18 May 2022

Bob on helipad

In February 2022, the Board of London's Air Ambulance Charity announced Bob Forsyth would be the new Chair of the Board of Trustees. The appointment took effect when Mark Vickers, the previous Chair of Trustees, retired by rotation on 31 March, after seven years in the role.

Now in May 2022, Bob has been in the position of Chair for over a month, and so we spoke to him to find out more about the beginning of his tenure.

How has your first month as Chair of the Board been?

Fantastic – I’ve really enjoyed it. Working in this role is often the highlight of my week.

When I became Chair of the Board, the priority was to come out of the trustee recruitment cycle in a better position than we’d previously been in. Feedback received from an external board effectiveness review showed diversity and inclusiveness was the key piece we needed to focus on. I didn’t want to be chair unless we resolved that.

Through the recruitment phase we found some really good people, and to get all those on board was brilliant. We now have a really good, quite big board of 10 people. But that gives us flexibility. We now have the diversity that reflects the community we’re serving, and most importantly, the cognitive difference has dramatically improved.

In the two big gaps that we had – the diversity on the board and governance of risk – we’ve made some big steps towards sorting those in the first month.

We’ve also done some great work on building the committees. Previously we had one committee for audit and risk, but risk wasn’t getting enough profile, so we have developed these into two separate committees.

Therefore, in the two big gaps that we had – the diversity on the board and governance of risk – we’ve made some big steps towards sorting those in the first month. Which I’m thrilled about!

How did you initially become interested in London’s Air Ambulance Charity?

Bob on the helipad
On the helipad during the opening of the new heli space

Most people in London have seen the helicopter flying around and there is a level of excitement and interest around what it does. But not everyone knows it’s a charity. I’m no different to anyone else – when you understand what the charity does, and the life-saving skills the clinicians have, you get excited about the level of innovation.

In terms of my interest in getting involved – I saw an advert for a trustee position but I missed the application and I always kicked myself for not responding. But then three to four years ago someone contacted me and asked if I would still like to get involved. It all started there and I began the rigorous process to become a trustee.

How was your time as a trustee?

It was great, because you’re on the inside of a great organisation.

Mark was a great chair, who wanted to establish a level of governance at the same standard of the clinical governance, which is very good and in perhaps in some cases, world class. Initially it was about learning, then about setting up an audit committee, then we tried to bring the governance that we as trustees had seen in large organisations to London’s Air Ambulance Charity – but scaled for the size of the charity.

Of course we were also helping Jonathan with the strategy development and the culture programme, which is trying to build the culture of common purpose amongst the tripartite arrangement that we have here.

Mark seemed to want me to put myself forward and I thought: there would be no greater honour, it would be fantastic. If the future trustees want me to do it, I will commit a huge part of my life to this role.

When Mark announced he was stepping down as Chair, did you know straight away you wanted to fill the position?

Mark Vickers, former Chair of the Board of Trustees
Mark Vickers

No! I was very happy to serve under a number of the trustees. Many I thought could have been chair, but I think I just showed the least resistance!

Mark seemed to want me to put myself forward and I thought: there would be no greater honour, it would be fantastic. If the future trustees want me to do it, I will commit a huge part of my life to this role.

Then of course we went through the proper governance process, which included interviews for a long list and a shortlist, and a competency-based assessment.

How much collaboration is there between you and the board, and Jonathan and the charity?

I spend a lot of time with Jonathan. He likes to share in a very candid open way, which is really useful. We have a definite discussion once a week, where we examine what’s going on in the charity.

There are also regular meetings in the charity I attend, and various events throughout the weeks, depending on what’s going on.

How do you balance the role of Chair alongside a full time job?

Fortunately I’m theoretically down to 80 per cent at Ernst & Young LLP – so a four-day week. So I dedicate Fridays to my role as Chair. But of course not everything is always on a Friday – so you have to be flexible and prioritise.

But how do you do that? Busy people find the time to do the most important things, and you have to select what’s important. I’m conscious that charities will use up as much time as you can give them – which is different to a corporate organisation – so you have to manage that and optimise it for the board.

What are your future plans for the board and its work?

Bob meeting Minister for Health, Ed Argar, at the helipad opening
Bob meeting Minister for Health, Ed Argar

There’s a huge amount of change at the moment, in a lot of areas. First of all the selection of new helicopters and funding decisions around this. We’re also looking to double our underlying income and there are big projects like helipad extensions, CRM projects and data projects. All of these will further enable us to manage our funding platform and complete in-depth audits with the clinicians.

What is your priority for the rest of 2022?

We need to fundraise £15 million to fund two new helicopters by 2024, which is definitely the priority across the board and the charity. We have an appeal launching soon, and our recent gala went very well raising over £1 million, but we have a long way to go – there’s a lot to be done. So that’s our focus.

What is the biggest challenge ahead?

The biggest challenge is the same answer, fundraising!

Another potential challenge for London’s Air Ambulance Charity I think is getting and retaining the right people. This is really the big challenge. We really rely upon good people who match the brand. We must continue to develop these people and give them opportunities to grow to the next level.

 

"It’s an incredible time for London’s Air Ambulance Charity. I’m thrilled and proud to be a part of it, and look forward to the years to come."

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