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The Serco Oxford Management Programme

Oxford Saïd’s programme with Serco is helping to transform the public service provider to be the best managed business in its sector. To date, over 200 middle and senior managers have been through the Serco Oxford Management Programme, supporting greater operational excellence, innovation, leadership, and deeper relationships with clients. The programme has contributed to significant business improvements, supporting both major revenue increases and cost reductions.

Serco is a leading provider of public services, working across Defence, Justice & Immigration, Transport, Health and Citizen Services. It employs over 50,000 people, operating across four geographies; UK & Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East; and across five sectors; Defence, Justice & Immigration, Transport, Health and Citizen Services. Its clients include the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment, Dubai Metro, Fiona Stanley Hospital (Western Australia) and HMP Thameside.

A new CEO, Rupert Soames OBE joined in 2014, following a period of financial and reputational challenges. Serco embarked upon a process of major restructuring and transformation, with the aim to become the best-managed company in the sector. It chose Saïd Business School to support this, and the development of its senior and middle managers.

The Oxford programme is tailored to each of Serco’s four strategic pillars – winning good business, executing brilliantly, making Serco an organisation people are proud to work for, and being profitable and sustainable.

Spread over 12 months, the programme which draws on the school’s expertise in major project leadership, is made up of three elements. In the preparatory phase, participants are given pre-reading and take part in various psychometric tests, including 360-degree feedback. The second element is a four-day residential programme at Oxford where there are sessions on continuous improvement, contract development, managing client relationships, change management, strategy, and leadership. All sessions are tailored to Serco bringing in lessons learned, case studies, and data from the organisation. The residential programme is co-delivered with senior executives from Serco, who are present throughout the week.

Following this, participants carry out projects (labelled experiments to encourage ambition and set the expectation that some might succeed, but some will fail) on various issues for Serco, producing written reports on actions that can be taken into the business. All participants are given 1:1 coaching support to help them with their projects.

Of the 193 experiments started by the first 120 participants, 75% were successfully implemented in the business, with half of the projects focussed on improving leadership and client relations. Feedback from the participants has been extremely positive on the changes the projects have made, with better collaboration, improved client relationships, increased performance management and measurement, and costs saving being the most cited.

Whilst cost or revenue increases are not a set objective for any of the projects, several participants illustrated their success in numbers. Examples include a 100-day turnaround plan for a failing contract, achieving £1.2m in savings and securing contract modifications in excess of £30m.

‘We are getting increasing numbers of people who understand our context, who have learnt skills around continuous improvement and understand why that is important – I think that has got easier since we started the Oxford programme.’

Rupert Soames OBE

Rupert Soames OBE, CEO, Serco; and sponsor of the programme

The aim is for 600 managers to go through the programme and to date over a third have completed it. On every cohort, there is a mix of participants from Europe, North America, Middle East and Asia Pacific, and from different business units within Serco. The intention is to build a network within the organisation where people know where to get help from colleagues who have faced similar challenges.

Alexander Budzier, Fellow in Management Practice, Oxford Saïd Business School; and Director of the Programme, concludes that ‘Serco has had a tough time businesswise. Rather than retrenching and turning inwards, the programme offers it the opportunity to look outwards and identify a vision and how that can be made a reality. We provide a platform to think about leadership and cultural change, creating new perspectives and ideas. It’s a very powerful tool for transformation as evidenced by the impact we achieved in our collaboration with Serco.’ 

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