Case study: Rural Payments Agency

The catalogue of woe that Mark Grimshaw faced when he agreed to take over as CEO of the Rural Payments Agency in early 2011 would have caused many a leader to turn round and head for home. In 2005, failures in a new computer system had caused delays in subsidy payments to farmers, the agency’s core function, costing millions in compensation and causing untold hardship for clients; MPs called it a “fiasco”. In the years that followed, the backlog of problems grew and the accounts were placed under scrutiny by regulators.

Grimshaw must have been prepared for the worst, but his first day still came as a surprise. When he arrived at the Reading head office, he was greeted by dead plants and tatty furniture. “And then this chap came down in shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt with an inappropriate logo on it,” he says. “I thought, this sums up the agency in a microcosm. It is scruffy, not focused, not adhering to the rules, doesn’t have a structure and it gets by on a day-to-day basis.”

Read more in the September issue of People Management magazine.