March 2016 – Peter Cardy

Scraping the Bottom – and the Top

In March we welcomed Peter Cardy, a man born with salt water in his veins. Peter has been CEO of many organisations – including Macmillan and the Multiple Sclerosis Society – and was onetime Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (responsible for maritime law, search and rescue, safety and environmental protection). Always fascinated by the sea, he crewed Tall Ship races as a Sea Scout, worked as a ferryman on the Isle of Wight ferries (a childhood ambition), and told us of  the exhilaration and trepidation of skylarking to the top of the Sir Winston Churchill’s topmast. In “retirement” he organised these races.

winston churchill croppedPeter spent twenty years running charities concerned with awful diseases: motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer.  He became closely involved with providing sailing experiences for people with multiple sclerosis, including competing in the Fastnet one year. As he explained, you learn a lot about people on long night watches, and for many sailing was a life-changing experience which restored their self-belief, against the backdrop of  a disease which robs many individuals of so much – jobs, hopes, abilities, faculties. As a watchleader (“oh, thirty or forty times”) Peter certainly had many opportunities to get to know crew members, able and disabled, old and young, and hear their stories.

As CEO of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Peter discovered it to be a job of extraordinary breadth and seniority, with many official responsibilities at home and abroad.

Peter was informative and forthright in his views on the organisations he’s led, and challenged and parried our prejudices about the coastguard service and the recent changes to its organisation. The talk was rich in anecdotes of sea experiences, including the dynamiting of a whale carcass (reminiscent of the well-known “Italian Job” quote: “you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”!).

Having met the man we began to understand how he managed to head up complex and challenged organisations so effectively, through traumatic times. In his words: “since this is the only world of which we can be certain, we should work to leave it a better place than we found it”.