Will Bachman 00:04
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed. I’m your host Will Bachman and I’m excited to be here today with Belden Menkus who’s an Umbrex member. He’s got his own podcast, which is the purposeful strategist delden. Welcome to the show.
Belden Menkus 00:20
Oh, thank you. It’s great to be here. So building, I was really psyched that you have launched this new show, and that you also offered to let us run one of your episodes here at on Unleashed to help our listeners hear your show. Tell me a little bit about the idea behind the purposeful strategist. Sure, the idea was someone’s very simple. You know, I’ve been working with leadership teams on the question of purpose and their strategy for quite a number of years, there was a growing noise in the press and elsewhere about what businesses ought to be doing about that. But very little that I was hearing about what business leaders actually were doing. You’d be a piece about some, you know, Paul Polman from Unilever or some mega Corporation CEO and what they were doing. But you know, they’re in a position where they’ve, they’ve often got a team to worry about that this the whole size of someone else’s organization. So I just wanted to hear from people who are themselves grappling with the question in my organization, what is our purpose? And how do we enact? And how do I make the difficult trade offs between purpose profit people, all the different things that I have to worry about? And even the practical side? And how do I enact that? What do I actually do? How do we make it work? Who gets involved? How long does it take?
Will Bachman 01:47
Fantastic. tee up for us this episode that we are about to listen to you or in this episode,
Belden Menkus 01:54
I interview Robin Mortimer. He is the chief executive of organization here in London, the London port of London Authority sometimes shortened down to the pmla. They’re a statutory body. So unlike a for profit organization, that you can sort of say, well, the end of the day, it all sort of boils down to profit those in it, that they that’s not one of the things that drives them that they’re not taxpayer funded. So they don’t have the government kind of covering their costs. And they’re not a charity, so nobody’s going to give them a donation. So they have to be commercial. But their real mission is to hand on the court, in a better condition to the next generation.
Will Bachman 02:38
That is fantastic. And it’s important that’s been around for a while.
Belden Menkus 02:43
It’s important, it’s been around for a while, the port of London Authority is actually more than 100 years old. And their purpose today is pretty much ever I think Robert even talks about this pretty much what they started with. But among the things he talks about is how did they refresh this enduring organization of purpose? You know, he talks a bit about what does it mean for his time? What’s the impact been on his time as the chief executive of taking organizations seriously. And then a chunk of it, as you might imagine about what’s the implication is zero carbon. Because that changes the way the port works, it changes what moves through the changes. So it’s, it’s really a kind of interesting exploration, I think, for the way organizations in the future are going to need to think that they can’t think it’s just about one thing that they have to look at a multiple set of objectives and how do you trade those off?
Will Bachman 03:36
Fantastic. So here is the episode from the purposeful strategist. I hope you’ll take a moment to pause that podcast player you’ve got look up the purposeful strategist, mash that subscribe button and then come back and listen to this show. So here we go. Let’s tee it up. Play the tape, the purposeful strategist.
Robin MOrtimer 04:00
When I ask people people go, Oh, God, was it Felixstowe, Southampton, Portsmouth, and they never mentioned the Thames. And it is sort of out of sight out of mind for our capital city, that x is the biggest port in the UK last year. So we do have quite a big job to make sure it’s sort of features on the radar or decision makers when it comes to you know, rail or road or whatever investment decisions.
Belden Menkus 04:24
Hi, unbelted bankers. Welcome to the purpose of strategist. The podcast that shifts the conversation about purpose and strategy from what organizations should do, to what business leaders are doing, and what they’ve learned along the way. In this episode, we’ll be hearing from Robin Mortimer, Chief Executive of the port of London Authority, the pmla to share with us thoughts about refreshing their enduring organizational purpose to address emerging issues, the impact on CEO time have taken purpose seriously. And the implications of zero carbon on the largest port in the UK. Well, Robin, Good morning. Morning. Welcome. Thank you for joining us. Maybe we could just start with you saying a little bit about yourself and about the port of London Authority.
Robin MOrtimer 05:23
Yeah, sure. So, I’ve just completed seven years at the port of London Authority I realized last week, which is a bit of a milestone. And before that I was director in Defra, the government departments dealing with environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and I’d heard about 20 years in government before joining the PLL I’ve done some really interesting things as well as private secretary to a number of cabinet ministers, including john Prescott, my proudest achievement in the civil service was working on the UK climate change act. And taking that through from concept through to a piece of legislation which is going to be there until 2050, which is you know, a great thing to to work on. So I joined the PRA in 2014 Portland authority is the organization responsible for the title Thames from Teddington lock in West London, out into the North Sea, were the biggest port in the UK, the PRA provides a number of key safety and other services to the port terminals and keeps the river operational. well as our safety functions, we’ve got a big environmental responsibility to improve the estuary and conserve the biodiversity and so on. Very, very varied organization. But essentially, you kind of like the the local authority for the River Thames, if you want to think about it like that.
Belden Menkus 06:36
But maybe without the policing and the actual bleeding,
Robin MOrtimer 06:39
we do the kind of policing Yes, and we’re more commercial and a local authority. But we do have that authority element to
Belden Menkus 06:46
what would you say is the overall purpose of the PRA?
Robin MOrtimer 06:52
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. So in some ways that’s sort of given to us. We’re a trust port trust that set up under an Act of Parliament in 1908. And there’s some government guidance on what a trust ports for because I guess, in a sense, we are holding in trust and national asset for the benefit of stakeholders, and customers and users. So if you go back to the history for a second, the PRA was set up, basically to bring order to what was quite a chaotic environment in the port in the late 19th century, there was a royal commission in the 1890s, to say that the way the River Thames was organized, the enclosed docks, etc, was not efficient, and there needs to be a single body brought in to oversee all of it. And at that stage, of course, it was the biggest port in the world that the pls was responsible for. So it was kind of to bring order to that chaos. So in a sense, our purpose kind of stem from that, which is to have a kind of coherent approach to activities on the River Thames, the way the government guidance states is, is that our ultimate goal should be to pass on the port and the river in a better condition to the next generation than we inherited it. So that’s a great purpose and a sort of guiding principle to improve things to always try and leave your successor have a better situation than the one you joined.
Belden Menkus 08:08
And you say that was given to you, but surely in the, you know, 100 and however many years it’s been, since that’s evolved and developed, have you had a look at any of that in your time at the plla?
Robin MOrtimer 08:20
Yeah, so I guess that kind of broad statement is a great starting point for developing purpose, but that only takes you so far. Nevertheless, it’s a nice way of thinking about improvement, I think the idea of handing something on in a better situation. So beyond that, though, when I joined the PMA, the thing that really struck me was that there was nothing written down, which said, what do we actually want the River Thames to be used for? What does improve mean, improve what? And so what I did was set about developing what we eventually called the Thames vision, which is a framework for the development of the river in all of its capacities and assets out to 2035, at that stage, a 20 year framework. The other kind of key thing about the Thames vision is he relies upon a huge number of other organizations involved in the river to deliver it. It’s a vision for the river, not for the organization, an interaction between the the vision for the river, and the strategy of the organization.
Belden Menkus 09:19
If you can walk me through how you developed it, who got involved, how did they get involved? Was it easy or difficult, you know, some sense of the scale of the challenge would be helpful.
Robin MOrtimer 09:32
So there’s a huge number of stakeholders involved in the river. The way we approached it was to think about the existing commercial stakeholders if you like, so obviously, one very important aspect of the river is its use commercially. So that includes hosting a huge number of important port terminals into which imports and exports fuel the UK economy, and that’s containers, bulk goods, oil, so we’ve got a bunch of terminals on the economic side. Then we’ve got River operators I vessel operators, including inland water operators who transport goods from terminals into central London. And then there are passenger boat operators. So there’s a whole bunch of stakeholders who are commercially making use of the river in one way or another. And then there if you like the the sort of non commercial either public sector or civil society stakeholders have an interest in the river in other ways. So that includes environmental organizations who are concerned about the Thames biodiversity or the water quality. It includes local authorities, we have 23, what we call riparian burrows I the word right parian wasn’t when I was in my vocabulary much before I joined the TNA But otherwise, those along the banks of the river, if you’ve got an interest for that local populations, and then I guess the third category are residents. So we do have quite a lot of houseboat dwellers on the River Thames. So those people who actually make the river their home, physically, obviously have a particularly close interest in anything to do with the river and its development. So so they were kind of three broad categories. And what we did is we went about a process where we tracked down with the different stakeholders and said, Look, you think about the River Thames and how you use it, or what you want from it. How do you see that developing over the next 20 years? How can we get the most, if you like, out of that asset, so that might be in terms of more economic activity, or improvements to the environment and biodiversity? And I guess the follow on OBS question is how do we achieve that? And how do we measure it? So we had a bunch of our workshops with different stakeholders to flesh out the different ways in which we want the river to develop over that 20 year period. One interesting part of that process was us reaching out to stakeholders that the pls organization hadn’t really engaged with previously, the Ramblers is one that springs to mind where I don’t think there’s been any kind of relationship. But actually, if you think about sporting and physical activity and well being associated with the River Thames, they’re far more of that happens on the towpath or the footpath beside the river, then actually on the water, so whilst we have very, very close relationships, as you’d expect with the sports clubs, the rowing clubs, the canoe, the stand up, paddleboarders, etc, not a relationship with those who use the river for enjoyment for walking on site. So that was one example where actually by having a conversation with a new stakeholder, we ended up with something much more interesting to say about this as attempts for walkers and runners and cyclists.
Belden Menkus 12:36
He did that five years ago, with the development of Tim’s vision, where does the story go next? What’s the next chapter?
Robin MOrtimer 12:42
broadly, we’ve done pretty well in terms of some of the goals we set. So the outcome of the process for developing the vision was we reckoned that we could increase the size of the port. And we’ve done that very successfully working very closely in partnership with the Thames terminals. When we wrote the transition, we were handling about 45 million tonnes of cargo a year. And in 2019, that was up to 54 million tonnes, obviously to come down during the pandemic. But nevertheless, this year, we found out that we were the biggest port in the UK again, so port trade has grown as we set out to achieve. Likewise, inland freight, recreational use the river. So we’ve actually seen far more events developed over the last five years in terms of Rowing Club from canosa, etc, which is, again, one of our goals, we said, some other things are sort of much harder to measure longer term. So we are tracking things like water quality, and by diversity, there’s data which demonstrates things are going in the right direction, but some of those will be much longer term measures to achieve. One thing that has definitely come up the agenda very significantly is climate change from a maritime perspective. You know, we did think about it. And we do talk about the role of the river both in adapting to climate change and reducing emissions. It isn’t as prominent of AI now, with hindsight and sort of five years onward, like so we’re going through a process at the moment of refreshing the vision and climate change will be much more prominent in that process. Is there any Read Across that you could see two organizations that are kind of in their heart, more commercial? This is interesting. And I talked to quite a lot of colleagues in both less commercial, I sort of fully public and more commercial for profit businesses. And I think that that distinction is kind of blurring. The more people I talk to in the for profit sector, the more they are giving as much attention to stakeholders to the public, right to do business, if you like than perhaps they did 10 years ago, and it’s a much more part of the conversation now. So I would say very directly to cross that actually, if you are a business or an organization that’s got public interested in what you do and what you create, then you’re going to need to go through some sort of process akin to that in order to get buy into your long term goals and Vision is more obviously the case if you’ve got any sort of public accountability in a way we have. But I think the same kind of principle that certainly applies, certainly in the regulated sectors. And I think, you know, water companies or energy companies, but also in the non regulated sector, I think that’s a very good picture of purpose.
Belden Menkus 15:17
But what’s the strategy bit particularly because as you said, you’re in this place where you’ve sort of got a vision, a picture of what you’re trying to create, and you know, a lot of it you can’t do on your own. So what’s the bit that belongs to you? What’s the strategy, then?
Robin MOrtimer 15:32
We did it fairly frequently, we first of all set out with our stakeholders, what is the vision for the River Thames, and produce the document, which contains a bunch of actions for us, and for others achieve it, we then produced a new strategy, which is centered around three broad goals for the organization, which are protect, improve and promote. So three sort of easy things to remember for people. And the goal was essentially to say, Okay, so what of our functions and activities delivers this vision, we can broadly align all of our goals and activities around those three themes, we do a bunch of stuff around protection, which is essentially safety functions and protecting the environment, which underpins an awful lot of the activity, which delivers the vision because if we don’t have a safe river, then obviously we can’t grow portrayed, we can’t grow passenger us. So that’s a kind of Central underpinning feature improvement includes a range of things, including our role as an investor, delivering better services more efficient, more cost effective services, again, you know, it’s delivered across a number of those objectives. And the promotion function is important, we do have a big role, working with other bits of governments to make sure that the River Thames features whether it’s government investment decisions, or local authority, housing allocations and planning frameworks, etc. So we have a quite a lot of activity in that advocacy space to make sure the River Thames sort of features because it’s a funny thing. I just as an aside, it’s I think, that the Thames is unusual for the port, in a sense in the UK that if you ask the public, what are the biggest ports in the UK? I don’t think there’s any sort of scientific survey on this, by the way, but I’m being totally anecdotal here. But the when I when I ask people people go, Oh, God, was it? You know, Felixstowe Southampton, Portsmouth, and they never mentioned the Thames. And it is sort of, out of sight out of mind for our capital city. But as I said, Actually, it’s the biggest port in the UK last year. So we do have quite a big job to make sure it’s sort of features on the radar of decision makers when it comes to, you know, rail or road or whatever investment decisions.
Belden Menkus 17:40
I think I know the answer. But for our listeners, how did you go about putting that strategy together,
Robin MOrtimer 17:45
we worked through the workshops with our senior managers and with the groups from across the organization to connect the day to day activities that people do, where they’ve got a broad strategic framework. That’s I guess, for me that the real knack of a flashy processes, you’ve got it at the end of it mean something to the individuals within the organization.
Belden Menkus 18:06
What I hear it’s a very, you know, kind of a parallel, inclusive approach, let’s not either the PA leg off and figure out what the vision is, and then tell everybody, let’s involve lots of stakeholders. And then internally, let’s not just, you know, the exact team or whatever go off, let’s involve our people in those conversations.
Robin MOrtimer 18:26
Yeah, the meeting have a kind of top down process, or the bottom up process absolutely needs to be inclusive, and involve people either externally or internally, in developing thinking equally, you kind of need to bring something to the party as the leadership of the organization, there are some meetings where it’s great to have a blank sheet of paper, there are some where, you know, you need to start by saying we’ve got a given goal, which is that actually, this needs to be an economically successful port, one of the learnings from the process of doing it sequentially, with understandable given where we were at the time, but actually, I think it would be better to do the two things together to actually this time as we’re going through the refresh of the vision that I mentioned earlier. we’re attempting to do that and actually have the internal and the external conversations much more closely aligned, so that we’re thinking through the implications for the PRA, more clearly as part of the process for developing the goal for the river, as opposed to doing the two things or the one after the other.
Belden Menkus 19:25
And where are you in that process in May you get sort of getting towards the end of it, or somewhere in the middle.
Robin MOrtimer 19:30
It’s pretty early days. We were planning to start the process early last year, and for obvious reasons, we, you know, we delayed it. Now if we were focusing on operational issues only, we’re doing a sort of trade forecast study, working with Oxford economics consultancy, to look at how trade may evolve over the next 2030. So that that’s that started. We’re just about to kickstart some internal engagement around the refresh. They will be to produce something, consult on it through the rest of this year and then publish early next The trade forecast is really key, though, I think one of the fascinating things try and work out for all ports at the moment is, what are the implications of zero carbon? If you assume which you know, we are, we should, that the UK achieves its goal of reaching net zero by 2050, then that implies a massive reduction in fossil fuels, most of which come in support. So for the port of London, around a quarter of our volume at the moment is fossil fuel. And over that period between now and 2050, we have to see a big reduction in that if the UK is going to be successful in achieving net zero. So obviously, that has big commercial implications, big practical implications, and would be all downside where it not for the fact there’s also a huge opportunity in the ports, becoming part of the solution in terms of renewable energy, the hydrogen economy and the things that which will need to replace the fossil fuel. So that’s one of the sort of big areas of thinking for us at the moment is, you know, how do we make sure that we are at the forefront of that evolution of the whole economy into a netzero economy
Belden Menkus 21:07
helped me understand how the hydrogen economy as far as the use of the river and the port, replace what you’re doing with fuels right now.
Robin MOrtimer 21:16
So there’s a couple of ways one is production and imports. So I think there’s an assumption that the majority of hydrogen would be produced domestically. But there’s also looking at the committee on climate change work, for example, an assumption that there will be some hydrogen potentially imported into the UK. So there is a role that the port’s could obviously play. A second is the production of hydrogen, we always have a lot of industrial land within the 10. vestry, and that’s close to population centers, and therefore there’s various projects and organizations looking at how locations could be used as part of the hydrogen economy. And then of course, there is the maritime use of hydrogen as well. So you know, the long term decarbonisation of vessels, the general working assumption is that that will be in some form reliant upon hydrogen, not yet clear which of the various technological options will kind of champion out if you like, but again, it’s something which we’re looking very closely at with experts in that field.
Belden Menkus 22:16
And given the scale of the PRA, which in London is a big thing, but globally, cannot, how do you actually figure out what’s the role you want to play in all that, because it could seem to me very difficult to try and change the whole maritime world. But from what you said, I doubt you want to just sit there and wait for everybody else to figure it out. We are in the early deployment world.
Robin MOrtimer 22:37
So so for example, we’ve just launched a call for bids to something which we’re calling the sustainable Innovation Fund. So this is an investment money, which DPLA sort of putting on the table for visitors into the fund. And we’re looking in the first round for a zero carbon Birth of a mobile birth for cruise ships, other vessels call into the port of London. So you know, that would be utilizing advanced technology, but not developing the technology in itself, of trying to find a solution to deploy that in our context. So I think that’s where we are for the USP really is to help find solutions that are relevant to the hems and its particular needs and uses rather than if it’s blue skies research.
Belden Menkus 23:19
Right. Right. And it also sounds like probably what you try to do is mobilize others sources of investment funds.
Robin MOrtimer 23:25
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, in that case, you know, there may be opportunity, for example, to link up to government funding streams. And we have done that, in other cases have been funding streams from other central government or Mayor of London. And so we can sort of draw on those, or indeed work with other partners in some sort of joint venture commercially so open to all those options. Yeah, yeah.
Belden Menkus 23:47
doodle worry that you’re drifting pretty far away from there at least the original founding purpose of the organization or is that not at all on your your worry list?
Robin MOrtimer 23:59
If a question that I think, you know, some of our customers can legitimately ask us, all of our revenue is commercial from our customers, we don’t get any extra money, it’s about us making sure that the river remains viable and fit for purpose in the long term. So the reason for investigating low carbon or low air quality impacts, berthing options is because, you know, that is what the public are increasingly demanding. And if we want this port in some major capital city with a high population to remain a publicly acceptable and successful then we need to find some solutions to that. So I think that’s the kind of connection back to our customers and our kind of commercial purpose if you like, it’s a live conversation we have as a board being clear what our role is and not drifting too far from our kind of core purpose.
Belden Menkus 24:50
Anything looking back over the last five years in both developing your purpose, your strategy linking them together and And that you’d think that was really the way it should have been, I’m really proud of that anything you might even point out is, you know, a model for others,
Robin MOrtimer 25:08
the way in which we’ve kind of taken the lead on the environmental agenda has been very striking. I think within the port sector, we are seen as one of the leaders within the UK. And I think that by opening up the space for that through the television, and that’s enabled us to be effective in that. The second thing would be that one of the consequences of our vision and fashi work has been to develop an investment plan for the organization and the river. So previously, the PRA had taken quite a conservative approach to Investment and hadn’t for a number of years made any sort of big investments in land, for example, in 2018, launched an investment plan. And I’ve since then acquired a number of strategic land holdings, some of which are already occupied by customers providing services that use the river. So for example, on Peruvian Wharf, we’ve got a company there called brass aggregates who are bringing marine dredge aggregates into East London for the building trade. Now, that is a strategically really important project for London because it gets a lot of lorries off the road and provides economic activity in an area which really needs it, and it utilizes the river. And it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t invested in the land and the infrastructure. So I think that’s one of the things I’m proudest of is that the process of thinking through vision and strategy has then led to some really practical action on the ground,
Belden Menkus 26:30
and anything looking back on it, that you think that really didn’t go quite as well as I wanted, or, you know, if you could do it over again, you’d do it differently.
Robin MOrtimer 26:38
Some of the goals and the vision were a little bit vague. And, you know, you sort of think, how exactly do we improve wellbeing through use of the river? Nobody’s going to disagree with the goal of doing that. But actually, how do you do it? And how do you measure it? I don’t think we give as much thought to that as we could have done. So I think this time around, I’m going to be really clear that we’re going to state a goal, then we ought to be able to evidence how we’re going to achieve it, and how we’re going to measure it. I say that, but then always objectives which you kind of think well, I still want that to be an objective. I’m not sure how we’re going to measure it. But you know, that should be the exception rather than the rule, I think.
Belden Menkus 27:15
And have you found on any of the ones you mentioned, when you started out, you didn’t know how to measure it, you now five years on beginning to get some traction on how to measure it?
Robin MOrtimer 27:25
Well, air quality would be a great example of that. So since publishing division, we’ve now worked with a range of partners to install a whole load of air quality monitoring on the river. So we’ve got really good developing data, because you need you know, a number of years to give you a picture, we’ve got the ability to measure that in a way which we didn’t have previously. So yeah, that that will be the best example of that, I think,
Belden Menkus 27:44
at least for that one, it wasn’t so much, conceptually trying to figure it out. Some of it was getting practical about it, making the investment to get the kit to set it up to all that, you know, really nitty gritty stuff along the way.
Robin MOrtimer 27:57
Exactly. And I think that’s why sometimes it’s frustrating for some stakeholders that these things do take a long time. And that was a good example where, you know, if you’re a resident near terminal, you know, you want to kind of action instantly, understandably, and one of the things we had to say at the start as well, there is no data to know what the impact of this is. So the first thing we need to do is to install the monitoring equipment, and then collect data for, you know, 12 1824 months to be able to build up a picture, and then take evidence based decisions. And so unfortunately, some of these things do take a bit of time to develop. But you wouldn’t do that unless you’re really clear about your purpose and why you wanted to do it. And you’ve stated your intention to do it. That’s got to be the starting point.
Belden Menkus 28:41
As the leading through all that, what did you find? What did you learn? How did you change?
Robin MOrtimer 28:46
I think that I I enjoy that sort of process. I like sort of grappling with the big picture and trying to sort of bring some direction and some order, that’s something that I enjoy doing. The biggest learning point for me through it has been that you can’t do enough of the engagement with people, particularly sort of internally, because it’s really quite hard to make that connection for people between the words that end up on the page of the sort of glossy document or the, you know, glossy web pages, and actually kind of my job or how does that relate to me and I think that we didn’t do enough of that last time. And I think that was a big learning point for me. And I think that will be you know, really good if we can crack that this time.
Belden Menkus 29:26
Do you feel as a leader as a as a human being, you’re any different now than when you started out? I mean, obviously, you’re a few years older, but beyond that you feel like in any way different.
Robin Mortimer 29:38
You know, I was fairly new to this world when we did the process first time around. So there’s sort of a degree of exploration and discovery from my point of view. And there still will be because there’s always lots to learn, but it’s different. I think going into a process when you feel you know, more knowledgeable. I hope that as time goes on, you can add a bit more value through that knowledge and experience. I guess that’s others to judge but I have a deeper experience and understanding of the people you’re dealing with, which has got to be a good thing.
Belden Menkus 30:07
And any advice for a CEO who’s planning to go down as somewhat similar journey, particularly who’s, you know, maybe had a strategy that didn’t look quite so broad so inclusively as your as any advice?
Robin MOrtimer 30:24
I think I just have it two things I say is one would be Go for it, there’s no reason to hold back. The second would be, make sure you allocate enough time and resources. I mean, it’s very time consuming for the you know, for me personally, for the board for the senior team to go through a sort of complete, relook or strategy and vision. And so you know, you have to expect it’s going to take up a fair amount of bandwidth for a 12 month period. And, you know, it’s absolutely worth it. But you know, be realistic about that.
Belden Menkus 30:58
That’s great. Robin, again, thank you for joining is really very insightful, very, me inspirational thoughts. So thank you very much for joining us. Thanks very much. Thank you for joining us for this episode of The purposeful strategist. Please email any questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to being available on our website, you can find us on Apple podcast, Spotify, Google podcasts and Stitcher. If you enjoyed this episode, we release a new episode weekly. Don’t forget to subscribe. Thanks again. And join us soon for the next episode of The purposeful stra