Keen by name and keen by nature

Kevin Keen

Local NED/Volunteer/Consultant 

As a Jersey boy, can you tell us about your childhood growing up in a small island?

I am the oldest of six children. My parents did not have much money at all so they had to work very hard along the way. They did a great job of teaching us right from wrong.

To have some money of my own I got my first job as a paperboy around the age of 10 (maybe a bit younger) working 7 days a week for 40p was also another big lesson.

The only family holiday we had was when my father received some compensation because his leg had been broken in an accident. Yes I know this sounds like an extract from the Monty Python sketch – the 4 Yorkshire men - but its all true, times were quite tough but we got through.

What were your main interests whilst at school and did you have an inclination for what career journey you might embark on?

I was totally useless at any sport but reasonably good at the more academic subjects. I really had no idea what I would do after school but was sure I did not want to join the forces or learn a trade so thought it would be a clerical role of some sort. I still have most of my school reports, about the nicest thing a teacher said about me was keen by name and nature. A quality I like to think I still have, getting on for 50 years later.

You entered the world of employment at 16 years old, for Alex Picot Chartered Accountants. What made you take this tack instead of following the A-Level path?

I left school after completing my CSE’s with pretty poor results having done little work in the last few years. I knew the results would not generate any O Level equivalents so A Levels were out of the question.

I was very lucky to be given a chance as an office junior at Alex Picot. I still don’t really know why they took me on but I am so glad they did, it ended up leading to the job at Le Riche Group, (a large company by Channel Island standards) where I eventually made it to board level. First, as Group Finance Director and then Managing Director of their biggest division.

My financial skills and experience help a lot but my real secret is that I listen carefully to the people who work at the organisation already (especially those in the frontline).

You qualified with an MBA in Retailing at the University of Stirling in 2005. What inspired you to do this later on in life?

I had made my first move from a pure financial role to general management (running the Le Riche’s supermarket chain) in 2000 and with such a big change I recognised that I needed some more development especially around people management, marketing and strategy.

The MBA seemed a good way to do this, I also wanted to get a degree before my oldest daughter, which I just about managed!

You’ve held a number of senior roles within Jersey’s business community; for Jersey Water, Jersey Dairy, Jersey Post, La Riche Group, Visit Jersey and were also an Advisor to the States of Jersey. Which of these organisations did you most enjoy working for?

That is a really hard question. I learned a lot at each of them and met some great people along the way. I suppose it would have to be a draw between Jersey Post and Le Riche, although my time at Jersey Dairy was also pretty special.      

You were Interim CEO of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and passionate about the work of Durrell. Could you tell us why you took this position?

Durrell does fantastic work and is probably one of our most important exports, what could be more important than saving species from extinction?

I was a trustee when the CEO of the charity decided to step down and Durrell were stuck for an interim CEO that would give them time to think about what kind of leader they really needed for the future.

I decided to offer my services to provide this opportunity and it paid off big time because we found Dr. Lesley Dickie,( a judge in this years awards), exactly the person this great charity needed.                                                                                                                                                                      

You have a reputation for streamlining ailing companies, particularly the JSPCA and Jersey Post. What is the secret to your success and what would you say is your biggest success story to date?

My financial skills and experience help a lot but my real secret is that I listen carefully to the people who work at the organisation already (especially those in the frontline), I consider carefully the real purpose of the organisation and focus as much on doing the right thing as doing things right. I really can’t say what has been the biggest success, I like to think I have made a positive difference at each organisation.

I urge every leader to make sure they keep a look out for wilful blindness in their organisation.

You founded the not-for-profit initiative, Leadership Jersey, from an interest in the contribution leaders make to organisational success. Leadership Jersey’s aim is to provide a programme of speakers and events that are available to access for all with profits going to local charities. Can you tell us which speaker/leaders have had the greatest impact on you and why?

These are really hard questions! We have had so many great speakers, all of which have spoken for free and helped us raise some money for Jersey charities at the same time. Allan Leighton (former CEO of ASDA, Chairman of Royal Mail & many other roles) was a really great speaker, focussing on the simple but important stuff. Aaron Chatterly (Co-founder of Feelunique) because he has demonstrated you can start a global business in Jersey and Margaret Heffernan who talked about the importance of looking out for wilful blindness - I urge every leader to read her book and make sure they keep a look out for wilful blindness in their organisation.

You are a Fellow of the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), a Fellow of the CIMA (The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), have completed the IoD Diploma in Company Direction and are a qualified Chartered Director. Do you advocate continuous professional development for all?

I most certainly do, but it must be meaningful and not just ticking boxes. None of us are the finished article so CPD is crucial, but also when the boss demonstrates he or she still has things to learn, he or she gives everyone else permission and encouragement to do the same. It was said over 2,000 years ago but it is still true today- “The only thing that is constant is change” so we all need to keep learning how ever old or senior we are.

You are heading the judging panel at the prestigious 2021 Director of the Year Awards. What stand-out qualities are you looking for in nominees?

Well the first thing to say is I am just one of a great panel of judges and want to thank them in advance for volunteering for this important work. 

The last year has been a real test of leadership for all organisations, whatever sector they operate in. So the stand out quality I will be looking for is leadership, just how did the candidates get their people through the pandemic. I will also be interested to see how directors innovated during the challenge of Covid and how they will use the lessons learned to build back better.