The Westway Trust is a 23-acre estate in trust for the benefit of the community. Venu Dhupa is the leader who has brought a different vision to running this dual enterprise. “Rather than thinking as a property company that deploys its resources for social goods, we are a social goods company that earns it’s income from property,” she explains. “This means we run a smart property company, but face in the direction of social goods. This is key to the organization’s psychology, the staff it will attract and the financial balance it should achieve.”
Venu’s business acumen was needed to instigate change and stop the organization from losing money at the same time, and Westway ended the year in a better financial position than predicted. The approach was to trade out their losses and lay solid foundations for change and then move towards implementing their imaginative mid to longer-term strategy. How did Westway achieve this? Via Venu’s unique leadership qualities, a sense of balance, including good judgment, intuition; resilience; reflectiveness; resourcefulness; the ability to manage risk but still a willingness to take it. Coupled with adaptability, flexibility, and problem-solving. “The belief that you can solve issues if you break them down and think creatively. Venu is a thinker and a doer, her action-oriented style is backed by sound policy thinking, investment supported by vision. I’m a perfectionist, but not a believer in a Platonic leadership model, we all respond to circumstance, I set high standards and want the best in my performance and for the organization,” elucidates Venu.
“However, I also have the humility to acknowledge the hard work that others did before I arrived. I have a Board, a Chair and staff that put in the hours, because they care deeply for their community. They dared to appoint a CEO that they believed would deliver differently, in line with our joint aspirations for the community.”
Becoming A Support System
Years ago, Venu decided to invest her time in leadership development programs for talented individuals. Then as a mentor and qualified executive coach, she has chosen to mentor women, particularly women of colour, at transition points in their careers and lives. “I have developed and led 3 national-level leadership programs and I am currently developing another in my NHS work, and I have mentored 12 women at critical career points,” says Venu. “I really enjoy it because it is rewarding and improves my own analytical and listening skills, my understanding of people, and my ability to empathise.” Throughout the programs, the steadfast leader meets many women of a younger age who are ill-informed of the battles fought in terms of equality for women in the workplace. They are under the misguided impression that women are working on a level playing field. “We are not. There is still vital work to be done in terms of pay and terms and conditions, and all of us can make a difference for those that will follow.”
For Venu, it’s important to model good leadership. She states that everyone needs to be on board with new behaviors and values; people don’t like one rule for the leadership and one rule for everyone else. “I have worked with the HR team to ensure everyone has a resourced personal development plan. It’s also very important for every staff member to know how they are contributing to the continuous improvement of the organisation as well as the overall transformation program.” Each team is encouraged to identify elements that they empowered to change and improve.
These act as an accelerant to the wider or larger change goals. Along with a well-being program, a work-life balance improves motivation. Staff can see how their efforts impact the organization’s overall performance. “I may be leading the change, but I communicate that it can’t happen without everyone sharing responsibility. In the end good leadership is about motivating your team, recruiting them into the overall effort, there are no shortcuts. If everyone is involved, they can see the route for their individual progress.”
Success & Bravery
Success for Venu is not something over the horizon or that she went in search of. She just decided to do her best in every job that she secured. It’s a bit like happiness, and if one searches for it, then maybe one will never find it. If a person stays in the present and takes happiness in the experiences around them and rewards from making the lives of others more fruitful, then happiness will find them, indeed! She strongly advises women to be curious, ask questions, inform themselves about their subject, and then dare to explore persistent problems in different and creative ways. “You don’t get new results by doing the same thing, you tend to end up in the same place. You must be brave.”
One of the company’s key achievements has been to be brave enough to reassess what it should become to be relevant to its community—having the honesty to admit to its problems and still retain a sense of ambition. The foresight to realize the need for an innovative CEO with the right breadth of experience and commitment to work through the issues and lay a strong foundation for change while communicating with integrity to diverse communities and audiences.
“There is no blueprint for the change we are making. We are challenging systems and operational practice to make a difference to people’s lives. I say we because it takes everyone in the organizations ecology to make this work and to show the resilience even when we have setbacks. “
The Westway Trust took the bull by the horns and admitted that it was an institutionally racist organisation that had failed to serve its community. Putting this right will take time and must be built on firm foundations. This, of course, applies to many organizations, particularly many large organizations that have been made on the back of exploiting others, whether that be through historic wealth amassed through slavery, wealth from the former colonies, or whether that be through perpetuating systemic disadvantage and excluding the majority from benefitting from capitalism. “We need to amplify the voices of those communities and recruit others to the cause of making life better for everyone,” says Venu. “We know that ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work in a rigged system, so need to do our bit to offer everyone in our community the opportunity to be their best self. This is a lifetime goal as well as one specific to the Westway Trust. I’m grateful that it is central to our mission and aligns totally with my values.”
Venu’s work in the Charity Sector has included with: The Adult Dyslexia Society, Stonewall, Nottingham Theatre’s Trust, Community Links and Guildford Conservatoire.