New Royal Hospital CEO interviewed by Chelsea Pensioner

22nd February 2016

The Royal Hospital Chelsea is delighted to announce Gary Lashko as its new Chief Executive Officer. Mr Lashko was Community Services Director at CHS Group, a charitable housing association, in Cambridge since August 2011, and joined the Royal Hospital at the beginning of February 2016. 

However, before Mr Lashko could get down to his tasks, he had a few more questions to answer… from the Chelsea Pensioners themselves! Chelsea Pensioner Ray Pearson, Editor of the Royal Hospital’s in-house title Tricorne magazine, spoke to Gary about this new beginning:

Ray: What is your background and what did you do before joining the Royal Hospital Chelsea?

Gary: I studied English at Cambridge and on leaving university I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I did some nursing in what then was a called a ‘mental handicap’ hospital. I enjoyed it very much I moved down to London with my wife to be from Leicester and got a job in housing and I have been in housing ever since. All the Housing Associations I have worked for have been ones that have provided support to either older people or people who have other support needs.

What made you interested in the role here at the Royal Hospital Chelsea – was there any particular aspect that attracted you?

An agency contacted me to look into the role. I wasn’t initially interested to be honest, I thought it was too glamorous and couldn’t really see how my experiences connected with the Royal Hospital.  The agent asked me to look closely at the person specification and the skills. So I did and I thought – most of those things I have actually had experience of, or I have something to offer. I put an application in without a single hope that it would really get anywhere. So it was a real surprise when it did!

When I got to know the place a bit better and went on a tour with the Governor I fell in love with the Royal Hospital. It’s just a fantastic situation and the people and all the Chelsea Pensioners are so polite and welcoming. I thought this is a really lovely atmosphere to be in. I know every place has its grumbles but by and large I got a very positive and strong impression from all the people that I met, which to me is really important. Then as the Governor was talking when I was looking round I suddenly realised there was amazing potential here, so I got very excited at the thought of what could be done with the right kind of application.

What were your first impressions of the Royal Hospital?

My first impressions were the friendliness, the politeness of people here,  the beauty of the building and the site. I’m a great believer that the physical environment you’re in actually has a real effect on how you feel about life. I can see the care and attention that is being paid to that – the underlying structure is beautiful but so is how it’s being looked after and being maintained. It’s uplifting I think – that was really a strong impression I took back. People really care about the service here and that’s one of the things that shone through to me really.  Unexpectedly I suddenly felt really at home here, which I really didn’t anticipate, because to be honest, I was a bit overawed by it all.

As the first non-military person in this role what are your thoughts on taking (to us) this historic ground breaking appointment.

It’s humbling for one thing, I have such a strong respect for what the military does and I think I am very in tune with it. I don’t understand military life because I was never part of it and I don’t understand what people have gone through. I’m willing to learn as much as I can but we have got other people who understand the military aspect. I feel so grateful for what the military has done – that you have protected our freedoms, and people have potentially made the ultimate sacrifice. I don’t take that for granted and I feel really strongly about that.

 I see the Governor almost every day we talk on a regular basis. Everything I do I check with him, he’s aware of things we do and he will preserve the military ethos. It’s also important though that the military aspect doesn’t stand in the way of people, getting the right support and the right help they need.

In broad terms I see my role as providing the business capacity to support the military ethos and the aims of the organisation that was set 300 years ago and are still good today. So I’m supporting the Governor in trying to achieve that. There is no way I would want to come in and try and change The Royal Hospital’s uniqueness.

Do you think military ethos will be of assistance?

I think that there is a bit of a myth that soldiers will do what they’re told. In my experience so far soldiers will – like everyone else - try and work around the rules as much as work with them! That’s human nature, but underneath there is a sense of we are on a mission and we have something to achieve. The camaraderie is brilliant.  I think the camaraderie is maybe a lesson to the outside world of how people can support each other, work together and look after each other. I think it’s really impressive here.

In the short time that you have been here is there anything that has really impressed you?

Obviously the buildings impress me; you can’t fail to be impressed by them. The buildings are a large task because now we have done them up really nicely; I’ve got to make them last for another X hundred years. I’ve got to make sure we get the funds coming in that allow them to be maintained at this level.

It’s the people I have been really impressed with. The questioning by the Chelsea Pensioners about the way we run the place. I’m impressed with the cleverness and the interest of the Pensioners. I want to make sure we get the right feedback from people. This is where I feel like I have learnt the most in my career – from customers and it’s that experience that I think I can bring here.

Is there anything you think that pensioners could do to help you?

I think it’s to be honest and keep talking to me. I can understand the nervousness because I’m not from a military background. I might by mistake do things that are not in keeping because I don’t quite understand! I don’t like being called Sir to be honest – don’t call me Sir! (which could be the title of this piece!). It’s nice and  I appreciate the respect but I think we can respect each other without the formal titles. There should be respect for the office I think, because obviously the Governor trusts me to run the business and in a way it’s respect for him. He’s taken a huge step actually – so it’s got to work! 

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