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The Co-op appoints Covid-testing advisor as new chair

UK convenience retailer The Co-op has appointed Debbie White, the experienced businesswoman who advised the government on its successful establishment of UK-wide testing centres during the pandemic, as its new chair.  

White, who brings more than 40 years of business and commercial experience to the role, is taking over from outgoing chair Allan Leighton who has come to the end of his 9-year tenure in the role in February 2024, but will join the board as an independent non-executive director in August 2023.

She was appointed as the interim HR Director of BT Plc until the end of November 2022 and prior to this she was the chief executive officer of Interserve Group, during a turbulent time for the company. Prior to this she served as Global CEO for healthcare and government at Sodexo, following a stint as the chief financial officer for the company’s UK operations.  More recently she has held a number of non-executive roles, including senior independent director at Spire Healthcare Group plc, Howden Joinery Group PLC and PAVmed Inc. She started her career with Arthur Andersen in the UK, before joining AstraZeneca where she held a range of financial roles, later becoming a director and an associate partner at PwC Consulting.

White, a Cambridge graduate, is also a member of the Women 1st Top 100 Club – a network of the most influential women in hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism, who act as ambassadors and role models for future female leaders.

The company said it had been a “rigorous search process” to replace Leighton, but that White was “the ideal person to take our Co-op forwards over the coming years”.

“She has extensive business experience across a range of sectors and I’m personally delighted that she will join us at this exciting time, as our Co-op focuses on recruiting a million new members and providing top class products and services for our members and customers,” outgoing group chair Allan Leighton said.

“Over the past 9 years our Co-op has regained its financial strength but it has never lost sight of its wider social commitments and responsibilities by delivering value to our member-owners. Under Debbie’s leadership I have every confidence that our Co-op will continue to grow and to deliver against these commitments.”

Group chief executive Shirine Khoury-Haq added that it was testament to the strength and future potential of our Co-op that it was able to attract someone of White’s calibre.

“I’m looking forward to working closely with her as we embark on another exciting chapter in our Co-op’s 180 year history. She has a proven track record, a commitment to our Co-op values and principles, and is a role model for championing diversity and inclusion. She is a perfect fit for our Co-op,” he said.

He also thanked Leighton for the enormous support he’s provided to me personally and for the incredible turnaround he had overseen at the Co-op.


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