.

Finally, what is a typical day as CEO of Great Places like?

About 10 hours in work! It’s usually a mixed bag. Maybe something internal, maybe something external. Hopefully something that involves interaction with other human beings rather than interminable reading. Thankfully, most days have that bit of variety and are nice and busy.