The Bristol Distinguished Address Series: Paul Boissier, Chief Executive, Royal National Lifeboat Institution

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Date: 18 March 2015
Venue: UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre, Frenchay Campus
Time: Reception: 18:00 - Lecture: 18:30 - Networking and Supper: 19:30

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Keeping the Lifeboats Afloat

The RNLI reached its 190th birthday last year. During those years the charity has saved over 140,000 lives in the waters around the British Isles which are some of the most dangerous and unpredictable stretches of coastline in the world. Today we save 400 lives each year and rescue, help and assist about 30,000 more.

This is an indispensable public service provided by a much-loved charity. The vital, life-saving work of the RNLI is performed by 40,000 people across the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland – people who raise funds, provide all the support and infrastructure that the service needs, create the public profile, man the lifeboats and the lifeguard units, man a raid response flood rescue service and increasingly deliver an overseas water safety and prevention service in areas of the world where drowning is an everyday threat to community life.

The RNLI works with a strange business model. Of the £190m annual turnover, only £3m comes from public funding – a small stipend paid by local authorities for the beach lifeguarding service that we provide. The remainder comes from the generosity of the public. And of the 35,000 people who give up their time, their emotion, their sleep and sometimes their safety for the benefit of complete strangers who may find themselves at risk on the water, only 1,300 (about 3.5%) are paid – the remainder are volunteers.

Paul Boissier became Chief Executive of the RNLI 5 years ago, after a lifetime's service in the Royal Navy. Recognising that the RNLI needed to modernise if it was to survive for the next 190 years, he instigated a Continuous Improvement programme based on Lean thinking across the entire business. This has had an extraordinary on the financial health, the culture, the thinking and the creativity of the Institution.

In this evening's talk, he will outline the work that the organisation performs day after day around the coast of the British Isles. He will then take you on a private journey – his journey – of the last 5 years as Chief Executive of this organisation. The shocking realisation that the RNLI was not flawless; building a plan, a team and a robust methodology for change as the country passed through the most serious economic downturn in living memory. The triumphs and disasters. Where we are today, and our new, ambitious strategy – which brings a different set of challenges in its wake as we restructure the organisation to meet some incredibly demanding long-term goals.

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  • 18:00 - Registration and refreshments
  • 18:30 - Lecture
  • 19:30 - Networking and supper


Paul Boissier has spent much of his working life either at sea, or closely involved with seafarers. After graduating in mechanical Engineering from Cambridge University, he joined the Royal Navy where he specialised in navigation and served in a variety of submarines during the Cold War. This led to two submarine commands – HMS Onyx and HMS Trafalgar – before he moved into the surface fleet as the Captain of HMS Chatham.

After this, he came ashore as the Commander of Portsmouth naval base before moving to Bristol as the Chief of Fleet Support, responsible for all Royal Navy maintenance and logistics. His naval career ended with 2 years as the Chief Operating Officer of the Royal Navy, based in Portsmouth.

During his naval career, he spent a year at London Business School where he graduated with a Masters degree in business Management, and he also, at an earlier stage, spent a year working for Guinness where he trained as a brewer.

Paul has written three books on the sea; he spent three years as the Commodore of the Royal Navy sailing association, and is a Younger Brother of Trinity House.

He joined the RNLI as Chief Executive in 2009 and has enjoyed every moment of the job from that point onwards.

About the Bristol Distinguished Address Series

The Bristol Distinguished Address Series provides a unique opportunity to hear about the challenges, issues and decisions being made at the highest level of strategic leadership. The series is delivered by the Bristol Business School in partnership with ACCA, Bristol City Council, Bristol Junior Chamber, Bristol Post, Business West, CBI, CMI, FSB, IoD, ICAEW and the West of England LEP.


This event will be available to book shortly.

This event is part of the British Science Week.

Cost: Free
Contact: Corporate Relations Service
Telephone: +44 (0)117 32 85801

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