The new man at the top of Sunderland housing giant Gentoo has unveiled his vision for the future.
Nigel Wilson took up his post as chief executive at the start of January.
Talking exclusively to the Echo, the dad-of-three revealed why he had chosen to take the post despite the housing group’s recent troubles.
“I’ve been involved in the housing business since 1985. I began in the housing co-ops in Birmingham when I moved from my home which was in a rural village in Lancashire.
“After a couple of years of being a volunteer, I decided housing was more interesting than the career i had started in the civil service.”
Nigel gradually worked through a variety of roles in local authorities and housing associations and 12 years ago applied for the job as chief exec at Parkway Green housing association.
I spoke to colleagues who I know in the North East to get a sense from them, as well as national organisations, so I did a lot of checking and taking the temperature with people.Nigel Wilson
He brought that together with a neighbouring company to create Wythenswawe Community Housing Group which looked after 14,000 homes, about half as many as Gentoo.
Nigel, wife Dawn and daugher Amy, 17, have moved to the North East. Sons George, 26, and 19-year-old Jack live in Amsterdam and Harroigate respectively.
“It was a bit of a relocation for the family but a really interesting and new challenge for me professionally in terms of bringing my experience to what is a really strong business and interesting one in a completely new part of the country,” said Nigel.
The priority for last month and this one has been meeting every employee: “I’m doing two sessions a day, four days a week meeting every colleague,” he said.
“I wanted to make sure that everybody working at Gentoo got a chance to sit down and have a face to face with me.
“I’ve been to the civic centre to meet Patrick, the chief exec, and the leader of the council and cabinet member for housing,
“The next aim is to get out on the estates
In October 2017, Gentoo was slammed for the way it had handled executive pay-off deals.
The company was downgraded by the Homes and Communities Agency after a report said it did not ‘meet our governance requirements’ and there were ‘issues of serious regulatory concern.’
Last year the firm launched legal proceedings to recover a severance payment which had been made without board approval.
Nigel looked long and hard at the firm’s history before committing to the role.
“I had done my due diligence,” he said.
“I knew of Gentoo, I obviously knew some of the challenges it had faced in its recent past, I had met the chair Keith Loraine a few times over the course of our careers in housing.
“I had got a huge amount of time and respect for him, he’s somebody who’s held in high regard in the sector.
“I spoke to colleagues who I know in the North East to get a sense from them, as well as national organisations, so I did a lot of checking and taking the temperature with people because, obviously, it’s a massive decision, especially when you’re relocating the family.
“Everything I heard was massively positive - great business, held in high regard by colleagues in the business, gone through some challenges, was putting its house in order, was a key stakeholder and anchor institution in Sunderland, and a lot going on now in terms of the new leadership in the city - new ownership of the football club, new chief exec, new leader of the council, all of whom are working towards a new dynamic for the city of Sunderland
“I just thought it could be a really interesting opportunity to use my experience and knowledge.
“One of the things I am keen to do is raise the profile of Sunderland but also the North East with colleagues.
“Opportunities in Sunderland are obviously the regeneration of the city centre, a lot based around the Vaux site but also the development of new homes in the city centre to provide that economic engine that can provide that night time and cultural economy.
“These are long-term project but I like the ambition I’m hearing. I’m keen Gentoo has a voice at the table and is heard as a representative of the communities it serves by making sure it’s not just about the city centre. It’s about the whole of Sunderland.
“It’s taken a long time but now I think there are some real shoots of recovery.
“The vision for Gentoo is we’re absolutely committed to doing everything we can to provide the best services for the people of Sunderland.
“We’ve lost something approaching 10,000 homes since transfer in 2001 through right to buy, right to acquire and demolition, so we need to get on with building new homes for people who need affordable rented accommodation in Sunderland.
“We also, in terms of the city, will play our part in that whole drive for change and engagement.
“One of the other areas I’m particularly keen we do work on is working with young people because I think at the end of the day, any city is only as good as the opportunities young people have got for education, for attainment, for jobs and for somewhere to live that they can afford to live, that offers them opportunities.”