Met Office Chairman, Robert Napier

Ready steady

18 July 2012

In September 2012, Met Office Chairman Robert Napier CBE steps down after six years in the role. Here he shares his thoughts on how the organisation has evolved in that time, and the reasons for its success.

Ask any experienced senior manager to identify the most important pre-condition for an organisation's success and you will probably hear the answer 'good leadership'. This was certainly Robert Napier's first priority when he took the role of Met Office Chairman, following eight years as Chief Executive at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and a distinguished commercial career.

"My first job was to oversee the appointment of a new Chief Executive, bringing John Hirst on board. John and his team have been so successful in developing a clear vision of how the Met Office can help right across society and industry."

While Robert recognises many things have changed at the Met Office during his tenure, he also points to the 'constants' that make the organisation so unique.

"One thing that simply doesn't change," says Robert, "is the commitment and loyalty of our extraordinary staff - who are brilliant and inspiring people. This is as true now as it was six years ago, alongside the fact that science remains at the core of what we do."

In-tune with online

But while some things stay constant, others constantly evolve. Robert cites IT as one of the most powerful external influences, radically changing Met Office operations and service.

"We're not just developing our science through powerful resources such as supercomputers," he explains, "we're embracing exciting new tools for interacting with our customers."

"One thing that simply doesn't change," says Robert, "is the commitment and loyalty of our extraordinary staff - who are brilliant and inspiring people. This is as true now as it was six years ago, alongside the fact that science remains at the core of what we do."

The Met Office's hugely popular weather app is one example of this. With nearly one million downloads by February 2012, it has proved to be one of the most successful apps in the UK. The organisation's Twitter account has also grown rapidly - showing 64,000 followers by April this year, one of the largest followings of any public sector organisation and contributing to a 'Best Use of Social Media' award in 2011.

But perhaps most surprising of all is the performance of the Weather Observation Website (WOW) - which has harvested 20 million observations from 1,700 sites in 145 countries since launch in spring 2011.

Come rain or shine

Robert has guided the Met Office in the face of an increasingly tough financial climate, the arrival of a new Government in 2010 and new ownership under the Department of Business Innovation and Skills from July 2011.

"Being in BIS allows us to better focus on how we can contribute to growth, expanding our support to commercial activities, and making more and better data available; which, in turn, helps others to expand their businesses," says Robert. "BIS is encouraging us all the time in this area, as we set ourselves targets to grow our business contribution."

The Met Office has also adopted a brand new mind- set focused on delivering ever-more innovative products and services. Under the leadership of Chief Executive John Hirst, the Met Office now pays much more attention to its outputs - understanding what customers want, rather than delivering what it thinks they may need.

"John has done a great job in moving customer focus forward," says Robert. "We now have a real hunger to keep our customers satisfied. It's a hunger that wasn't there six years ago when I first joined."

Today, Robert sees the Met Office as a much sharper organisation. One that truly knows that science is at the heart of what it does and how to put that science to good use. He also recognises that the Met Office is better at understanding the potential of partnerships - working with UK universities, and organisations such as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Hazard Partnership and Environment Science to Service Partnership.

But of particular satisfaction to the outgoing Chairman is the shift in the public's perception of the Met Office as a respected global leader in climate change.

"Although politically, climate change is not currently at the forefront for many governments around the world," says Robert, "its realities are now well-proven and accepted. This has changed over the last six years thanks to the pioneering work of our experts at the Met Office Hadley Centre."

Climate of success

So what other Met Office achievements stand out for Robert since 2006?

"Winning both the Olympic and BBC forecasting work are of course very important milestones. But it's the way we've risen to the challenge of extreme events such as the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010, severe snow in Scotland and the Cumbria floods, that prove to the world that we're not just world leaders in the science of forecasting, but in the way we communicate it too."

Robert needs no prompting about the qualities needed for his successor, whose appointment is well underway and will be confirmed in early summer.

"You need someone who's been around, who knows how the world works. As the Met Office guides the nation at times of crisis, its Chair has to remain steady and focussed on the big picture." All invaluable strengths, for which Robert has shown an incredible knack in using over the years.

We thank Robert for his huge contribution and wish him all the very best for the future.

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