In conversation with…Simon Scrivens

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Simon (Chief Marketing Officer for Health & Care at Sodexo) for a number of years. He’s one of those clients who really help bring out the best in you and the work. I was lucky enough to catch up with him recently as he was fresh back from a trip to the USA where he’s been busy creating some new tech to understand patients’ perception of care.

What was your first-ever job?

Picking lettuce in a greenhouse at weekends, swiftly followed by lambing on a farm next door. At the age of 13 or 14, I think.

You learn something about life when you spend time with your arm up a sheep’s backside.

My first ‘real’ job was as a graduate trainee for a large shipping company – no surprise really given my interest in the sea, and my service in the Royal Navy Reserve.

I read a book at around 15 or 16, A fortunate man by John Berger. It tells the story of a country doctor in the late 50-60s. It’s beautifully written – a portrait of a man in a small world who makes a big difference to the community he cares for. It’s also the story of a man struggling to get to grips with his own shortcomings as a man and a doctor. It really hit home and it’s what drove me to go to a lifelong interest in all things biological and medical, and how individuals (patients) participate.

After that, my local GP saw my interest and took me under his wing: I spent 2 years tramping around behind him. He helped me work in an asylum at the weekend (this was before ‘care in the community). There were some quite sick people – but however sick they were – there was always an element of humanity somewhere there. Always an element of the person behind the behaviour. Really stuck with me.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

It would have to be the author, Patrick O’Brian. He wrote beautiful novels about the naval aspects of the Napoleonic wars. He brings out the humanity when nations were ripping lumps out of each other.

The other would have to be Christiaan Barnard. Amazing! What made him think he could move a human heart from one person to another? He made his vision live – literally.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

There have definitely been more lowlights than highlights, but I have been incredibly lucky, and fortunate to have worked for people who inspired me.

But it’s an easy one. Over dinner in 2012, with someone I did not know especially well, we hatched an idea – create a business to outsource Pathology services from the NHS – but in a way which was focused on an effective partnership as much as delivering a service. It’s complicated, an area of healthcare I didn’t know a lot about, with highly specialised/ talented scientists & medics but had the potential to create real value for patients & doctors by changing practices & workflows.

I remember walking into the first laboratory we opened, thinking ‘Huh’ 2 years ago this was an idea on a napkin in a restaurant.

I’ve still got the napkin.

The idea behind it all was to deliver better data, faster – improving patient care, patient safety and perhaps reducing cost & complexity while we did it. Super-efficient laboratories where the decision wasn’t ‘what speciality does this test go to’ but ‘can we automate or can’t we?’. Faster, high-quality data to support decision-making at lower overall cost – everyone wins – especially the patient.

We had an amazing team, people investing their time, energy and political capital to make it happen. Today it’s a business still delivering to that original vision.

Nature or nurture?

Both. Each brings something different to a person. Who you are is so massively modified by everything around you, the environment you’re raised in, and the ecosystem you work and live in.

Best advice you ever heard or received?

Back story, at 35 I’d finally given up playing rugby, a year or two later than I should have. I started learning to ride a horse and inevitably kept falling off.

I was told “when you fall off, you get back on, and do it better next time”.

It’s become a bit of a mantra – whatever happens, you learn, you get back on you don’t give up and you keep going.

What talent do you yearn for?

I’d love to play the piano. I play a couple of other instruments and love music but have never found the time.

I still play the sax. I’d been looking for a particular sax for a long time. I eventually found one three years ago, it was 50 years old and sounds amazing. I can’t persuade myself to put it down – the pandemic helped me find some time to do it.

What is your favourite brand and why?

I’m a marketer so love brands.

The boring answer – Apple – great design, seamless integration. Look and feel combined with tech competency – really appeals to me.

I also like fashion. Very occasionally I get a suit from Huntsman in London. Ridiculously expensive – but the whole experience of having something designed, that is completely unique, impresses me.

The level of competence and skill that goes into making a suit is amazing. Having been brought up in public housing with very down-to-earth parents – I never even dreamed things like this existed. So, a little aspirational perhaps?

What book do you most recommend to others?

‘A Fortunate Man’ – not a long read, but elegantly written with a real human story.

What last impressed you at work?

There is a team of dietitians I have the privilege to work with in the US (what’s the collective noun for dietitians? (an argument ? a collaboration ? – something like that). They’d figured out how to completely reinvent our proposition to our US hospital clients.

These are talented clinicians who are able to balance the needs of their patients with the needs of the business – I was genuinely surprised and delighted with what they came up with. Which obviously I can’t talk about!

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

The hardest lesson is that (something for all young men) one’s body is not indestructible. I did some pretty dumb stuff, mostly sport related which resulted in injuries. I’ve also been somewhat unfortunate medically and I’ve had to pick myself up, reset, and carry on – 3 times.  Each has been difficult for me – but a lot more difficult for my long-suffering partner. So, look after your body – you only have one.

The ‘failure’ I learned from the most was 2 decades ago. I’d persuaded myself (and the board I reported to) that the manufacturing business I was running would keep growing fast, and that another factory was needed. It was, just not as quickly as I expected. That painful experience taught me never to over-promise. Always under-promise & over-deliver: be optimistic, but balance the optimism with a spoonful of caution.

What do you want to do when you retire?


Life’s too short to put your feet up for too long – there’s so much out there to see, to do, to experience, to learn. So, when I stop working for large businesses, I’m pretty sure I’ll set something up, or help organisations improve what they do, or something….no idea

To quote WB Yeats – I’m not old & grey & full of sleep & nodding by the fire – just yet…….or any time soon…..

What would you say you need to do to think you’ve arrived?

For me, it’s about the journey. I’m less interested in arriving, I’m interested in how we get there, where we are going next……. Corny, but life is an adventure…….

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