Meet the Board – Mike Fegan, Chairman
10 September 2020
A passion for problem-solving and implementing positive change have shaped what LOCSU Board Chair Mike Fegan describes as a “three-phase career”. He has gained a wealth of experience in business and finance across industries from hospitality and media to sport, social care, not-for-profit and, of course, the optical sector, where he also serves on the board of AOP and is Chairman of Primary Eyecare Services. As a boy, however, his main motivation was rugby…
“I was very keen to play as much rugby as possible and didn’t really have any idea of a career path beyond that,” says Mike. He grew up in Sunbury-on-Thames on the Surrey/Middlesex border, but sees himself as a Middlesex man. After attending Hampton Grammar School, he elected to study English Literature and Economics at Cardiff University, establishing a connection to the city that continues to this day.
“Wales in the late seventies was a great place for rugby,” says Mike, “so I headed to Cardiff planning to play as much as possible….and do some studying!. The combination of English Literature and Economics although unusual, lends itself to a lot of careers.”
It wasn’t until after he graduated that Mike decided to pursue a career in finance, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 1984. He trained with a small firm in the City, before moving to Coopers & Lybrand. A stint with British and Commonwealth Holdings turned out to be short-lived as the business went into administration six months after he joined: “It was a good experience trying to sort all that out!” he recalls wryly, and perhaps this is where his flair for problem-solving first found an outlet. From there, Mike joined Arlington Securities, a subsidiary of British Aerospace after which, as he puts it, the first distinct phase of his career was over. In fact, the bright lights of media and hospitality were on the horizon.
Making an impression in media and hospitality
In 1994, Forte Plc was the UK’s largest hotel business, with 1,000 hotels and restaurants, employing 40,000 staff in the UK. Mike joined to lead the UK accounting function and was part of the defence team fighting a hostile takeover bid from Granada plc. “I became a Granada person,” says Mike, “and after a spell as Finance Director of the Broadcasting business I eventually became deputy group finance director of Granada Plc, the FTSE 100 company..”
It was a critical point in the evolution of TV in the UK and Mike was at the heart of engineering the merger between Granada and Carlton, which ultimately created ITV Plc. This heralded the start of an exciting period when ITV Plc pushed the boundaries in a bid to build a genuinely multimedia entertainment platform. Mike was involved in the acquisition of Friendsreunited, the relaunch of itv.com and the development of new businesses around gaming.
Putting problem-solving skills to good use
“I left ITV and started my third career phase as an interim finance director. That was 11 years ago, and I have completed around a dozen assignments plus some smaller consultancy projects in that time.” Typically hired to help organisations that are experiencing financial difficulties, Mike’s clients have included the Football Association and the charities Community Integrated Care and The Shaw Trust. He has also completed three assignments for the Church of England and is currently Chairman of the Diocesan Board of Finance for The Diocese in Europe.
“The thread running through all my interim work and my previous career is an affinity for sorting things out and changing things. I enjoy diagnosing the problem and putting a plan in place to fix it, then handing over to an in-house team to implement it over the long term.”
Entering the optical sector
Mike joined the board of the Association of Optometrists (AOP) in and became the first independent Non-executive director from outside the sector. Mike is also Chairman of the Finance Committee and the Insurance Oversight Group. As a result of this experience, the three membership bodies appointed Mike as Chairman of the LOCSU board and subsequently as Chairman of Primary Eyecare Services Limited. “I was pleased to be asked,” says Mike. “My role is to support the Chief Executives and to ensure that the Boards are properly run with effective governance”.
In terms of the sector’s response to COVID-19, Mike highlights three key elements., The first is the provision of direct support for practices: “OFNC has been working very hard to maintain practice income through COVID-19, securing money from the NHS to compensate for the loss of sight test fees. The challenge will be both keeping that support going until recovery has taken place, and also how we’re going to work with the NHS over the longer term.”
The second way in which the sector rose to the challenge has been the way it has provided emergency care under pandemic conditions: “The design and delivery of the COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES) was endorsed as a way forward by all the stakeholders and I think the speed and efficiency that LOCSU and the sector showed in delivering this was exceptional.
“The third part has been the provision of PPE in a joint initiative Between Primary Eyecare Services and LOCSU, which was highly beneficial to practices that were undertaking delivery of CUES.”
Going forward, Mike believes that, while COVID-19 has accelerated both the NHS and the optical sector along a trajectory that they were already on, the next big challenge is outpatient transformation. “We need to make sure that we get this right both for the NHS and primary eyecare, and ultimately for patients,” says Mike.
“In the longer term the challenge for us as a sector is how do we punch above our weight in negotiations with the NHS? I believe that the only way to do this is to speak as one voice for the optical sector, something that we haven’t always got right up until now.”
Inspirations close to home
When Mike is not helping organisations resolve challenges and move forward on a firmer footing, he still enjoys rugby, though from the side line these days: “I’m an avid watcher of sport – rugby and football in particular, but personally I’m more into walking in the mountains now, such as Cadar Idris here in beautiful Wales.” Aside from exploring the Welsh countryside, Mike shares an enthusiasm for motorbikes with LOCSU CEO Richard: “I enjoy tinkering with old motorbikes -I have a very old BSA.”
Family is also important, particularly with the recent arrival of a new generation: “I have a grandson who will be two in September,” says Mike fondly.
Mike’s ideal dinner party guests would be Barack Obama and Tom Hanks, but when it comes to inspirational people, he looks closer to home. “Being someone who takes interim positions, and with my past experience in FTSE100 companies, I’ve met all kinds of personalities, but in the third phase of my career I’ve been fortunate to work with some very inspirational and charismatic people including Air Vice-Marshal Chris Luck, now CEO of the Shaw Trust, and Bishop Robert Innes of the Church of England, to name but two. These are the types of visionary individuals I like working with; people who have a gift for inspiring those around them.”
As Mike continues the third phase of his fascinating career, and with the fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems there will be plenty of opportunities to put his own gift for problem-solving to good use.