It was great to spend time on Saturday evening with Tom Webb from the Masters of Co-operative Management at St Mary's University in Canada. Tom has been one of my great inspirations for over a decade now. His work on Marketing Our Co-operative Advantage (MOCA) led to the creation of much of the work at Oxford, Swindon & Gloucester Co-op. Tom went on to create the Masters programme at St Mary's and its sister programme the Center for Excellence in Accounting and Reporting for Co-operatives. In all this work, Tom has been relentless in asking the question "I know how this works in mainstream enterprises, but how does it work at a co-op?". He has applied this to every area, from marketing to accounting.
To me, our conversation had the feel of light at the end of the tunnel. We have both spent our lives trying to convince managers that acting as a co-operative is the only rational approach to running a co-operative. This is approach has often been dismissed by managers who sought to slavishly follow big business ethics. Our way was seen as somehow wooly and less rigourous. Tom saw the credibility of a co-operative approach as being vindicated with co-operative economics now being given three nobel prizes in recent years. I saw the supposed irrationality of our approach being vindicated through our rapidly growing understanding of behavioural economics, in which so many of the levers of change were strengthened through co-operative action.
So we spent a pleasant evening, together with the Program's Director, Larry Haiven, exploring the bridge that was being built between the two. Ten years on and still inspiring me.