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Lessons from the C-suite: Peter Laurie, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Peter Laurie talks strong work ethic, coronavirus uncertainty and automation.

I started out… I’ve spent most of my life and career living or working with dogs and cats in a variety of ways. When I was at school, I had a holiday job working in some local kennels. It was hard work, particularly in the midst of winter when the paddocks were deep in mud, but I loved it.

I knew this was the right career path for me when… After university I took a job working in a very commercial media organisation selling sponsorship packages to big corporates. I soon realised that I needed to find a career path that I was more passionate about and I could really believe in. 

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Charlie Bigham, Charlie Bigham’s

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way… There’s simply no substitute for a strong work ethic and taking the time and effort to truly understand your people and organisation and the market or environment that it works in.

My proudest achievement… In 2018 I established the Battersea Academy, which has grown to become an international training centre for the global animal rescue sector. We have already welcomed hundreds of delegates from 20 countries around the world; they benefit from our 160 years’ experience and we learn from them.

My biggest mistake… I started working with an executive coach in January when I moved into the interim CEO role at Battersea. I’ve found it incredibly helpful as a way of challenging and organising my thinking. I wish I’d started much earlier in my career.

My biggest inspiration… Battersea is quite unusual in operating with a non-selective animal intake policy, which means we take in and help some of the most medically and behaviourally challenging dogs and cats that society can produce. It’s a policy based on the founding promise of Mary Tealby and one that inspires and motivates me to this day.

Keeping me awake at night right now… There has been a staggering increase in pet ownership in Britain during the pandemic, but what will happen once COVID retreats? Will people return to their old routines and ways of life? Will these dogs and cats still be much loved pets, or relinquished in large numbers? We’re planning for a range of plausible scenarios so that we’re ready to respond.

"There has been a staggering increase in pet ownership in Britain during the pandemic, but what will happen once COVID retreats?"

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be… COVID-19. Uncertainty remains and the disruptions and implications of the pandemic will be significant for many sectors, including charities. To stay relevant and effective, organisations will need to be agile, alert to opportunities and prepared to adapt their strategies to a post-COVID world.

I need my HR director to… continue to ensure Battersea is a brilliant organisation to work for, one that respects and values the vital contribution of its staff and volunteers; one that provides an inclusive, empowering and creative culture; and one that invests in developing its people to fulfil their potential. I’m very mindful that my colleagues are absolutely critical to the delivery of our charitable services. You can’t automate the grooming of a dog.

More HR directors would become CEO if… they complemented their obvious people, cultural and change management skills with a broad but technical understanding of the other elements of an organisational strategy. Many do this already, of course, and
so should be well-placed to present a vision of a new future for an organisation seeking its next CEO.

What I’m reading right now… Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet. It’s a really enjoyable and inspiring case study of how a change in leadership model and the empowerment of colleagues can generate extraordinary results.

My top leadership tip… Hire great people, ensure there is complete clarity around their roles, objectives and strategic contribution – and then let them do their jobs.


Peter Laurie is chief executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home