Celebrating 300 years

Hearts & Minds

For Ray Reed, past Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes and Past Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire, the process of change that he helped to introduce within Freemasonry is only just beginning

What did your early career teach you?

I joined BP Chemicals straight from school and served a five-year apprenticeship as an instrument and electronics engineer before moving on to Reckitt & Colman when I was 23. The next 15 years were manic – two years after joining I was asked to set up and manage a new work-study department, followed by secondment as company negotiator with trade unions, then I became human resources director before becoming general manager.

Each move involved a new discipline and took me out of my comfort zone. I like the challenge of being thrown in at the deep end and rarely get stressed. If I had, I think I would have failed. These challenges opened my eyes to the fact most of what goes on in business management is common sense. Get a great team around you, identify what works, question what doesn’t, create a strategy and focus on improvement.

Equally, I learned that people at all levels love you to listen to and debate their ideas for improvement – it gives them confidence that they are part of the change process and makes them feel valued.

Why did you establish your own company?

By 1980 we were selling off the industrial division. Reckitt & Colman wanted me to stay but I was nearly 40 and wanted a new challenge, something completely different. Close friends thought I was mad.

My old sales director had left to do his own thing, working for an American company in psychological assessment. He asked me if I’d advise him on setting up a business, so I talked him into going to the US. Instead of working for the American company, we bought the franchise for the UK. About three years later, we found ourselves bigger than the US business, so we bought them out.

Family has been so important in the success of the business. My wife Doreen, who was a business partner, has been a vital cog from the outset and, after I retired in 2005, our son Martin has grown the business to become one of the top five assessment companies in the world. We are still a private entity and I continue to serve as a non-executive director.

What drove you to join Freemasonry?

I had been attending masonic social events from the age of 16 and always felt comfortable in the company of members. One day shortly after I married I asked my father-in-law, ‘What’s Freemasonry all about?’ I can recall his exact words: ‘I’ve been waiting for you to ask, I’ll get you a form. I can’t tell you what it’s about, you’ll have to trust me.’ In today’s fast-moving world such an approach would be laughed at, but that was the norm then.

Freemasonry was so popular in those days so I had to wait three years to be initiated, which just made me want it more. I joined Thesaurus Lodge [No. 3891] in North Yorkshire on 11 May 1967. It was the perfect lodge for me: great ceremonial, friendly and very encouraging with new candidates. I realised as a 27-year-old that while my business life was driving me into new areas and becoming ever more demanding, Freemasonry was developing me as a person, giving me a new-found confidence and a better understanding of my values in life.

Did you feel ready to become Provincial Grand Master?

No. Sadly, Lord Burnham died in office in 2005 and I received a letter asking me to take the role – not long after I had been appointed an APGM. There was no training, just a patent that told you to run the Province in accordance with the rules and regulations of the United Grand Lodge of England. And that was it, you were on your own. That suited me; it comes back to being thrown in at the deep end.

We identified member expectations through surveys, set a modernisation strategy that took account of these results, communicated them to members and then monitored the progress. Member collaboration was vital to the process – we set out to make masonic life more enjoyable, to improve our image in the local community and to market the Craft as a power for good within society.

It appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level’

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had as a PGM?

When I became Provincial Grand Master, the Past Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, Gordon Bourne, suggested I miss out the sweet course and coffee at the Festive Board in order to make time for talking to members. At first I thought, ‘This is a bit stupid’ – but within three months, members were coming up to me with really creative ideas to improve the Province’s image. It was a great success.

Gordon also suggested that at non-installation meeting dinners, I ask lodges to sit me with the five newest members of the lodge. That was magic; few realised the significance of the Provincial Grand Master role, so they talked openly and honestly. I heard their expectations, what they liked and did not like about their lodges and Freemasonry. The insights we collected helped convince Grand Lodge Officers to sit off the top table. It really broke so many historic barriers.

How important is the process of succession planning?

The second highest resignation levels in the Craft are those of Past Masters resigning shortly after completing their year in office. It therefore appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level.

While there is no right or wrong approach to succession planning, lodges may well benefit from discussing the future aspirations with their lodge Masters well before they end their year in office. This should be done to ensure commitment and motivation, and in order to take any necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of resignation. One thing is for sure: if a member has an ambition toward a specific discipline – be it administrative, ceremonial or charitable – he is more likely to succeed in that discipline than in a role he has been cajoled into and does not really aspire to.

When did you become a member of the Board of General Purposes?

After a couple of years as a Provincial Grand Master I found myself sat next to Anthony Wilson, President of the Board, at a dinner. We had an enlightening discussion about Freemasonry’s past, present and future. Little did I know I had been recommended to him as a Board member and the next day I was asked to join. It was a complete shock and I embarked on another steep learning curve, but I loved being on the Board. We were all like-minded, giving our time freely and seeking to positively influence both the present and future of the Craft for our members.

How does change occur in the world of Freemasonry?

Historically, change has happened very slowly as we are a bottom-up organisation. Even small change in the past caused the shutters to go up. Members were perhaps fearful that there was a desire to change our traditions, which has never been on the agenda.Over recent years, Freemasonry has created a strategy for 2015-2020. Webinar technology has been tested and rolled out in the Provinces for member training and coaching, which can take place online at home. Even after one year of the strategy being communicated in 2015, membership loss dropped dramatically; indeed, several Provinces increased their numbers. This is a sure indication that members are getting behind the change process. We just need to win the hearts and minds of those who are yet to come to the party.

Published in UGLE

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