First impressions as CEO; Bluebird Care, Jonathan Gardner

Published: 18/12/2023

Bluebird Care’s new chief executive officer (CEO) Jonathan Gardner reflects on his time in the job so far.



What are your reflections on the Bluebird Care Awards 2023, and how is the process of narrowing down nominees managed?

The Bluebird Care Awards are a really special day for our organisation. The event has left me in awe of everyone who makes up our care teams, and I’ve been struck by the sheer passion that exists in our organisation to deliver truly life-changing work.

We had representatives from right across the Bluebird Care network attend these awards – it’s an important day for us all.

Our awards crown a Care Expert of the Year, a Registered Manager of the Year, and a Team Member of the Year.

We have around 10,000 colleagues who love being part of our brand across the UK and Ireland, so as you can see, there are thousands of people to choose from – and it’s incredibly difficult!

The nomination process works via our national support office asking our colleagues across each franchise to provide nominations for people who have really excelled in each of the three categories. This year, we received 150 nominations and we had to whittle it down to just 15.

The majority of the nominations we received this year were for the Care Expert of the Year, in fact, about 100 were up for this award.


In your role as CEO, do you personally review all the nominations?

Absolutely. My Exec team and I read through every nomination that comes in. We need different eyes picking our overall winners of course, and that’s where our expert independent judging panel comes in!

To sum up exactly what we are looking for, this is all based on care delivery, the quality of work, and leadership skills.

The nomination forms are all anonymised when they come into our hands, so we never know which office they’ve come from. Ultimately, in this regard, we’re not interested in the financial performance of our franchises who have colleagues up for these awards so that doesn’t affect the decision.


You’re still pretty new to your position at Bluebird Care, how has your experience been so far, and what are your first impressions of the social care landscape?

That’s right – I’m just over six months in now and I’m absolutely loving it.

My career has been healthcare service based, in fact, it’s the only industry I’ve ever worked in. I’m a pharmacist by profession and spent the first 30 years of my career at Boots, and have had the opportunity to work in pharmacy, optometry, audiology, dentistry, aesthetics and now home care.  

Social care very much resonates with my ingrained core value of wanting to help people to feel better and improve lives – this has been a constant in my career. It’s why I wake up every morning.

Bluebird Care has been around for 20 years next year. We have amazing franchise partners and people within our brand and I’ve spent time a lot of my early days with them having visited 120 of our UK and Ireland offices in my first six months.

That’s been a real highlight of my first six months – meeting so many of our registered managers, care coordinators and franchise partners.

I’ve also been out on visits to customers with our Care Experts and this has been absolutely invaluable. You learn a lot sitting in a car next to a care expert as they drive round their route and go about their working day. The care they demonstrate, their expertise, and the feedback they get from our customers – they are so grateful for the service we provide – has really moved me.

Our business is a mixture of private pay and local authority funded customers. I’ve definitely noticed through my work in this sector so far that there is a real disconnect locally with commissioners who hold different pots of funding.

It’s been great to chat to politicians in Westminster and at party conferences about these issues, and I’m clear that as a leading care provider our role is to advocate for our customers and for high quality care. Boots was famous for partnering with the government to deliver the unmet need in the sector, and this is where I see Bluebird Care’s role – through collaboration, partnership, and joining the dots across the system to really make that difference.


Are there any other developments taking place at Bluebird Care?

I’ve spent a lot of time in my first six months with our franchise teams and care experts, listening to them and thinking about how we can support them to deliver the best quality care. I’m grateful to them for being so generous with their thoughts and contributions. At the end of the day, they are the experts – I knew that going in. I have years of experience in healthcare and franchise businesses, but they know their customers and communities best.

Our brand is known for high quality service provision and we’re growing, it’s been around for 20 years for a reason, and across 220 offices, we have some great people looking to us as a franchise organisation to help them do more than ever for customers and communities across the UK and Ireland.

I’m honoured and excited to take us into our next chapter.

In September, we brought all our franchise partners together for our annual conference in Brighton, which marked pretty much my 100th day in the role. I shared my early reflections and what I’d heard and learned, and then I was really excited to share our strategy for 2024 and beyond.  That strategy is all about leveraging the foundation stones of our business: great people, excellence in quality care and operational efficiency & innovation. That is what Bluebird Care embodies across the network.

In the new year we’ll be unwrapping some of those plans that we’ve been working on in line with that strategy.

I was really grateful to our franchise partners and my executive team for helping me to build this strategy. We have a new Operations Director, Finance Director, People Director, and Transformation Director. I’ve brought these fantastic new individuals into the organisation as I noticed we had some real gaps and now everyone in the team has experience of care or healthcare.

With the new people we’re bringing in, the legacy of our brand, and the great relationship we have with our partners and customers, we’re in in a great position for the year ahead.


Do you plan on opening up new franchise locations in 2024?

We already have national coverage but we do have some white space locations to open up. We have partners who want to grow with our brand and take on more territories which is exciting and we love to give people that opportunity for growth in a trusted environment.

We are always thrilled to bring in new partners to our network. We’ve brought in nine since I started six months ago and have a queue of people who want to join our brand which is fantastic and a testament to the great quality care we’re carrying out across the UK and Ireland.