The Big Interview: Justice has always motivated me

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Insight: Pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie says being resilient is key to good leadership
Insight: Pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie says being resilient is key to good leadership

Related tags Fiona Dickie Pubs code adjudicator Pubs code Big Interview Government

A calling for justice is what led Fiona Dickie to the role of pubs code adjudicator but would you have known she regrets never having worked or lived abroad?

It’s something many people would have wished they had done but never had the opportunity – or perhaps were not spurred enough to do so.

Being someone who was not into taking risks when she was young was the first hint this would not be a dream realised but the opportunity is not lost yet.

If Dickie could start her career from scratch, she would have “probably had a spell working and living overseas”.

“It’s something I’ve never done and I’ve always wanted to but I was a lawyer and the kind of law I practised didn’t lend itself to foreign travel,” she says.

“A languages degree might have been a good idea for me and I would like to travel more in future.”

On regrets, she adds: “I suppose when I was young, I was very risk averse. I could have taken more chances of my career in the early stages when the consequences of failure would have been recoverable.

“I stuck my neck out more as I got older in the opportunities that I sought and that’s brought me some incredibly rewarding experiences that I couldn’t have foreseen.”

She adds it is for that reason that the entrepreneurial spirit of many of the tenants working in the pub trade inspire her so much because it reminds her what can be done with a positive attitude to manage risk.

Dispute resolution

Dickie qualified as a barrister in 1993 and after that worked for 10 years in community law centres, in landlord and tenant work.

She explains she wanted to work more flexibly so she could raise her family so built a portfolio of judicial appointments, including as a judge in the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber – Residential Chamber) and as vice president for the Valuation Tribunal for England.

She continues: “I’m where I am now because my eye landed on the job advert for deputy pubs code adjudicator back in 2017 and because I had the right experience in dispute resolution to be offered the role.

“I came from outside of the pub trade. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure learning about this incredible industry from the inside.

“I was appointed to the role of pubs code adjudicator when the first holder of the office, Paul Newby, stepped down four years ago.

“Ensuring justice is what’s motivated me at every stage in my career and the pubs code is all about bringing fairness to tied tenants in their business relationship with their pub company and that really strikes a chord with me.”

Being appointed as pubs code adjudicator has been the highlight of her career.

She says parliament introduced the code because it had seen much evidence of strife in the tied pub relationship, with tenants not getting enough of the profit for their pubs so the responsibility for ensuring compliance with these important code rights owed to tied tenants by the six biggest pub companies​ – Admiral, Marston’s, Star Pubs & Bars, Punch, Greene King and Stonegate – has been an “amazing opportunity and it’s one I’ve taken very seriously”.

The low point in her career she says was: “Working in the voluntary sector, it became hard because there was much demand, resources were limited and my career prospects looked unpromising.

“I resented the amount of time that I had to spend kicking the dodgy photocopier rather than directly helping tenants using all that knowledge that I’d studied so hard to acquire.

“That frustration was the springboard for me deciding instead to build a portfolio judicial career and I found it immensely rewarding sitting as a judge in property matters.”

She prefers to be face to face with people and remote team working causes the most pressure for her.

“I enjoy the energy that I get from interacting with people, communicating, working together,” Dickie explains.

“When I’ve gone out and about meeting tenants’ pub companies, others in the industry, I always feel like I’ve enjoyed my day.”

She says being at home in front of her laptop screen doesn’t make her feel the same way so she tries to get away from it when she can and describes the days she spends in person with her team as “precious and happy learning experiences”.

She adds: “I don’t find interaction by screen, rather than in person, the most effective way of working and I don’t find working from the physical environment of my home energising in the same way as getting out and interacting with people.

“It doesn’t offer you the same sort of spark of energy and that’s where we all are now but I think you have to mix it up. If I was too much in front of the laptop at home, I’d be wanting to get out there again and meet people.”

Star co-operation in investigation

Her biggest achievement in the role of PCA, has been leading the successful investigation of Star Pubs & Bars.

She reveals: “It was a thorough, careful and balanced investigation and it showed the PCA is willing and able, where necessary, to root out pubs code breaches using its power of investigation.

“I imposed a financial penalty on Star and made strong recommendations to about the changes it needed to make, aimed at improving processes, governance and overall compliance of the pubs code.

“Star fully co-operated and implemented those recommendations for the benefit of its tenants, and it’s rewarding to see the significant internal steps that Star has taken to achieve compliance with the pubs code as a result of the investigation and positive impact for its tenants.

“I’m proud to have shown the code works to protect tenants’ interests in the business relationship and that pub companies themselves can bring real change and reap the rewards from the potential for improved relationships.”

If a young person wanted to emulate Dickie’s success, she says to do something you enjoy and that energises you, and build your networks by seeking out mentors and supporters early in your career.

She adds fostering those relationships with people who can advise and guide you would be her advice.

Following on, exercise is key to Dickie when it comes to putting her personal life into her work life.

“I do now exercise a lot and that does help me with the pressures and does help me to show up as a leader,” she states.

“I exercise almost every day, be at the gym, swimming, cycling. I’ve got three 100-mile cycle rides coming up in the next few months that I’m training for.

“Exercise keeps me sane and it does help with work-life balance. I’ve also done an introduction to meditation course recently and I’m hoping to build that into a more regular practice.”

Of course, with such leadership comes the potential for loneliness but Dickie says any job can feel lonely if you haven’t got the right support, so it’s important to find that wherever you are.

Her what the top three qualities a good leader needs, she says: “I would say being able to make difficult decisions while explaining why you are making them is one.

“Finding and attracting the right people to build a great team is another and I would also say being resilient.

“When you work in a complex environment that is constantly changing, you need to be able to adapt while keeping a clear sense of direction.”

Collaboration is the key to leveraging results and getting buy-in from stakeholders is what Dickie sees as excellent leadership.

She adds: “Learning the best ways to do that – what works, what doesn’t work – is a key focus for me. That means being a good listener and a continuous learner – and that’s all part of my current journey.”

  • Fiona Dickie says the ‘big six’ pubcos must be proactive about breaches of the pub code. To read the article on this subject, click on the link here​.

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