Business · interviews · Sunday Times

How I Made It: Fiona Lowry, founder of the Good Care Group

THE prospect of one day moving her father to a care home filled Fiona Lowry with dread. “My father has lived in two houses for all his life, almost 80 years,” said Lowry. “I had watched my grandmother go into a care home with dementia in 1998, and she went downhill very quickly.”

Lowry decided to turn her back on a successful business career at the BBC and in the private sector to concentrate on the elderly and offer an alternative to residential care.

“I felt people should have the opportunity to stay at home for as long as they want,” she said. “They deserve a trusted service with carers who can support them in a professional way.”

With this in mind, Lowry founded the Good Care Group in 2009.

The company, which has its head office in Waterloo, central London, provides professional care for elderly and vulnerable people in their own homes, with 400 live-in carers on its books. It had sales of £3.9m in 2012 and expects to report revenues of £5.6m when it files its 2013 accounts in September.

“Care homes, however good they are, are still an institution,” she said. “Most people want to stay in their own homes. They want their independence and dignity.”

Lowry is chief executive on a board of four directors and 12 managers. All employees are given the opportunity to become shareholders.

“Almost every single member of staff has put money into the business,” said Lowry, who is the largest shareholder with 20%. “We don’t have any bank debt or financial pressures, which means that we can concentrate on long term growth.”

She recruits only 5% of all the people who apply to be carers. “We always ask ourselves, ‘Would I want this person to look after my parents?’,” she said.

Lowry grew up in northwest London where she attended South Hampstead High School. Her mother was a banker but gave up her job to look after Lowry and her younger sister, Katie, who now runs her own educational consultancy. Their father took over the family business, Grosvenor Works, a car mechanics firm that his mother had run in the 1940s after her husband died.

Lowry, 48, has been inspired by the women in her family. Her maternal grandmother was a milliner. “It was very unusual for women to work in those days,” she said. “I love running businesses, it’s in the blood.”

Lowry enrolled at Bristol University in 1983 where she read electronic engineering. She became a graduate trainee at the BBC in 1986 and within 12 years was leading the delivery of programmes to its 150m viewers.

“It was a fantastic time to be working there. With the Berlin Wall coming down, and South African apartheid taken apart, it was like a mini United Nations,” said Lowry. “I learnt from the most interesting and passionate journalists.”

When the government privatised transmission of the BBC World Service in 1997, Lowry led a £21m management and employee buyout, and founded Merlin Communications. Four years later, having streamlined the company, she oversaw its sale to Vosper Thornycroft for £95m.

“It was all about creating the right team, having the right focus and delivering high quality services through people,” she said.

Lowry then took time out to have a family, which led her to found Oracle Care in 2005, to provide residential and educational support for young people aged 10 to 18. “My kids are very lucky and privileged to have been born into a loving family, but others aren’t,” she said. “It’s totally heart-breaking listening to some of the stories, and as a parent you realise that kids aren’t born with an innate sense of right and wrong.

“Oracle was about how we could make a positive difference to the course of their lives by giving them structure, education and a warm, safe, loving environment.”

Lowry expanded the business to Staffordshire and Bedfordshire, before selling it to the management team in 2012 to focus on her next project.

“I founded and became chief executive of the Good Care Group,” she said. “Elderly care could be improved upon, with most companies providing care in the home here or there, or through an agency, which I didn’t want.

“I thought we should be employing carers, treating them properly, training them properly and giving them a share of the growth.”

She has been disturbed by revelations of mistreatment in British care homes since the BBC’s Panorama programme carried out undercover investigations in 2011 and 2014.

“It’s harrowing when you see the abuse,” said Lowry, who is also a magistrate. “Everyone at the Good Care Group feels the emotion and it’s absolutely fundamental to all of us that families trust us because we manage better, train better, and have better carers.”

Lowry lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, Jonathan Lupson, 49, an academic at Cranfield University. They recently celebrated 25 years of marriage and have two sons, James, 13, and Sam, 11.

Her advice to entrepreneurs is: “Be clear on your goals and don’t feel threatened recruiting really good people. We’re all different and putting people together is absolutely key to creating an environment where they will flourish and develop.”

Link to article in the Sunday Times

PDF – Fiona Lowry of the Good Care Group

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