Lincolnshire Co-op’s Chief Executive Officer Ursula Lidbetter will retire at the end of this month after 18 years heading up the community retailer.
Ursula has worked for the society for 37 years, starting as a buyer and department manager. She became CEO in 2004. Since then, the number of dividend card holders has more than doubled from 142,000 to 300,000 and turnover has gone from £237m to £399m.
Community projects have been a focus during her tenure including running a network of 74 volunteer-led Wellbeing Walks, taking on three community libraries, and the founding of the society’s fundraising scheme - Community Champions – which links members directly to local good causes in their area and has raised more than £4.2m since it started in 2013.
Lincolnshire Co-op has led major property developments including The Cornhill Quarter in Lincoln city centre and the creation of Lincoln Science and Innovation Park.
Ursula was awarded the OBE in 2019 for services to the local economy. She has held roles over the years including Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Chair of the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce and Chair of Lincoln BIG.
Lincolnshire Co-op held a reception for Ursula at Charlotte House Hotel in Lincoln in early December, giving representatives from business, local government, the co-operative sector and beyond the chance to say thank you and wish her well in retirement.
Audience members heard from Chief Executive of Greater Lincolnshire LEP Ruth Carver and charity Pilotlight Chief Executive Ed Mayo, who was the former Secretary General of Co-ops UK.
Ruth thanked Ursula for displaying such a passion for the area, and paid tribute to her as a ‘unifying force’ in the business community, with a great sense of community and place.
Ed said: “Lincolnshire Co-op is by any measure a world class co-operative and its success over time is down to effective governance and sustained leadership.
“Ursula has lived up to every best hope one could have for a co-operative business leader - I and others who have worked with her have been lucky to know her.”
Ursula attended her last Lincolnshire Co-op annual members’ meeting at the Lincolnshire Showground’s Epic Centre in early December, watched by an audience of 1,033 people in person and online.
Lincolnshire Co-op’s Board Chair David Cowell said: “Ursula will be very greatly missed by colleagues, members, Board members and by the co-operative family more generally. I would personally like to pay tribute to her for the leadership that she has provided within the business and the wider contribution she has made to the co-operative sector.”
Ursula said her career with Lincolnshire Co-op had been ‘fascinating’ and she was proud of the society’s achievements during her tenure.
“Our aim is to be helpful, inspiring and trustworthy. I have always endeavoured to live up to those three words and I thank our members and colleagues for believing in these things too.
“So much as changed both since Lincolnshire Co-op was founded in 1861 and since I started with the society 37 years ago. But our core purpose remains the same – to make life better in our communities. We’re doing that every day in our outlets, through our community work, our developments and with the help of our many partners.
“I’m privileged to have been in a position to lead this extraordinary organisation and I know that this good and important work will continue, thanks to the first-class team we have in place and the support of our members and customers.”
Lincolnshire Co-op’s new CEO Alison Hands – currently the MD at Wilko – will start in April 2023.
Until then, Chief Financial Officer Steve Galjaard, who has been with Lincolnshire Co-op for 21 years, will become Acting Chief Executive Officer alongside his current role, ensuring a smooth transition for the society’s 2,900 colleagues.