Shaper: Richard Robinson

Show aired on 4th November 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Frank Sinatra with The Lady Is A Tramp – a lovely way to start the programme today. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers I am Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Thank you very much for joining. Jazz Shapers the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we bring someone who is shaping the world of business. Our shaper today is someone with a little bit of a twist. It’s actually Richard Robinson and Richard Robinson is the CEO of Help Musicians UK. Help Musicians UK is a brilliant organisation which as the title would imply helps musicians in all sorts of ways. You will be hearing lots from Richard our leader today who we are talking to. In addition to hearing from Richard you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business coming up there and as well as all of that of course we’ve got some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Louis Armstrong, Gregory Porter, Madeleine Peyroux and this from Dee Dee Bridgewater.

That was Dee Dee Bridgewater with Whoopin’ Blues. Richard Robinson is my Business Shaper today, CEO of Help Musicians UK and rather than going on and lamely explaining what they do I am going to ask you, the man here, Richard thank you so much for joining me. What do Help Musicians UK do?

Richard Robinson
Well Help Musicians UK is the largest independent music charity and we’ve been around for almost a hundred years now, ninety six years in total and our role really primarily is to help musicians at a time of crisis through our health and welfare team but actually it’s a lot more than that now you know we’ve been campaigning significantly in all areas of the music industry and we have a fantastic creative programme where we try to support people through their careers as well as through their lives so it’s one of those charities where you can be really passionate about because it really is making a difference to people’s lives.

Elliot Moss
And how many people work in the organisation at the moment?

Richard Robinson
Just under fifty, about forty eight. We’re in London, Belfast and Glasgow.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of some of the programmes just give me a sense of the sorts of things that you do to offer help to musicians?

Richard Robinson
It’s right the way from supporting musicians who perhaps have hit a crisis so they might have had a mental health issue which is something big for us at the moment we’re working on the world’s first 24/7 mental health line, mental health service. It might be a musician who is looking for their first start like an inspiring young musician where we might give them a bursary and that could be jazz, classical, contemporary, indie, alternative you name it or it could be as simple as working with young singers or not even young singers, aspiring singers in musical theatre, it’s actually every genre and every way we can help them we will.

Elliot Moss
And tell me how long have you been doing this for? When did you take over?

Richard Robinson
I’ve only been with Help Musicians since September 2015 and it’s a very different charity now over the last two years. A very different organisation it was the Musicians Benevolent Fund for a long, long time and a colleague of mine Christine Brown, she rebranded the charity as Help Musicians in 2014 and since then really we’ve developed this real campaigning thrust, a fundraising charity now rather than just a charity that gives out money and we’re trying to be right in the thick of the music industry so it’s like taking, trying to teach an old dog very new tricks.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out whether the old dog has indeed been taught some new tricks with my Business Shaper today that’s Richard Robinson, CEO of Help Musicians UK. Time for some music this is either Louis or Louis depending on your flavour for the day Armstrong that is and That Old Feeling.

The inimitable sound of Louis Armstrong with That Old Feeling. Richard Robinson is my Business Shaper today, CEO of Help Musicians UK. If you were listening earlier you would have heard Richard talking a little bit about what they do, what the focus of it is. You arrived as you said just over two years ago, tell me a little bit about how you have become a person who is now in the charity leadership world because you started as a journalist I believe and you’ve done various things and I always find it interesting how people find their way. You’re obviously in a place you want to be but just give me a little bit of background about you.

Richard Robinson
Of course so I’d always wanted to be a journalist really. I’ve always enjoyed words, creating narrative and even in my earliest career sort of delving into my career at the youngest possible time I saw myself as a patch journalist for a local newspaper. I think what happened steadily happened really was that I began to have lots of, to be quite ambitious in what I wanted to do and there was a couple of big stories I did as a cub reporter that caught the imagination of editors of other newspapers so I found myself going from a patch journalist in Hampshire and over in the Dorset border then working on national newspapers on a Sunday or in the evening as a freelancer primarily. But the real moment of sort of hallelujah moment for me was I’d got a job working as a Press Officer for a Local Authority, they didn’t have anybody within there that had any idea of fundraising or how you made the leap from PR to fundraising and I said well I’ll do it. I’ll give it a go and from there I developed these skills which transferred me from being this completely editorial based individual to looking into fundraising, looking at how you create revenue and how you create a brand, how you create a profile and that sparked a lot of interest and really that journey has led me on a, it’s been really interesting really thinking back at it its led me to India, its led me to working for Air Ambulance in Norfolk which I loved, absolutely loved and working at the Olympic Park during the Olympic Games in 2012 in Stratford which I suppose really was where I got my big break as being a Chief Executive.

Elliot Moss
And when you did get your big break as being Chief Executive just briefly we’ll come back to this what were the two or three things that hit you initially as challenging?

Richard Robinson
I suppose the main thing for me was I am not a numbers man. I am words and you need a different side of your brain to look at figures so it showed me how a good Chief Executive relies on the good people around them to help them make the right decisions. So I made sure that I was always very close to the Treasurer and the Director of Finance so we could create the right budgets because I’ve never been an individual that is afraid of taking a risk but I need to mitigate that risk with strong financial acumen.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper today that’s Richard Robinson, CEO of Help Musicians UK. Latest travel coming up but before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I meet someone who is shaping the world of business doing something fantastic if you’d like to hear any of those fantastic people put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ into iTunes you can hear lots of them there or go to CityAM.com that’s another destination for you. Right here though today here on Jazz FM Richard Robinson is my Business Shaper. He is the CEO of Help Musicians UK and he has been talking about his various leadership roles and the transition he made from the world of words to the world of business in a world of business of running an organisation and then specifically the importance of numbers and Richard earlier we were talking about how you had to learn the art of reading a balance sheet, the art of understanding the numbers and becoming close to a Treasurer. What were the other specific challenges of going to that leadership role? What about people management I imagine suddenly you know you’re a journalist, you look after one person that’s you.

Richard Robinson
Well I don’t think so I think it’s broader than that. I always described my style of management as still like being in a newsroom. You know I like the hub bub and the busyness of deadlines and I like to have a team around me where… I like energy and yes you do need to alter your management style when you’re running what is in effect a large business, a charity these days is a large business but I still like that newsroom attitude you know the quick deadlines and I think that’s why the pace of change to help musicians has been so quick over the last two years. It’s been about making us fit for purpose and it’s been really interesting and I think that’s a lot to do with my journalistic background and that energy that comes from that.

Elliot Moss
You talked about also running the Legacy List in 2012 through the Olympics and all of that and that point about having to manage things outside of your control and obviously the Olympics were a phenomenal success in the UK and a brilliant you know almost now looking at where we are in the world possibly a bit of a high point that we might look back on for all sorts of reasons. When culture and economics and politics aren’t going so well for you around what do you do as the CEO of an organisation to manage that because you’re affected by people’s ability to fundraise. You are affected by the way that people perceive other challenges in the world. How have you dealt with that?

Richard Robinson
That’s a really good question. I think the job of the Legacy List was to look at regeneration and I think fundraising is always easier if you can connect it to something that is tangible to someone’s lives so in East London for example the Legacy List was very strong in changing the lives and regenerating using culture and art as a trigger to regenerate and I think the same is true in some of the other careers I’ve had. If you can link your fundraising ask directly to you know tangible change then you are onto a winner. The only issue is where that becomes niche and I think one of the challenges that we’re facing at Help Musicians is for people to understand how important music is to people’s lives. It’s not just about supporting people playing music, it’s about the whole eco system and that was the same with the Olympics too.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more insight if you’re in the fundraising world then you’ve just got a bit of a gem insight into the way that Richard Robinson has built his career and more importantly to him probably and to everyone else the organisations that he’s been leading. Time for some more music right now this is Gregory Porter with Movin’.

That was Gregory Porter with Movin’. I am talking to Richard Robinson today, CEO of Help Musicians UK and previously he was involved in the Legacy List which was part of the whole Olympic Charity around regeneration. Your own personal style Richard, you talked about the newsroom, it strikes me that I imagine you’re a pretty balanced guy and that you’re fair. Where do you think that fair-mindedness has come from and I’m putting words in your mouth but this is just my instincts here?

Richard Robinson
Where does my fair-mindedness come from?

Elliot Moss
Is it true? Firstly is that true?

Richard Robinson
Yeah I think it is but look this is incredibly sort of cliché but I mean I never expected to be a Chief Executive in a million years. I had a fantastic Chief Exec at the Olympic Park called Sarah Weir who had decided the time was right for her to move on and she took me to one side and said well I think you can do this and I’m so happy in words, I’m so happy creating narrative and fundraising and fundraising campaigns that the idea of running something as significant as the Olympic Park Charity never occurred to me so for me I think being balanced and fair-minded comes from wanting other people to have the same opportunities that I’ve had over a relatively short period of time and wanting to see people grow and develop and I say a lot at work that you know we’re not here for everything to be a success you know I want people to feel as if they can take risks and learn from that situation and that’s sort of always been my raison d’etre.

Elliot Moss
In terms of your own personal stuff you, not everyone but some people may know this, but you are challenged when it comes to hearing.

Richard Robinson
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
I believe you have 16% hearing in one ear.

Richard Robinson
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
Your left ear?

Richard Robinson
My right ear.

Elliot Moss
Your right ear, just be specific here we’ll get it right.

Richard Robinson
That’s fine.

Elliot Moss
That I imagine you know when you’re younger I’m sure all sorts of horrible stuff was said and all that and the usual things that kids do what has that meant for you in terms of the way that you view ability and the way you view challenges to people’s ability whether that’s physical or mental because I don’t think to me it’s a coincidence that you are fighting for other people.

Richard Robinson
That’s a really good point I’ve never really thought of that before. It has been a struggle I admit trying to balance, trying to be in large meetings, big events when there’s that hub bub around you is always a struggle especially when you’ve got very, very poor hearing and people who know me will know that I lip read you know it’s one of my skills and it is a real skill as well because if you’re in a glass office like I’ve got then you can see what everybody is saying which I love. Not that I’m stalky.

Elliot Moss
Of course you’re not. I won’t tell anyone.

Richard Robinson
No. I think I worked for a charity for a little while called Lepra and they do fantastic work in India and in Africa as well, in Bangladesh as well and you saw the challenges that people faced there and it puts my own small challenge into perspective. You know I saw people there with some terrible diseases, challenges like leprosy and something called lymphatic filariasis which is more commonly known over here as elephantiasis and that’s still very relevant in India and I learnt more in that period of time there about my own personal challenges than I could ever learn here because you know they are dealing with life, they’re dealing with a family, they’re dealing with a career yet having a life changing affliction which is frowned upon over in India often, not always, but often and there is still this issue which I was part of a charity that were trying to deal with that where some diseases are seen as a curse from God you know and we’ve got to, it’s really important for us to understand that you know being deaf, having to wear glasses, having to wear a hearing aid is in the grand scheme of things is a trifle, it’s nothing.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today Richard Robinson and his fantastic perspective on what matters to each one of us. Final chat with him is coming up and we’ll be playing a track from Madeleine Peyroux that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Madeleine Peyroux with Don’t Wait Too Long. Just for a few more minutes Richard Robinson’s my Business Shaper today, CEO of Help Musicians UK and as you’ve been hearing earlier had his own personal and continues to have his own personal challenge but as he brilliantly put it into perspective it is small in the scheme of the things that he is addressing and has addressed historically. Going forward Richard your own aspirations for the organisation, for Help Musicians UK just give me the top two. Where in five years if we had this chat again where would Help Musicians be?

Richard Robinson
It’s odd you should say that because the charity has just published its Agenda 2021 Strategy which takes us through to our hundred years. We were launched in 1921 by Edward Elgar and so its roots firmly in classical music and I think that’s one of the challenges. You know we’ve been trying to diversify who we support to be more proactive and until recently it was very much reactive giving. It was waiting for applications to come through the letterbox. We have to be far more reactive and look for opportunities to support people in the industry and actually that’s been a huge thing for us because until April 2016 we did just support professional musicians but now it’s everyone in the industry whether you’re a sound technician, you know whether you’re a roadie, agent, ANR, we support the entire industry now and for us that’s an almighty change and that brings with it other challenges. So the other big thing that I would like to see change over the next five years is for us to be truly representative across the whole of the UK and perhaps beyond. We’ve certainly upped the stakes in having an office and having Help Musicians Northern Ireland in Belfast. We are working on Help Musicians Scotland which launches in February next year, February 2018 and then we’re working on Wales perhaps working in the Republic of Ireland again which we haven’t done for a long time and we’re even having talks with how we can partner with similar charities across the world in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, America so for us it’s a huge period of change and it’s for a charity that’s nearly a hundred years old that’s a big, big challenge.

Elliot Moss
Just before I go to the music and ask you what your song choice is one last question. In parallel to those next four and a bit years, towards that five year plan set in 2016 what will really matter to you personally. I get that those are your corporate objectives as it were but what do you think is your focus as the leader of this organisation?

Richard Robinson
Well I’ll break that down into two really quick points. Number one is I’d love to be able to go to Belfast and to Glasgow and to Cardiff and hear the same take on the charity and understand exactly what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and understand how impactful that is for the whole industry and personally what would I want, I guess I’d like to be challenged more. You know I want more challenge, I want to see the organisation take more risks because if you take mental health in the music industry for example it’s a huge, huge problem and if we can get this right, if Help Musicians can develop this mental health service over the next three or four months you know I can see that we will be doing what Edward Elgar wanted us to do in 1921 which is to raise money for everybody involved in music and that I think is a good way to celebrate one hundred years of a charity.

Elliot Moss
Richard it’s been a real pleasure talking to you and good luck with the ambitions both for you personally and I’m sure you will say more importantly for the organisation, Help Musicians UK.

Richard Robinson
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
I’m sure you will get there. Just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Richard Robinson
The charity has a fantastic ambassador in jazz which is Soweto Kinch and his song Centricity is one of those songs that’s full of energy and he was awarded a Peter Whittingham Award for jazz in 2003 and we’re hugely proud of him and so to say you know Soweto Kinch one of our own, such a star now is amazing so we couldn’t chose anyone else.

Elliot Moss
One of Jazz FM’s favourites as well here he is just for you Soweto Kinch with Centricity.

That was Centricity from Soweto Kinch the song choice of my Business Shaper today Richard Robinson. A man who understood the importance of taking risks, a man who understood how to fundraise by connecting what they were fundraising for with tangible change as he called it. He talked about his leadership style as being like in the newsroom and bossing it just that way and finally someone with his own personal challenge but able to put that into the bigger perspective of what he was trying to do for other people, what he’s been trying to fight for for other people. Really, really good stuff. Do join me again same time same place that’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime though coming up next at 10.00 o’clock, it’s the one and only Mr Nigel Williams.

Richard Robinson

From an early career in journalism, Richard has raised the profile of a number of worthy charities in the creative arts, education and healthcare, raising over £100m in the process.

He spent time in India developing the operations and communications strategy for an international NGO to treat, educate and give a voice to people living on the margins of society. He also built strategies for major campaigns prompting celebrity endorsement and global media interest. Back in the UK, Richard spearheaded the successful launch of a charity for ex-servicemen with mental health issues and designed the £5m campaign to transform the birthplace museum of Thomas Gainsborough Museum.

He joined the Olympic Park charity as Chief Executive just before the Games in 2012, and led the drive to ensure its legacy through innovative arts, music, education and regeneration programming. It remains one of the most successful start-up charities in the capital.

Richard has a keen interest in music. He was in a signed band in the early 1990s and played viola in various orchestras. He had also built up a strong reputation for working closely with musicians, artists and performers on business planning, financing and reputation management.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“We’re trying to be right in the thick of the music industry. It’s like trying to teach an old dog very new tricks.”

“I am not a numbers man. I am words and you need a different side of your brain to look at figures.”

“I like energy and yes you do need to alter your management style when you’re running what is in effect a large business, a charity these days is a large business, but I still like that newsroom attitude.”

“One of the challenges that we’re facing at Help Musicians is for people to understand how important music is to people’s lives. It’s not just about supporting people playing music, it’s about the whole eco system…”

“The idea of running something as significant as the Olympic Park Charity never occurred to me…”

“We’re not here for everything to be a success. I want people to feel as if they can take risks and learn from that situation and that’s sort of always been my raison d’etre.”

“I lip read…it is a real skill because if you’re in a glass office like I’ve got then you can see what everybody is saying, which I love. Not that I’m stalky.”

“Until April 2016 we did just support professional musicians but now it’s everyone in the industry whether you’re a sound technician, a roadie, agent, ANR, we support the entire industry now.”