The Lens – UK Responsible Business Podcast


UNIPART: Helping charities thrive: learning on the job, criminal justice and the 'Unipart Way'

Season 2, Ep. 14

In the latest episode of The Lens, Unipart Chairman and Group Chief Executive, John Neill CBE and CEO of Spark Inside, Baillie Aaron join our host Oli Barrett MBE for a conversation. Our guests discuss judgement and policy when employing people who’ve been through the criminal justice system, the ways in which the charity and corporate realms intersect and how each can best support, influence and inform the other and, how to prepare for a burgeoning digital revolution.

Oli and John also explore the story of the Unipart U, corporate universities and learning from the factory floor. Listeners are granted a behind-the-scenes view of John’s journey in becoming one of Britain’s youngest Managing Directors, now a business icon with decades of experience. John and Oli also cover the importance of coaching, coding and how to learn at 10 and do at 11. 

Baillie, the Founder and CEO of Spark Inside, a not-for-profit organisation providing valuable coaching support in prisons to encourage rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, describes her passion for entrepreneurship, diplomacy and development. She, Oli and John also discuss the British criminal justice system, politics, good books, leadership and human-centric language.

Time Stamps

[00:00] Our host Oli Barrett MBE introduces our guests, John Neill and Baillie Aaron. [01:20] John Neill kicks off our conversation by talking Oli through his career beginnings. His relationship with General Motors, his ambition, working with British Leyland and beginning a Managing Director at 29. [4:36] John details British Leyland returning to the private sector and the survival of the company now known as Unipart, his role in the transition and putting lessons into practice. [6:17] John explains a little about Unipart’s role today, it’s production, consulting, logistics operations, partnership with the NHS and preparing for Brexit. [7:52] Oli asks John about the ‘Unipart U’ a corporate university, the first of its kind. [12:00] John describes the response to the Unipart U and how a rapidly changing digital landscape affects and continues to affect jobs across the world.

[15:12] Oli introduces Baillie and Spark Inside. Baillie explains her motivations for founding the organisation, how coaching in prisons works in practise and what constitutes effective coaching. [16:46] Baillie describes the origins of her journey, her study of economics, public policy and criminal justice and her passion for social advocacy. [17:58] Baillie talks about her time at Harvard Kennedy School and how this inspired her to begin working in prisons. [19:28] Oli asks Baillie about her view of the UK’s criminal justice system and the lack of systemic change, reoffending rates and why ‘prison doesn’t work’. [20:50] ‘What would you say to a large employer listening today on how they give an opportunity to someone who’s spent time behind bars?’ asks Oli. [22.25] Baillie describes her own policy at Spark Inside for dealing with biases against people who’ve been criminally convicted in the past. [23:15] John commends Baillie on her conviction and speaks a little on Business In The Community award winners such as Timpson, Nemi Teas and Recycling Lives, offering people rewarding opportunities.

[24:33] Baillie discussed the need for person-centred language, why labels can cause harm and how terms like ‘young offenders are unhelpful. [25:29] Oli asks Baillie what she views as a ‘helpful partnership’ between charity and corporate sector businesses and she describes her personal experiences, transferable skills and the current search for her replacement as CEO of Spark Inside. [28:12] Oli and Baillie discuss ‘growth CEOs’ and the evolution of a company. [29:08] Oli and John discuss how to thrive in a tough role and John provides advice and insight on his thought processes, what works and what doesn’t. He also describes his journey in learning to code. [32:23] Baillie puts her questions to John regarding corporate and charity partnerships.

[35:00] John, Oli and Baillie discuss the need for business leaders to do more. [35:44] Oli asks our guests which living person they’d most like to meet for coffee, their recommendations for The Lens reading list. [36:44] Oli asks John for his view on how well the UK’s currently being run and John gives a candid response. [40:45] Baillie shares the advice she’d give to her younger self and her plans for the future. John also shares his advice and two more book recommendations.

The Lens Reading List

John’s choice for The Lens reading list, a book he says changed his life is The Machine that Changed the World. A 1991 book based on MIT’s five-million, five-year study on the future of the automobile, written by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos. The book popularised the concept of ‘lean production’ worldwide.

Baillie’s recommendation for the list is Franz Kafka’s The Trial. This topical pick speaks volumes on the sometime senselessness of bureaucracy, she says. Our guests also suggest two more books to add to our ever-growing shelf: Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoffrey Colvin and Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed.


The Lens Podcast

Powered by Fujitsu, supported by McCann and in partnership with One Young World, The Lens represents the breadth, diversity and priorities of the responsible business agenda. From gender equality to zero hours contracts, learning on the factory floor to activist businesses, The Lens covers a range of topics from a host of varying perspectives. 

Each episode brings together a business and future leader to foster disruptive conversations and fresh connections. Innovators and CEOs join Oli Barrett in the studio for a unique conversation covering their journeys, lessons learned, advice, insight and of course, the inspirational person they’d most like to meet for coffee. 

Business in the Community is The Prince's Responsible Business Network. We convene a unique network of purposeful leaders to share insight, expertise and create innovative programmes that deliver impact. Together our ambition is to make the UK the world leader at responsible business. 

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