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From trainee to Executive Chairman: John Baumback’s mission for Seetec is to change lives by providing opportunities

Announcements News 05 January 2023

After nearly 40 years with the employability, justice and skills specialist Seetec, Group Chief Executive John Baumback has become the Executive Chairman of the business.

He has taken over the leadership of the Seetec Group with immediate effect. John will oversee the business and work with both the Group Leadership and Executive Board to implement the new strategic framework, which focuses on a growth plan up to 2032. Under his leadership, the Group is committed to delivering a six per cent year-on-year growth target during the life of the ten-year strategic framework.

John joined Seetec as a 16-year-old apprentice, progressing through most management roles and most business areas of the Group on his journey to the helm.

“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve done the vast majority of the jobs in Seetec,” John explains. “I think that experience gives me a different insight and understanding. The exposure I’ve had to so many different areas of the business means that, when it’s all hands to the pump, I have a clear understanding of what it takes to mobilise and steer key functions to pursue new commercial opportunities. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I wasn’t given the opportunity and believed in.”

John’s vast experience proved its worth when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Seetec needed to transform all its services to online delivery virtually overnight.

“That was a great challenge, but what impressed me was the speed at which colleagues, as employee owners of our business, managed to execute it,” John says. “Each employee owner worked together and long hours to orientate the business to meet the unprecedented challenge of running a business during several lockdowns.

“Like most businesses at that time, we had to make some really tough decisions. We were probably one of the leading organisations offering apprenticeships in aviation back in 2020, but that sector was hit particularly hard by the pandemic and in turn that impacted our skills business area too.”

Just weeks before the pandemic took hold, Seetec had become an employee-owned business when founder and majority shareholder Peter Cooper sold 51 per cent of the Group into an Employee Ownership Trust.

“I was just getting my feet under the table as Group Chief Executive when the business was confronted with stark choices about how to keep its operations going, both in the UK and Ireland, during a public health crisis. Fortunately, throughout my career, I’ve been used to having baptisms of fire.” John said.

Employee ownership helped Seetec to focus quickly on employee welfare, an area for which it subsequently received a high commendation at the CIPD awards. “Each and every one of our employee owners in the UK and Ireland went the extra mile, but that shouldn’t be a surprise because that’s the type of organisation we are. I think one of the key drivers for each of us was to ensure we did everything possible to look after the people and communities we serve.” John stressed.

“The increased use of technology across our operations has been of huge benefit. We’re a people business, so it’s good to have now achieved a balance between virtual and face-to-face interactions during the working day.  The ability for colleagues to work from home, or from anywhere, has improved productivity because of the flexibility offered to each employee owner. This is something our Employee Council has advocated, and we’re also trialling plans for a four-day working week in the business to further support a good work-life balance.”

While Seetec is still developing as an employee-owned business, John said colleagues had embraced the opportunities to take a longer-term view and shape the organisation’s future – and the business was stronger for listening to and trusting the employee voice. “That’s the sort of organisation we’re trying to build, where employee owners at all levels feel empowered to make comments or have opinions,” he said.

As John becomes Executive Chairman, his primary focus remains on the health and profitability of the business, but to do so he stresses: “I truly believe and am passionate about running a successful business in the right way and in an ethical way. The business has recently agreed a new set of social value pledges that will aim to deliver positive impact so that individuals and communities can prosper.”

Seetec is already B-Corp certified and has recently refreshed its purpose, mission, vision and values – a piece of work led by employee ownership representatives who sit on the Employee Council to represent the views of each colleague. An Employee Trustee Director is also elected by colleagues to sit on the Group Executive Board to engage with the senior leadership and help put the new values into practice.

Sitting at the heart of its strategic vision is a commitment to individuals and providing opportunities to improve their lives, making a real difference to the communities they live in. This enables communities to prosper through breaking down barriers and offering an equal opportunity to succeed. That is carried through as a core objective set out in the Group’s new strategic framework.

To John, opportunity is key: opportunity for disadvantaged individuals, and for those who face barriers – whether through disability, mental ill health, poverty, addiction, lack of education or a criminal record.

He explains: “I came from a working-class background and was really lucky early on in my career to get the opportunities I did, which have helped to equip me for the role of Executive Chairman today. This proves anything is possible, no matter your background. The key is to make sure everyone gets the best start in life to enable them to reach their full potential.”

John had left school with five ‘O’ Levels to his name, partly because his family was struggling financially and that traditional classroom-based learning was not an environment that enabled him personally to reach his full potential. He felt a vocational route was a better path for him. His friends were unsure at the time whether it was the right path for him to sign up for an apprenticeship with Seetec.

By the age of 18, he was an assistant trainer, teaching 16-year-olds about Cobol computer programming and helping them on the path to good careers.

“I look back to that time with a great sense of pride because I was actually determining a different path for those individuals. The professional and personal satisfaction of being a positive influence and helping steer those young people on their journey was one of the best experiences of my career to date.

“I’ve been fortunate to do so many different things, to have people believe in me and to grow with the business. There are plenty of young people out there that, given that chance, could be tomorrow’s leaders. It’s about providing the right environment and a commitment to invest in people that will deliver the conditions for parity of opportunity to be achievable.

“By having the path I’ve had, I’ve been able to give back to the community. That is why the business has reframed its purpose to advance the cause for delivering more prosperous communities. The current outlook means there needs to be a greater focus on community resilience and identifying gaps in provision to create a more diversified and balanced economy to stimulate a recovery. A focus on the skills agenda will be vital during what is expected to be a protracted recession.”

This recognition of the need to provide new and different opportunities drives Seetec’s future direction.

John added: “We are well-placed as a business to strengthen our current position in the sectors each area of the Group has a footprint in and to pursue new commercial opportunities in emerging markets. Our operational model allows us to scale and diversify to meet demand. My focus will be to work with our leadership team to ensure the Group’s ambitious growth plans are realised in the UK and Ireland.”

Already the organisation has successfully developed new drug misuse interventions, and the first UK-approved interventions to tackle stalking behaviour. Piloted in Sussex, Interventions Alliance, part of the Seetec Group, now intends to roll out that programme with police forces in other areas.

In 2021, Interventions Alliance opened the UK’s first new independent approved premises for rehabilitating offenders in the UK for 33 years, providing one-to-one support for female prison-leavers. Seetec sees this as another area where an expanded service would meet an increasing need.

Seetec has developed some unique capabilities to provide support for those who have felt they have been left behind by society and is looking to extend outside of its core services to provide a greater impact in the communities it serves.

In the Republic of Ireland, where Seetec became the first provider to run the JobPath employment programme in the northern part of the country nearly a decade ago, the business has been successful in securing a contract to deliver the new National Employment Service, its successor labour activation programme. Seetec Ireland also plans to diversify it service delivery by expanding into providing skills training and development, as the Group does in the UK.

Seetec is also looking to reinvest some of its profits into a new social purpose vehicle targeting the hardest groups to reach in our society, providing not-for-profit programmes which go beyond existing services, such as rolling out a supported employment programme for people with disabilities beyond the current base of its community interest company in the South West.

As an early school leaver drawn to Seetec through his interest in IT, John Baumback never dreamed he would lead the organisation to a position as one of the UK and Ireland’s leading employee-owned public and business-related service providers. As its Executive Chairman, he is passionate about how much more it can still do to build social value by empowering people to change their lives and build fairer, safer and more prosperous communities.