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My Career with Cygnet

Lee Hammon

In our latest blog Lee Hammon looks back at his 21 years with Cygnet Health Care, from joining us as a management trainee through to his current role as Cygnet’s Chief Commercial Officer.

As I approach my 21 years with Cygnet next month, it has given me an opportunity to reflect on what has kept me with the company all of those years. Also what has changed and not changed during that time.

I joined Cygnet straight from University, on the graduate management programme. I had three job offers – an accountant, a management trainee in nuclear power, and Cygnet. The CEO (also the founder) at that time, John Hughes, said that I would be joining a company with ambitious growth plans, demand is only going one way, and that we are here to help those that need it. Age wasn’t a barrier to him; if you delivered, you would be developed and promoted. That was enough for me, I signed up and packed by bags that weekend and found a flat in Harrow above a Chicken Cottage to start my career.

For me, Cygnet has always been true to its word, then and still 21 years later. As part of the management training programme, I was thrown into the deep end and worked on projects alongside the CEO for six months. Long hours and 7am finance lessons in his office, but it gave me a great insight into the mechanics of how we operated.

I could see the need to expand our reach and help even more people. The asylums, as they were called, were closed, the NHS were reducing their inpatient bed numbers, awareness around mental health was improving, and the phone was ringing throughout the day from NHS Providers looking to secure additional capacity. To me, it was clear that there was a real place for the independent sector to partner with the NHS to deliver specialist mental health services.

My first role after 6 months, I was entrusted to take over Isham House, Northampton as General Manager. A site that we had recently entered into a joint venture with St Andrew’s. The quality was already good so the goal was one of financial turnaround, to make it sustainable.

We achieved some great tangible successes at this unit, and on the back of this, I was offered the opportunity to be the Hospital Manager of Cygnet’s newest and one of its largest facilities in Bradford. I grabbed the opportunity and packed my backs again for an unknown town.

At the age of 24, this was a challenge for me, and I still recall the murmuring from the back row in the first staff meeting I held “does his mother know he’s here” they said. I kept John Hughes’ words about age firmly in my mind and set about my business, learning and making mistakes along the way – and always supported by the Cygnet Directors. We successfully grew the hospital from both a quality and financial perspective, and it became one of Cygnet’s flagship performing services for many years.

From then, I moved on to be Operations Director and Managing Director, operating bigger regions and incorporating the ‘turn-arounds’ of under-performing Hospitals. Key to me was always aligning the Hospitals with the needs of the local public sector commissioners, who are the lifeblood of any service. Ultimately our commitment is to support the NHS and Local Authority in the provision of high quality care, to provide services that help meet demand and support individuals on their own personal journey.

The company reached a certain size in 2011 and needed to re-structure. At this point I moved over to head up the new commercial function of Cygnet, which I remain today – albeit we have grown and changed a lot. I still have the fondest memories of my 11 years in operations management.

The market, regulators and commissioners have all changed name, structure and focus many times over the 21 years. However the same remains true today as it did in 2000, if you want to operate a successful service – maintain the focus on quality, be transparent, work hand in hand with your NHS/Local Authority commissioners and see them as a partner, invest in and look after your staff, and never drop focus on first impressions.

Why have I stayed in Cygnet so long? My fellow graduates from Cambridge often ask me the same. For me, I have seen Cygnet through many parts of its journey to where it is now, and that has always kept it fresh and exciting. We are here to help people and because of this, and the sector we work in, no two days are ever the same. Cygnet has always been a brand I trust and respect, and it is as true to its word today as when John Hughes recruited me in 2000. UHS are also great parents to have; continually supportive, focused on delivering the highest quality care for our service users, and extremely successful and respected as a provider in the US.

Cygnet still operates Leadership and Management Apprenticeship Programmes today. Anyone thinking of embarking on this journey, I can only recommend it. A rewarding career lies ahead of you.

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