Paul Boissier of the RNLI
Paul Boissier of the RNLI tells Bryce Wilcock why running the charity isn’t too different to running a business and how they’re saving money and the planet as well as lives.
Paul Boissier, born and bred in Dorset, joined the Navy at the age of 20 and climbed the ranks, up until he was appointed chief operating officer in September 2006.
He spent three years in the role but, like many others who had spent the majority of their life at sea, he was struggling to get to grips with what to do when he hung up his tailcoat.
Returning home in 2009, the stars certainly aligned when he saw an advert for the role of CEO of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Poole.
“I spent all of my life at sea so when the opportunity to join the RNLI as its CEO came around, I jumped at the opportunity,” said Paul.
“What’s not to like about an organisation whose core mission is to save lives? Every year we save over 400 lives and look after and help tens of thousands of people.
“The people in this organisation, in common with many people who run charities across the country, are utterly outstanding.
“Even when you’ve had a bad day, the company you keep instantly gives you a lift. You’re working with people who understand the vision and really care about what they’re doing.”
When Paul joined the RNLI his first task was to familiarise himself with the charity and get to grips with how it worked.
He likens it to being the captain of a ship in the sense that he had to ‘realise where to go and who did what job’.
“My first task was to find my way around. It’s the same as stepping on board a ship, it was the first thing I learned when I was a captain, realising what to wear and who did what job.
“It has always been a wonderful and innovative organisation but what is quite interesting is that after just a couple of months, I could see that there was scope for improvement.
“The more I looked around, the more I realised that we could do this job even better, we could be more efficient and we could use our supporters’ money better.
“The first thing I did was persuade the trustees to allow me to invest in expertise so I could bring Lean management techniques right across the RNLI.
“We were already using Lean management techniques in our factory on Cowes on the Isle of Wight where we make the small lifeboats but nobody had thought of bringing it across the whole organisation.
“I felt it would do the organisation good, it would make us more agile in what is a difficult and ever changing world.”
Lean management, for those who don’t know, is the process of stripping out waste in order to improve the bottom line.
The process is most commonly associated with manufacturing but as Paul shows, it’s a universal system that can be implemented in any organisation.
“It immediately helped us save money,” he added, “we set ourselves a target of saving £20m per year of repeatable savings.
“Lean is such a powerful tool that we slowly increased our efficiency and after three years we’d beat our target by saving £23m.
“This in turn has allowed us to reinvest more in saving lives. We’ve built a new factory, expanded our international presence and invested in our fleet.”
Immediately introducing Lean management to the whole of the RNLI showed Paul’s willingness to try new things and make the charity more innovative and efficient.
Not only did the new management style save the RNLI money but it also helped the charity invest in new technologies and become more sustainable.
The latter, Paul was keen to stress, is a key part of the RNLI’s organisational structure now and is something he firmly believes all organisations should be taking seriously.
“We’re really big on sustainability. I was talking to the gentleman who was in charge of building our lifeboat stations and we discussed how we could do more to increase the energy efficiency of them.
“For instance, up in one of our lifeboat stations in the Shetland Islands we have built a wind turbine outside. The turbine not only powers the lifeboat centre but all of the excess power goes into the local community so it’s a real community service.
“If you come further south, the wind turbines become less viable, but we’re running a programme now putting solar panels on the roof of our buildings where it is suitable to do so. Down here in Poole we have a lot of solar generation.
“We’re also working really hard in every sense to reduce consumption. We’ve introduced more efficient power into our facilities and in terms of sustainability, renewables have yielded £147,000 during this period, that’s the equivalent to the construction cost of 12 of our smallest lifeboats.
“It’s amazing. We have reduced our gas consumption by 18% and we’ve reduced our electricity consumption by 4%, and to still have done that when we have brought our lifeboat production in house at the ALC is a great achievement, this matters for two reasons.
“Firstly, we’re committed to using our supporters’ money properly, we want to make sure it’s spent on saving lives, nothing else.
“Secondly, it’s about showing we really care about the community and the environment we work in and we’re doing everything we can to protect them.
“Another example of this is the new All-Weather Lifeboat centre we have here in Poole. We built it on the side of Holes Bay which is one of the spur’s coming off Poole Harbour.
“Every time you get a lifeboat out of the water it’s important to wash it down so you don’t have all of the seaweed etc growing on the bottom, we need to be able to work on the actual boat.
“In the past when we washed our boats down all of the discharge went back into the water. The trouble is that when we were doing that, a lot of the anti-fouling from the bottom of the boat was going back into the water. It’s a marine biocide so it kills plants and sea life. It was really damaging the environment.
“With this in mind we installed a water purification plant in the factory. I’m actually very proud of it. We suck the water in with pumps from the bay, squirt it on the bottom of the hull, we then clean it and push it back out into the bay cleaner than when we took it out.
“I think that’s what the community expects of such a responsible community aware organisation. Since we exist entirely through the generosity of the community, I don’t think we have any alternative but to reduce our environmental footprint!”
As well as making the organisation more sustainable and in turn, more profitable, Paul was determined to ensure every aspect of the organisation was running as efficiently as possible. This led him to turning his head to how they sourced their lifeboats.
Previously, most of the RNLI’s lifeboats were being manufactured by companies spread across the UK, which was costing the charity hundreds of thousands every year. This led to Paul putting an end to most of their outsourcing and making the brave decision to mass produce lifeboats themselves.
“I realised that we had been using contractors all over the country to build our lifeboats in batches so we brought down a manager from Nissan in Sunderland, a mass production expert, to come down and tell us how to mass produce £2m lifeboats.
“We don’t build them every two minutes like a car factory does, we turn out a new lifeboat every eight weeks, but we’re now using all of the techniques and skills that we have learned from Nissan to help us make our production more efficient.
“The building of this factory alone will save this charity something in the region of £4m a year when it is fully up and running, we’re quite pleased with that.”
As well as using the money they have saved to manufacture new boats, the charity is also ensuring that it’s manufacturing better boats and is also investing in raising awareness of the risks of drowning. Prevention is something the charity has a heavy focus on going forward.
Paul added: “We are also doing a lot more flood prevention work and have spent a lot of time over the last eight years increasing the speed of our lifeboats. Our newest all-weather lifeboat, the Shannon, is capable of 25 knots which is 50% faster than the lifeboats it replaces.
“We’ve since been putting faster boats on the coasts so we can rescue people quicker. We’ve also been looking at prevention. We had an interesting conversation a few years ago when we said ‘why are we waiting for people to call us for help?’
“We realised we could do a lot more to help people avoid getting into trouble in the first place. You may have seen the ‘Respect the Water’ campaign we put out every year. It is aimed at young men aged from 16-45 and include quite hard-hitting adverts.
“They have to be hard-hitting to make an impact. We’re getting very significant growth in awareness of that message and have just finished our third year of running the campaign. I’m really hoping we’ll slowly start to see a reduction in the numbers of drownings around our island following this.”
Paul’s success in his eight years at RNLI certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last July, he was named among leading accountancy firm Grant Thornton’s ‘Faces of a vibrant economy’ which recognised the business leaders helping drive the Solent economy forward.
The campaign judged local business leaders on their inspiring leadership, innovative thinking and their commitment to making a positive contribution to society, so it’s no real surprise that Paul was named among the top 100!
“I was absolutely thrilled when Grant Thornton invited me to become one of the ‘Faces of the vibrant economy’ and I was very flattered. It meant we could get our message out there to even more people and it has opened up so many doors for us.
“We’ve had a lot of people ringing up and saying ‘we’d love to have a look around and see what you’re doing’. It has opened up a curiosity for the RNLI. There are so many parallels between what we’re doing and other businesses are doing and it helps both of us grow and learn from each other.”
Looking to the future, Paul is determined to carry on driving the RNLI forward and has one simple mission. He concluded: “Very simply, my mission is to save more lives. We’ll save lives through continuing to improve our rescue service, our lifeboats and lifeguards. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped us so far, we couldn’t do it without them!”