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Board member Tracy Matthews on joining ONR

ONR Board member Tracey Matthews joined in June and brings with her a wealth of experience from her work in the utilities sector and as a Non-Executive Director (NED) at high profile organisations including United Utilities Plc and the Highways Agency. We caught up with Tracey recently to discuss why she joined the Board, her career to date and how she’s been finding life during the pandemic.

What attracted you to the role of NED on the ONR Board?

I’m really interested in the role of regulation as a concept, and the need for regulation to evolve with the times, while always ensuring safety and technical expertise underpins all decision making.

And since I first came into direct contact with ONR (four years ago), through my work with NUGEN, I’ve been impressed with the breadth of involvement the organisation has within the industry. Both these factors really attracted me to the role, so I was delighted to be appointed. I’m equally pleased to be Chairing the Remuneration and Nominations Committee which has an important role in helping the Board oversee assurance and governance of ONR, by providing the time and expertise to consider the more detailed aspects of our work.

What are your first impressions of ONR?

My virtual induction has been great! Everybody has been really helpful and giving of their time, which has impressed me and made me feel very welcome. I’ve also been delighted that no one seems to have had any pre-conceptions about me – everybody has tried to get to know me for who I am, which has been wonderful.

I’ve gained a unique insight by joining during incident management mode in the pandemic. What I’ve seen of the organisation’s response and how it’s adapted to working remotely has hugely impressed me. It’s highlighted what a resilient and adaptable organisation ONR is, with excellent foundations and dedicated staff.

So far, I’ve attended two Board meetings and the first part of the annual Board Strategy session. At the meetings we’ve focussed on the IT separation programme and the development of the WIReD project - both providing critical information management tools in support of delivering our business strategy. And of course the COVID-19 situation and its impact have been and remains an on-going Board agenda topic with our discussions taking account of both operational responses and the wellbeing of staff.

Our Strategy session offered an opportunity to stand back and consider what our operating environment might mean for ONR over the next five years. We took at look at the 2025 Roadmap, our strategic planning tool, to consider if any adjustments might be necessary. And we also reviewed the refreshed Organisational Effectiveness Indicator (OEI) framework to see how it will enable us to and measure our progress against the ONR Strategy 2020-25 and the outcomes we are seeking to achieve.

Can you tell us about your career so far? What skills, expertise and experience do you have which you will bring to the role?

I’ve had a really enjoyable and interesting career with much of it having been spent working in the utilities sector with United Utilities (UU) Plc. And it was while working at UU Plc that I gained a BSc in Chemistry from the Open University which really gave me what I needed to progress in my career.

The extensive operational and asset management experience I’ve gained while working at UU Plc - which included being Head of Programme Delivery for Scotland's £2.3bn water and wastewater capital infrastructure programmes – has been put to good use scrutinising and offering constructive challenge to help with the delivery of fantastic projects such as WIReD.

I now balance my work as a Non-Executive and independent consultant, in which I focus on business development and programme management, mainly in the energy and infrastructure sectors. I’m currently the Independent Chair for Scottish and Southern Electricity's RIIO-2 Enhanced Engagement Group, Chair of AGT Ltd, Board member of Energy and Utility Skills Group and Non-Executive Director with Transport for Greater Manchester. I’ve also previously held Non-Executive roles with the Highways Agency, Office of Rail and Road and UK Coal Ltd. So, because of these experiences I’m very familiar with the role of a NED and this has allowed me to hit the ground running at ONR.

ONR has an excellent and clear five year Strategy, outlining where we want to be by 2025. My main skills are programme management – this requires logical thinking and the ability to break strategic ambitions down into logical delivery steps, whilst retaining that clear focus on achieving sustainable outcomes (i.e. what success looks like). I’ll be using these skills in my role as a Board member to allow us to clearly focus on what we really need to do to ensure we deliver our Strategy, and seeing the progress that has been made on the OEI framework to help us do just that was great. This may involve speeding certain areas of our work up, or slowing them down when required. And ensuring the culture of our organisation is right, encouraging people to think creatively, ask questions, check for understanding and continually communicate.

What are you most looking forward to in the role over the next five years?

I’m really excited about asking the right challenging questions and understanding the culture of the organisation to really break-down what we need to do and how we need to do it to ensure we get to where we want to be by 2025. I will also be testing these ambitions, to ensure they remain focused to achieve the right outcomes given the UK energy transition agenda. This coming decade will see a huge change of pace to enable new energy systems to support demand changes, particularly in the electricity generation sector. We need to be ready to meet the challenges this will bring to our industry.

I’m equally looking forward to getting to know as many people as possible from across the whole organisation. The virtual ‘meet the Chair sessions’ which I’ve attended over recent months have been a great opportunity to start doing this.

How are you managing through the COVID-19 situation?

 I’ve really enjoyed not having to spend endless hours travelling to meetings and staying in hotels. I’ve been far more productive by being based at home and more engaged at virtual meetings. I also consider myself very lucky that I live in North Cumbria - I’ve got lots of open space and fresh air to enjoy on my doorstep.

As an organisation we must learn from our experiences over the past months, so we don’t lose the massive benefits we’ve gained from working in these new ways - not least in terms of our reduced environmental impact, economic benefits and work life balance through reduced travel.

Can you tell us a little about your life outside of work?

I have two grown up children. My daughter lives in Switzerland and is very career focused and works as an astro-physicist. My son, who is younger, works in catering and has recently moved back home, which has been fun!

I’m a latecomer to cycling, I love it! Prior to lockdown I had some indoor cycling equipment installed which was great timing. I also love doing art and creative pass times; I do pottery and create glass pieces in my glass kiln, do French embroidery and love gardening – these are all really good releases from the pressures of work. I’m also a dedicated online Strategy Gamer and have been since my teenage years. For those of you who don’t share this passion these are games that focus on skilful thinking and planning to achieve victory - I sometimes wonder whether this is work or leisure!