Hearts & Minds
For Ray Reed, past Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes and Past Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire, the process of change that he helped to introduce within Freemasonry is only just beginning
What did your early career teach you?
I joined BP Chemicals straight from school and served a five-year apprenticeship as an instrument and electronics engineer before moving on to Reckitt & Colman when I was 23. The next 15 years were manic – two years after joining I was asked to set up and manage a new work-study department, followed by secondment as company negotiator with trade unions, then I became human resources director before becoming general manager.
Each move involved a new discipline and took me out of my comfort zone. I like the challenge of being thrown in at the deep end and rarely get stressed. If I had, I think I would have failed. These challenges opened my eyes to the fact most of what goes on in business management is common sense. Get a great team around you, identify what works, question what doesn’t, create a strategy and focus on improvement.
Equally, I learned that people at all levels love you to listen to and debate their ideas for improvement – it gives them confidence that they are part of the change process and makes them feel valued.
Why did you establish your own company?
By 1980 we were selling off the industrial division. Reckitt & Colman wanted me to stay but I was nearly 40 and wanted a new challenge, something completely different. Close friends thought I was mad.
My old sales director had left to do his own thing, working for an American company in psychological assessment. He asked me if I’d advise him on setting up a business, so I talked him into going to the US. Instead of working for the American company, we bought the franchise for the UK. About three years later, we found ourselves bigger than the US business, so we bought them out.
Family has been so important in the success of the business. My wife Doreen, who was a business partner, has been a vital cog from the outset and, after I retired in 2005, our son Martin has grown the business to become one of the top five assessment companies in the world. We are still a private entity and I continue to serve as a non-executive director.
What drove you to join Freemasonry?
I had been attending masonic social events from the age of 16 and always felt comfortable in the company of members. One day shortly after I married I asked my father-in-law, ‘What’s Freemasonry all about?’ I can recall his exact words: ‘I’ve been waiting for you to ask, I’ll get you a form. I can’t tell you what it’s about, you’ll have to trust me.’ In today’s fast-moving world such an approach would be laughed at, but that was the norm then.
Freemasonry was so popular in those days so I had to wait three years to be initiated, which just made me want it more. I joined Thesaurus Lodge [No. 3891] in North Yorkshire on 11 May 1967. It was the perfect lodge for me: great ceremonial, friendly and very encouraging with new candidates. I realised as a 27-year-old that while my business life was driving me into new areas and becoming ever more demanding, Freemasonry was developing me as a person, giving me a new-found confidence and a better understanding of my values in life.
Did you feel ready to become Provincial Grand Master?
No. Sadly, Lord Burnham died in office in 2005 and I received a letter asking me to take the role – not long after I had been appointed an APGM. There was no training, just a patent that told you to run the Province in accordance with the rules and regulations of the United Grand Lodge of England. And that was it, you were on your own. That suited me; it comes back to being thrown in at the deep end.
We identified member expectations through surveys, set a modernisation strategy that took account of these results, communicated them to members and then monitored the progress. Member collaboration was vital to the process – we set out to make masonic life more enjoyable, to improve our image in the local community and to market the Craft as a power for good within society.
It appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level’
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had as a PGM?
When I became Provincial Grand Master, the Past Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, Gordon Bourne, suggested I miss out the sweet course and coffee at the Festive Board in order to make time for talking to members. At first I thought, ‘This is a bit stupid’ – but within three months, members were coming up to me with really creative ideas to improve the Province’s image. It was a great success.
Gordon also suggested that at non-installation meeting dinners, I ask lodges to sit me with the five newest members of the lodge. That was magic; few realised the significance of the Provincial Grand Master role, so they talked openly and honestly. I heard their expectations, what they liked and did not like about their lodges and Freemasonry. The insights we collected helped convince Grand Lodge Officers to sit off the top table. It really broke so many historic barriers.
How important is the process of succession planning?
The second highest resignation levels in the Craft are those of Past Masters resigning shortly after completing their year in office. It therefore appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level.
While there is no right or wrong approach to succession planning, lodges may well benefit from discussing the future aspirations with their lodge Masters well before they end their year in office. This should be done to ensure commitment and motivation, and in order to take any necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of resignation. One thing is for sure: if a member has an ambition toward a specific discipline – be it administrative, ceremonial or charitable – he is more likely to succeed in that discipline than in a role he has been cajoled into and does not really aspire to.
When did you become a member of the Board of General Purposes?
After a couple of years as a Provincial Grand Master I found myself sat next to Anthony Wilson, President of the Board, at a dinner. We had an enlightening discussion about Freemasonry’s past, present and future. Little did I know I had been recommended to him as a Board member and the next day I was asked to join. It was a complete shock and I embarked on another steep learning curve, but I loved being on the Board. We were all like-minded, giving our time freely and seeking to positively influence both the present and future of the Craft for our members.
How does change occur in the world of Freemasonry?
Historically, change has happened very slowly as we are a bottom-up organisation. Even small change in the past caused the shutters to go up. Members were perhaps fearful that there was a desire to change our traditions, which has never been on the agenda.Over recent years, Freemasonry has created a strategy for 2015-2020. Webinar technology has been tested and rolled out in the Provinces for member training and coaching, which can take place online at home. Even after one year of the strategy being communicated in 2015, membership loss dropped dramatically; indeed, several Provinces increased their numbers. This is a sure indication that members are getting behind the change process. We just need to win the hearts and minds of those who are yet to come to the party.
Middlesex 2020 Festival launch
In March, the Province of Middlesex launched the 2020 Festival Appeal for the RMTGB. Alastair Mason, Pro Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex, said, ‘What better cause can there be than to make a difference to a young life that might otherwise have been deprived of opportunities?’ The Province raised more than £4 million in its 2009 Festival for the RMBI. All donations are being received via the Relief Chest.
To support the appeal, visit www.the2020festival.co.uk
In April, veteran marathon runner and mason John Lill will be taking part in the London Marathon to raise funds for the 2020 Festival in support of the RMTGB. John’s participation in the world’s biggest fundraising event will be the one hundred and twenty-second time that he has completed the 26.2-mile distance, but it will be the first time that the RMTGB has been officially represented in the marathon.
Ahead of the marathon, John said, ‘It is an honour to be helping such a worthwhile cause, and one that Middlesex Freemasons are supporting through our Festival. I hope to raise as much as I can for the disadvantaged children the Trust helps.’
Visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/johnlill if you would like to sponsor John and support the RMTGB’s work
Middlesex support for food bank: There has been a growth in food banks being set up around the country to aid those in most need during the economic downturn
Conscious of this trend, members of Spelthorne Lodge, No. 4516, and Staines Lodge, No. 2536, in Middlesex met representatives of Manna – the local food bank – and presented them with a cheque for £1,000. Manna thanked both lodges for their generosity and explained how they provided food parcels to those in need living in the borough of Spelthorne.
The hospice has strong links with the school, as does their chairman, David Ellis of Tudor Lodge No.7280. Hospice staff, including clinicians and nurses, were available to chat with guests about their work.
Hertfordshire Provincial Grand Master, Colin Harris, said, ‘Charitable giving is a huge part of Freemasonry and hearing from hospice staff really brings home how vital their work is and just how much financial help they need. This charity supports local people from across south-west Hertfordshire free of charge, and we are honoured to be playing a part in that.’
Hospice community fundraising manager, Gill Crowson, said, ‘This evening was really a celebration of the close ties between the hospice, the lodges and the school. We are very grateful for all the support they give to the hospice. All of us care deeply about our community and are well aware of the necessity to be available to those who need our help, both now and in the future.’
This year, six Provinces were represented, with a team of 10 Provincial Stewards from Essex taking part. The ride, which included non-masons,
is known as the Master’s Ride. A main charity is selected each year to receive at least £100 from each rider. In addition, riders are encouraged
to support any charity selected by their Master or Province.
This year’s main charity was WheelPower, which helps disabled youngsters participate in sport and lead a more fulfilling life. Other worthy causes included the Mark Festival, the Essex Festival, the British Heart Foundation, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Cancer Research UK and the Barford Court Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution Care Home. Some of the riders cycled the final part of the journey with children and grandchildren.
Paul Sully, from Middlesex, has organised the event for the past seven years, and the £30,000 pledged for this year’s event brought the total raised to more than £140,000. Next year’s ride is planned for Saturday 23 June. As the Paralympics will follow shortly after, it has been decided to run the event again in aid of WheelPower, who are the main charity sponsoring British wheelchair sport. Further details are available on the Middlesex Provincial website at www.pglm.org.uk.
Peter Reeves commented, ‘It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but being able to donate a worthwhile sum of money to Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support made it all worthwhile.’
James Reeves, a former soldier and Iraq veteran, set the pace up the mountains. ‘After the third one, the soles of my feet felt as if they had been beaten with a baseball bat,’ laughed climbing companion Mark, after completing the three peak challenge.
To donate, please go to www.justgiving.com/Pete-Reeves or www.justgiving.com/Mark-Best1.
Noel O’Shea, accompanied by colleagues from Summum Bonum Lodge, No. 3665, in Middlesex, presented a cheque from the lodge as a thank you for the grant he had received to fund hip replacement surgery in 2008.
Before returning to Nigeria, Eddie Obianwu also journeyed to the MSF to thank them for the assistance he received for surgery to amputate his left leg and the subsequent provision of a prosthetic limb. He was accompanied by members of his family and his District Grand Master, Chief Moses O Taiga.