A day in the life of a chief executive

We are continuing our series in which we sneak a peak into several job roles in the organisation. Today, we have a look at a typical day in the life of chief executive, Kate Davies CBE, who recently announced she will be stepping down in her role after 18 years. 

Why and when did you join Notting Hill Genesis?

I joined the Notting Hill Housing Trust 18 years ago as chief executive. I could see the Trust was doing great work in London - providing long term affordable homes and shared ownership.

What is your role?

My role is very varied. I spend about half my time working with people outside the organisation - local authorities, developers, funders, and others. I spend the other half with staff and board members. As much as possible, and at least once a week, I like to go out and see what is happening - at estates, sales offices, to meet tenants and resident groups on site, and I try to bring everything I learn together in helping to create the overall plan for the organisation.

What can a typical day(s) look like?

I don’t really have a typical day. I work in the office four to five days a week - leaving my Paddington flat about 7am and walking in, getting to the office about 8am.

Two mornings a week I have coffee with the executive team and everyone shares what is happening and any problems that are concerning them. We work together to try to solve them - things like floods, fires, IT failures, staff shortages, planning events, news, etc. Fortnightly we have a formal three-hour meeting together with written papers to agree the business needs of the organisation. I supervise nine people so I see most of them every six weeks for an hour or so. I am responsible for the work of the board and meet fortnightly with the chair and about monthly with the other board members.

I am the spokesperson for Notting Hill Genesis so I also have to meet or speak to key stakeholders and partners. For example, over the last two weeks I have been to see a modular housing factory, an estate where we have had a lot of problems (with the local MP, residents groups and our on-site teams), a celebration of black achievement by both tenants and staff (which we won by the way!), meeting each team to go through their budgets and plans for the year, and a meeting with a cross section of staff about how they are feeling about their work.

How did the lockdown or COVID-19 conditions changed your job?

COVID-19 meant we had to focus first and foremost on what you might call the humanitarian aspects of the job – making sure the most vulnerable of our customers were safe. In our extra care schemes we got hold of PPE to protect the tenants and the staff, paid staff extra to ensure they came in at what was considered to be a dangerous time, and kept in close, daily, touch with the services. We focused on emergency repairs. Our attention also went to making sure that all our tenants had enough food and medicine, and just staying in touch with people who might be vulnerable, older or isolated.

As an individual I felt very focused on keeping our tenants and staff safe, but for myself I felt isolated during lock down and as soon as we were allowed to go into work I went in as much as possible, mainly visiting estates with front line staff and going to the care schemes to meet tenants and carers.

What do you find the most rewarding?

The best bit of my job is recruiting, training and leading our staff, and doing all I can to help them provide great homes and services. I also enjoy seeing new homes going up – every new home is a fresh start for someone, and that really makes a difference.

What are the frustrations?

The job can be frustrating – things I would like to fix immediately can take ages; and also there is often not enough money to do a really great job so we have to compromise.

What do you do in spare time?

I have five children and six grandchildren. I like making things – clothes, painting, cooking, woodwork and textiles. I love travelling abroad and camping in the UK. I am learning Spanish and hope to be able to travel more widely once I retire.

Is there a situation that you were able to resolve that stayed with you?

Any situation where there is a loss of life stays with me.

I don’t think any of the deaths – Grenfell, for example, or a carbon monoxide poisoning, or an older person dying in a fire - were directly caused by us. Nevertheless, these cases involve lots of soul searching and action, many other people and agencies, and all were hard to resolve. I needed to think carefully about communication, empathy, support, financial resources, creative thinking and colleagues working together. I hope I played a role in trying to rectify tragic situations, and that we have learned any lessons from each and every one.

One thing you would like residents to know about a being a chief executive

I do read every letter or email that comes to me but I can’t fix everything myself. I delegate power, authority and budgets throughout the organisation – right down to the frontline housing officer – so they can serve the residents in the best way.

Funniest thing a resident has said to you?

I need a tree frog (they meant a key fob).