Stephen Skinner retired as the Club’s Secretary and Chief Executive at the end of June, after just over eight years of loyal service. A farewell dinner was held in the Club on Monday 4th July, where the chairmen he served, committee members and friends, bade him farewell in the Club’s magnificent new Restaurant – the centerpiece of Project CREST, which Stephen masterminded so superbly, bringing it in on budget, on time and over-delivering on expectations.
“Stephen was appointed whilst I was Club Chairman and wasted no time getting to grips with his new job, following a distinguished career in The Royal Airforce,” reflected Julian Sayers, Chair of Trustees at The Farmers Club, and Chairman in the year Stephen joined. “He quickly recognised what makes the Club tick – its members – and set about the process of understanding the agricultural industry with enthusiasm.
“I recall an early visit to Northern Ireland for the Balmoral Show, where we were kindly hosted to a farm visit by Norman Shaw, during which Stephen experienced his first visit to a milking parlour. It triggered a genuine interest in the industry, and it wasn’t long before he could hold his own in the Club’s many bar-side discussions, often bringing a different perspective to the debate.”
Stephen was presented with an Honorary Lifetime membership of the Club and a cheque reflecting the very high esteem in which he was held by members, to sustained applause.
In response he paid tribute to the friendships forged over the years, thanking the trustees, chairmen and committee members, and noting the huge importance of a strong relationship between the Committee and the Chief Executive. He applauded the Committee’s ability to make informed decisions quickly and felt the Club would be in very safe hands with his successor, Andrei Spence. “The staff team here at the Club is a stunning group of individuals to help the Club go forward, especially Club Manager Virginia Masser, who has made so much of it happen.”
Mr Sayers noted that during Stephen’s tenure the Club’s facilities had been significantly improved, thanks to the great financial success the Club had enjoyed, starting with refurbishment of the bedrooms, all of which now provided high quality accommodation to meet the needs of today’s members.
“Stephen has also worked hard to improve our catering offering and to provide the right balance between the lunchtime and evening service. Latterly, his focus on ‘Project CREST’ has seen the largest investment ever in the Club’s facilities, around a scheme he masterminded with perfection. We now have superb dinning, lounge, bar and meeting rooms to compliment the bedrooms – all without damaging the Club’s wonderful atmosphere, which members appreciate so much.
“Stephen has also strengthened the Club’s profile and has worked with eight Chairmen to ensure the delivery of our excellent annual programme. The latter has expanded to provide a wide range of activities, including London-based events, which have proved very popular. All this has been possible thanks to Stephen’s ability to develop our superb staff team. He has set an excellent example and led from the front, rising to a number of challenges, all overcome, in no small measure due to the high regard in which he has been held by the team and his exceptional attention to detail.
“As we say farewell to Stephen there is a great deal to thank him for. He leaves the Club in good heart, with a strong membership, and first class facilities, together with a programme of events which is the envy of many other clubs. We wish both him and Carla every success for the future, and a long and happy retirement, when the time comes!”
Reflections on Stephen’s tenure by some of his past Chairmen included the view that UK sales of Prosecco had outstripped Champagne since Stephen introduced the Italian tipple to the Club bar; a query as to whether overseeing 5500 farmer and ancillary members was more taxing than commanding 2500 staff at RAF Kinloss; the tale of a member of the Club lamenting the demise of along-the-corridor bathrooms as en-suites became the norm; and a shock introduction to a rather down-to-earth public bar in Orkney.
Referring to Stephen’s RAF heritage and successful delivery of the Project CREST refurbishment, Mr Sayers concluded: “We give you grateful thanks for landing the aircraft very safely, with tremendous skill, total commitment and dedication, completing a mission way beyond our expectations, preparing the Farmers Club for the future, as it now sails forward with its new Chief Executive and Secretary Andrei Spence.”