As Risk & Assurance Director, Mike Gore’s life is spent looking at worse case scenarios – but even he couldn’t anticipate just how life changing a pandemic would be.

I don’t think any amount of planning could’ve prepared us

I’ve worked for Greene King for over 20 years and my job is to look at everything from risk management to reputational damage. I spend my working life talking to insurers and lawyers and making sure that as a business we prioritise risk – that we measure, manage and mitigate it. That might mean health and safety, public health, security, financial… every aspect of risk. We’re a very regulated industry, so I have to ensure that we’re looking ahead so we know what kind of risk might be coming down the pipeline. But I didn’t imagine that it would take a global pandemic to shine a spotlight on my team and the work we do.

Of course, we knew things were looking bad at the start of 2020. A Covid Steering Group was formed very early on and we started to track and plan for what at the time was an emerging threat. Sales were falling pretty drastically as media increasingly focused on the ease with which coronavirus spreads. I can remember visiting a pub and it was like the Mary Celeste, virtually empty. At that point I realised things were going to get much worse. By March we were expecting the government to make that call, but we didn’t expect it to be: you will close pubs tonight – full stop.

Closing Time

Closing all pubs safely is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of work and planning and close collaboration between all parts of the business. There was no well-rehearsed game plan. Closing 1,700 pubs and dealing with 40,000 people is especially hard.

There was a very, very long ‘to do’ list associated with a close down. Removing money, disposing of food, draining down water systems, cleaning kitchens, moving gaming machines so they’re out of sight, even boarding up some premises… the logistics were huge. One of the biggest headaches was getting unused beer out of a cellar, safely. Lifting full casks of beer out of the cellar required special mechanical hoists, and we didn’t have many of them.

So, whether you’re closing or reopening a pub (and we did a lot of that over the crisis) there’s a lot involved. I have 34 people in my team, but many of them were furloughed early on so those left had a big span of responsibility.

Closing down pubs safely isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work and planning

Team Safety

When it came to reopening our pubs when lockdowns eased, we had to ensure that our team members and customers were safe. We created the Pub Safe and Office Safe concept: five promises to keep everyone as safe as possible. It almost became a brand and the whole business got behind it.

Everything we did was within the context of Pub Safe – and we did it well – including more audits and data tracking, so safety was assured. The procurement team did a great job sourcing and buying PPE, sanitiser, face coverings etc, which of course, the whole world was chasing. And keeping up with Covid regulations across three nations was a challenge in itself: over 70 new sets of regulations, all feeding into Pub and Office Safe.

But it has come at a price. As a risk manager, I love dealing with problems. I like a tight deadline, a bit of adrenaline, and thinking on my feet. So, in many ways the pandemic has been hugely rewarding for me on a personal level. The time I saved not driving to meetings or the office I invested in keeping fit, cycling and doing some weights. And I’ve seen much more of my family. But it was also utterly exhausting. The stress hit me in September 2020 when I was fortunate enough to go on holiday to Skiathos. The resort was totally deserted. On the first day I went to the empty pool, sat on the sun lounger all alone, and just burst into tears. And I was the lucky one, still working and on a foreign holiday.

I know that many in my team have also struggled because we stayed in touch with weekly calls. In fact, one positive is that we’ve all got to know each other better. My role is usually field based and pre-pandemic I would drive around 40,000 business miles a year, but I did just 100 miles in over 15 months from March 2020. We’ve had to stop and stay at home and that’s really given us time to bond, even if it has been virtually. And I know that for lots of people that checking in with each other has been vital.

So, what did we learn? Risk planning and mitigation is now better embedded, and we are more resilient for it. We are rightly proud of what the whole business achieved, but most importantly, we looked out for, and looked after, each other. That’s a legacy we can build on. Oh, and we all learnt a new word: ‘efficacy’ – welcome to risk management, everyone!