Meet our CEO
An interview with Jon Perry (SMART’s CEO) by Richard (a SMART service user)
I’m slightly apprehensive as I wait for Jon (Mr Perry?). I’m fairly new to this interviewing game, and this is something of a landmark: an interview with [the Chief Executive]of the organisation. So I am, it’s fair to say, a little nervous. This soon changes. Jon arrives and instantly puts me at ease, apologising for his late arrival (by about two minutes) attributing it to SatNav issues (operator error, I wonder?). I notice Jon is sitting in his chair in a way that looks far from comfortable. Noticing my glance, Jon smiles and explains that he is suffering from a football related injury, which had happened the previous evening.
Having got the niceties out of the way, I kick off the interview proper, by asking his history prior to SMART, Jon furnished me with the details;
“I went to University, er, a long time ago” he smiles, “and came across someone who was interested in addiction, Professor Richard Velleman. I also had an interest in addiction, and he channelled that… I worked [with him] in mental health research, but he also ran [the equivalent of SCAS in Bath]. That was when I had my introduction to a professional approach to addiction.” Jon goes on to say his interest at the time was mainly in alcohol treatment, alcohol and heroin being the only two substances for which there was much treatment at that time.
From there, Jon trained as a volunteer counsellor for people with alcohol-related addiction before managing the service he was volunteering at something which, he says, came as a surprise.
“I started as a volunteer, and left as Chief Executive. As a volunteer, I worked in the needle exchange, and as Chief Executive, I worked in the needle exchange, doing a session there every week. That was the most interesting part of the work, and that really got me hooked into the business… because there were really interesting people, being very honest”.
Jon went on to run a Prolific Offenders Scheme, Drug Intervention Program and DRR (Drug Rehabilitation Requirement).
“I felt like I had set things up, I had taken things as far as I could.”
Jon felt he wanted to get back into drug treatment and when the job with SMART came up he went for it [and started as Director of Operations in December 2010, becoming CEO in August 2012].
Moving onto more current matters, I ask Jon his views on the organisation and its future.
“What I like are the opportunities in the organisation to use initiative, and be creative… the people here are absolutely fantastic … [they] are here because they really want to help and make a difference… I get up in the morning and I think I’m really lucky to have this job.”
Jon relishes the opportunity to get service users more involved, is setting up focus groups as well as meetings with groups of service users to discuss ways of getting them more involved.
“I interviewed for a project worker at SMART Howard House [SMART’s residential detox unit] last week, and had two service users on the panel, and it was fantastic… Service users should be involved fundamentally in every area of the service.. I see this as an opportunity to make a real difference in this area… If I can’t justify what I’m doing to a service user, then I shouldn’t be doing it”.
Jon clearly feels very passionately about the industry he works in and is keen to discuss the impact of the new Government’s drug treatment strategy.
“Drug treatment isn’t like mental health… its political. In drug treatment, because it’s such a political issue, it changes with the wind. Every time there is a change, not necessarily of government, but a head of department, or a minister, everything changes, and the changes are often challenging… Before 2002, we thought about individuals and outcomes. Then we focussed on treatment modalities. So you go into this modality, then that modality, then rehab, then structured day programmes… there has now been a change in the commissioning landscape that will allow us to focus on a holistic approach… I think the treatment modalities and the emphasis on targets has got in the way of treatment…What I intend to do is make us the best, most efficient organisation we can be; delivering real quality services and thinking about what the outcome is [for service users]… Do you want to be drug free? Do you want to be in education, training, employment?”
Jon explains how strongly he feels service user involvement will be a key part of SMART going forward, having them involved in service design, strategy and delivery.
“I hope people will feel a ripple of change going through the organisation following my arrival” Jon smiles.
I have to say the interview with Jon was not what I expected, he’s a very engaging character and any apprehensions I had about meeting someone so high up in the organisation were quickly swept aside. I was really impressed with his passion for the organisation and the industry he works in. He clearly enjoys his work and genuinely cares about what he does and the people involved with the service at all levels; employees and service users alike.