Mark Harvey talks to Grania Langdon-Down about leading the merger between Age Concern and Help the Aged
The leadership story behind the merger between Age Concern and Help the Aged was about maintaining ‘balance and control’ amid a lot of ‘frustrations’, recalls Mark Harvey who oversaw the creation of Age UK.
Harvey is the current chair of the C&I Group, having co-chaired its Lawyers in Charities Group for eight years. He had been head of legal and company secretary at Help the Aged for three years when the merger was first mooted. He went on to become head of legal and company secretary of Age UK after the merger was completed in 2009, leaving last year to become a consultant in charity law and governance.
‘It was very political with the two charities wanting input into particular areas’
It was very political with the two charities wanting input into particular areas, he says. Initially, the two finance directors took the lead on due diligence. ‘What the charities didn’t do at first was bring in legal and property. Then they realised they needed us and brought in both heads of legal and our first task was to hold a beauty parade to get external lawyers involved.’
The two legal teams were very different in size - with seven at Age Concern and only Harvey plus a newly qualified solicitor and an admin part-timer at Help the Aged. However, Harvey took the lead on co-ordinating with the external lawyers. He led on governance, legal and due diligence and dealt with a ‘constant stream’ of people asking him questions during the seven month process.
‘I sought to get buy-in by being honest about what jobs were going to be available and keeping people positive’
Having applied and been appointed Age UK’s head of legal, his first task was to restructure the legal team from 15 to four. ‘Everyone had been TUPE-d across and I had to write a business plan about how the team was going to be staffed,’ he says. ‘I tried to be as inclusive as possible but it was hard because, for the first few months, we were operating from different sites and it was still very much ‘them and us’. I sought to get buy-in by being honest about what jobs were going to be available and keeping people positive.’
He was given some ‘rather old fashioned’ leadership training which helped him handle the changes and understand the highs and lows people go through. But leading a merger is ‘all consuming’, he says. ‘You have to be visible and you try to be all things to all people but you have to accept you can’t please everyone.’