Departing Co-op CEO reflects on his time in the role & future of retail

Martyn Cheatle, departing Chief Executive of Central England Co-operative, has reflected on his nine years in the role, the future of retail and the co-operative movement.

During his time in charge of the UK’s largest independent retail society, the married father-of-one has helped transform it into a modern, forward thinking organisation with over 8,000 colleagues across 16 counties.

His achievements include supporting significant investment of over £300m, which has seen food stores grow from 168 to 266 and funeral homes from 81 to 131, the launch of a ground-breaking food redistribution project, raising millions for corporate charities including Newlife and Dementia UK and ensuring that there are now food banks in over 90% of stores

He also oversaw the Society being the first UK retailer to gain all four Carbon Trust standards and saw it twice been named Leading Co-operative of the Year.

Cheatle has also played an instrumental role in providing a strong voice for independent co-operative societies within the wider co-operative movement.

After leading the Society since 2010, he has now been succeeded by Debbie Robinson, who has joined from SPAR UK where she was UK Managing Director.

Cheatle said, “Since taking on the role of Chief Executive I am pleased to have overseen significant investment and growth. We now operate across 16 counties, have merged with other co-ops and ensured we support people at the heart of local communities.

“Our strong financial performance has also enabled us to continue to put membership and community at the centre of everything we do and all of the decisions we make.

“It has also allowed us to go from just one new site opening a year to a significant new store opening programme, with growth like this just becoming business as usual.”

Cheatle took on the role of Chief Executive of the then Midlands Co-op in 2010 following the retirement of John Fitzgerald. He had joined the Society in 2001 as Head of Finance before being appointed Deputy Chief Executive in 2005. Prior to joining he held a series of positions at the Bass Group and Gala Leisure.

Speaking about the future of retail co-operatives, Cheatle said ‘point of difference’ is vital to continued success. He added, “The key thing is going to be continuing to showcase our point of difference. This means retailing in convenient locations, being community based and offering fantastic customer service. All three things we do very well.

“In terms of the future of co-operatives, we all need to continue what we are doing and doing it well. That means building on our point of difference whether it be product quality or sticking to the co-operative values and principles.

“We must also ensure that high levels of co-operation among other co-ops continues and goes from strength to strength.”