Insider Insight: Dr Liz Goodwin OBE

Liz Goodwin was appointed CEO of WRAP in 2007 and worked for the organisation since its early days

Liz GoodwinWhat has surprised you the most during your nine years at the helm?

I was always confident we would make a significant impact in the UK, but the rate of our international reach has been a positive surprise.

I’m really proud of all that we have achieved at WRAP, but it still takes me by surprise when at international events people come up and talk positively about the impact of our work. I remember when Ibrahim Thaw (deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme) was talking at the 3GF event in Copenhagen, which I was attending. He turned to the audience and asked if anyone was present from WRAP, because we should be very proud of what we do.

What has helped you get where you are in your career?

I think I’m a fairly determined and resilient person and I have a strong inner core which I rely on. I also know I have the support of my family – Bruce, my husband, has been particularly important. And it goes without saying that I have a fantastic team at WRAP to draw on.

Why did you decide to step down and were to next?

I’ve been at the helm for 9 years and the organisation is in great shape. I love WRAP and I will miss our dedicated staff dearly. Yet it seemed a good time for me to stand down. I still care passionately about the issues I have worked on. I plan to continue to work on the things I care about but in a different way. So watch this space!

Who have been your role models/mentors in your career?

Vic Cocker, who was my first chair when I became CEO, has been a very strong influence. Vic helped me grow into the role of CEO and I will be eternally grateful to him.

What qualifications have been necessary/most beneficial in your career?

Bizarrely, I think my PhD (in quantum mechanics/physical chemistry) has helped me. I learnt how to analyse things and to see the wood for the trees. Whilst I don’t use the content of my PhD at all, I still use that ability to think and analyse information on a daily basis. I believe this is a crucial skill for any CEO because there are always lots of decisions to make, and it’s very easy to make decision based on emotion. I like to think that my background allows me to think logically too.

What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way? And how did you adapt to these challenges?

As you would expect, there have been a few to contend with. WRAP has undergone a huge transition in terms of the areas we work on, the partners we work with, and the locations we work in . And this has been in the backdrop of cuts to our budget, changing priorities from funders, resistance to change by parts of the industry, and the unexpected, such as volatilities brought about by the fall in oil prices.

I always try to look at a challenge from all angles and then seek to steer a course through or around them if necessary. I am only human, so won’t always get everything exactly right, but I am very persistent!

What stages of your career have been the most rewarding?

When my nephew was born I decided to leave a good, safe, enjoyable job at ICI to do something that would help create a better world for him to live in. It was this that led me to WRAP, and ultimately to become its CEO. These last 9 years have been the most rewarding, because I can look back and say ‘we made a difference’.

I am particularly proud of our work to reduce food waste in the home. Before WRAP, nobody knew the scale of the problem; where it was, and how it could be fixed. We’ve made great steps to put that right but we still have much more to do.

How do you get the most out of your team/colleagues?  

You only get the best out of people by recognising individuals’ strengths and skills and letting people have the headroom to use their abilities. I often see my role as one of ensuring we’re pulling in the same direction – then we maximise the effectiveness because all our energies are combined.

What other advice do you have for people about to embark on their careers in the circular economy?

Have belief in yourself and what you’re doing – don’t pay too much attention to people who say it can’t be done. We have proved time and again that barriers can be overcome and progress can be made. I would certainly recommend it as it’s a fascinating area with lots of potential for developments and change. And we have to find a way of making better use of resources for the sake of future generations. I’m not convinced the language we use is right (including the term circular economy) but that’s another challenge.

What does the future have in store for WRAP?

I could not have stepped down from WRAP if I was at all uncertain of our future. I am confident we are in a strong place. Yes, we can’t rely on the scale of funding from the government of yesteryear, but that’s understandable. Our strategic move to become a charity allows us the opportunity to increase the base of partners we work with, and we are actively seeking new ways of funding. We are one year into an important five-year business plan and I believe the work we do is valuable, but more importantly so do our funders and partners. I leave positive about WRAP’s future.

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