Eamonn Hughes: “The story isn't just in the numbers.”

Fairer Future

5 min read

Eamonn Hughes is CFO at Peabody and was previously FD at the Berkeley Group. In our conversation we explored how Eamonn strikes a balance between delivering on purpose and ensuring the organisation is financially robust, to withstand the unexpected over the horizon. 

This interview is part of our research, in partnership with ICAEW, A4S and Odgers Berndtson, into the CFO's role in creating a fairer future.

What are the challenges facing CFOs today?

The challenge is to balance the need to be a robust and resilient organisation whilst simultaneously doing as much as we can to help our residents.

"It’s important we focus on where we can make the greatest impact."


The current economic environment means that this is an especially tough time for residents. We want to provide great homes and services and make a positive impact in our communities. We do what we can to make a difference for residents today while making sure we invest in our homes for the long term. Our buildings must be safe, good quality, and well-maintained. Peabody has been around for more than 160 years, and we want to ensure we’re stable for the future so we can keep making a positive difference.

It’s important that we focus on where we can make the greatest impact and remain nimble so we can seize opportunities when they arise. To make sure we’re achieving the maximum impact we can, we are always asking ourselves, “What is the impact of our investments, and how can they be improved?”

To make sure you’re getting the most impact from your investments, how do you define success beyond financial return?

The strength of our financial position provides a foundation from which we can deliver impact. Without the support of our investors and lenders we would not have the resources to deliver our business plan, and in 2023 we built 604 homes for social rent with that support. Tracking lead indicators is an important part of how we manage the group’s finances, and this is an area I'm heavily involved as CFO.

"The voice of our residents is critical to our decision-making and features heavily at board level."


Our annual ESG report gives a good picture of how we define the impact of the investments we are making: looking at, for example, the environmental impact of our homes, biodiversity, our rent levels, and our investment in community activities. The voice of our residents is critical to our decision-making and features heavily at board level. We have two board members who are Peabody residents and we also have a Resident Experience committee. This is a sub-committee of the board looking at how we can make a difference for the people who live in our homes and benefit from our services, and to make sure we can improve and respond to resident feedback.

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What social or economic issues keep you awake at night, and what can businesses do to address them?

The issue of homelessness is an especially worrying one for me, and it’s central to our purpose at Peabody. With one in 23 children in London homeless and living in often substandard temporary accommodation, the country desperately needs to build more affordable homes. Housebuilding has halved in the last 50 years and home ownership is increasingly unaffordable to most people. Without the investment of not-for-profit housing associations in the last decade, funded mostly by borrowing against their balance sheet, the problem would be even worse. But there is no question that despite our efforts and delivery there is a growing housing emergency.

There is also the issue of overcrowding. There are over 740,000 families living in overcrowded homes that are unsuitable for their needs – this is from research by the National Housing Federation. To address this and solve the wider issues, the sector has to work hard to maintain and enhance its capacity for delivering affordable housing.

This is incredibly tricky to do, as we manage competing demands for investment. Those demands come from lots of directions. For example, since the Grenfell tragedy we’ve invested £225m in improving the safety of our homes. We also spent £356m maintaining and improving people’s homes last year and plan to spend £2bn more over the next five years in our existing homes. We’re also investing significant sums to improve the energy efficiency of our homes too, as this helps us to play our part in addressing the climate crisis whilst also reducing costs for our residents in terms of their energy bills.

We have to balance investment with the need to ensure that the organisation is sustainable for the future. Our thorough approach to financial planning and stress testing ensures that we only take on a level of risk that we can manage: we need to make sure that we are set to deliver our social purpose over the long term for the people who rely on the services and support you provide.

And where does that leave the CFO? What is uniquely in your gift?

You need to start by looking at what your organisation can do, and then think about the role the wider sector should play. Strong and long-lasting relationships with partners are key. We work with the Greater London Authority and Homes England to bring new opportunities for growth and funding, as well as the NHS and local councils to build new homes and deliver services for residents. Partnerships with the private sector are also important and we work in joint ventures on our developments. We view these partnerships not just as an opportunity to bring in additional expertise, but also to bring in extra capacity which means we can deliver more than we ever could on our own.

Another area the CFO can have a significant impact is through how we set our procurement processes. After a successful pilot we now allocate 20 percent of scoring in procurement to the social value of potential partners. This means that those tendering need to demonstrate a clear benefit to residents and communities, as well as delivering on quality and value for money. It also encourages potential partners to identify the good work they’re doing to deliver on purpose and, where that maybe isn’t the focus, it can motivate them to begin thinking about how they can both do this and measure their impact.

One of the CFO’s most important functions is to tell the business’ story to investors, lenders, and stakeholders. In our case, this is especially important as it funds the work that we do to fulfill our purpose.

“The CFO can make sure our stories get told to stakeholders .”

The story isn’t just in the numbers. Our colleagues have such valuable insight into what the organisation is delivering in terms of outcomes. With every opportunity I have to interact with a colleague, I learn something new about the organisation and what we're delivering. And it’s important that those stories go into the investor update, the annual report, and all our engagement with lenders, investors, and our stakeholders. The CFO can make sure those stories get told.

This interview was conducted by Dr Scarlett Brown, Head of Think Tank at Board Intelligence, as part of our research inquiry: "What is the CFO's role in creating a fairer future?" If you’d like to nominate a CFO leader to be part of our interview series, get in touch.


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