Leading – the podcast proudly sponsored by Lockton – talks to leaders at the top of their game, discussing their experience, the big decisions they've taken, and their advice to aspiring leaders.

In this episode, James Ashton is joined by Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo's, one of the UK's biggest charities, and Simon Levine, global co-CEO the UK's largest law firm DLA Piper.

Supporting over 350,000 vulnerable children, families and carers each year, Barnardo's mission is to support children who have suffered from abuse or violence. Like many other charities, Barnado's has suffered a severe financial hit over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Surviving the fallout of Covid-19

“We're living through the toughest times in our careers. Nothing has prepared me to cope with what we're dealing with.” Says Khan. “Right now, we're losing £8 million a month, but at the same time we're seeing a spike in demand for children in need.” 

Barnardo's is struggling to meet this enormous demand due to a lack of funding. “That really hurts. You join this field because you believe in the cause and when you don't have the means to help it's really painful.”

Right now, Khan is in talks with the government, lobbying for increased financial support for the charity sector. He is also in the process of downsizing offices and digitising existing systems, hopeful that this will stabilise finances over the coming years. “We're rethinking what a modern charity looks like – a root and branch review. Frontline service and quality care will remain our priority.”

As a private sector law firm that turned over in excess of £2bn in 2019, DLA Piper is under very different circumstances, but the firm has faced its own challenges this year.

“For us the biggest issue isn't money, it's the health and wellbeing of our employees.” Says Levine. “Work-life separation has disappeared, and our data shows that we're struggling to get people to take time off.”

Even before Covid, Levine notes the pressure in the legal industry to work long hours and pull 'all-nighters' to meet client needs, which can have a disastrous effect on mental health. Levine is trying to adjust this culture. 'We're trying to take the kudos out of working late. My hope is that Covid will help us to reset our priorities.” 

C-suite in the hot seat

The pandemic is not the first emergency that DLA Piper has faced recently. In 2019, the firm suffered a major cyber-attack, which cost millions to remedy. DLA Piper is now taking legal action against insurer Hiscox after it denied the legal firm's damages claim.

“Dealing with corona was not as challenging as that cyber-attack. With corona, everyone was going through it together. In the case of a cyber-event, the cloud is only over your head as the leader.” 

As CEO, Levine says, “You're under enormous scrutiny, and public perception is vitally important to get people behind you. It's like an election; you have to stand and make people believe in a vision. It's a big communication job – I could not be an introvert in this industry.”

Khan agrees with the sentiment. 

“As a leader in the voluntary sector, you have to inspire people to do things. We've got 14,000 volunteers because they believe in the cause. They need to be inspired and looked after to keep doing what they do.” 

Values under scrutiny

The leaders agree that in the next few years, organisations must focus on becoming more 'values-driven' in order to attract and retain the right people. 

“Offering promotions doesn't attract the best and brightest, or get people to stay,” Says Levine. “In order to stay relevant to what younger people want today, it's becoming more and more important to build a values-driven business.”

For Khan, that means tackling key issues like racism and sexism head on.

“Any CEO who doesn't understand that the world has changed this year is mistaken. This year is teaching a lot of organisations to take micro-aggressions seriously. We want to get better, we're committed to making a lasting change.”

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