Co-op boss Jo Whitfield takes break to help teenage sons with exams

jo whitfield

The boss of the Co-op’s food division is taking a four-month break to support her sons during their exams.

Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op food, said she will step away from the business from May to help her two sons study for their GCSEs and A-Levels.

She said she wanted to spend more time with her sons to “ease the challenge” in what was a “big year” for them.

It sparked a mixed reaction, with some praising her and others noting only the rich could afford the time off.

Ms Whitfield, who took home £1.4m in 2020 according to the company’s annual report, will take four months of unpaid leave.

She said she had decided, with her family, to help her sons prepare for the “inevitable pressure and emotional turmoil” of their exams.

“I can take this time away reassured by the knowledge we have a strong food leadership team who will keep moving our Co-op forward,” she added.

‘Putting kids first’

While she is off, group chief executive Steve Murrells will take control of the Co-op’s food business.

The opportunity to apply for an unpaid leave of absence is available to all Co-op staff, according to the company.

Some praised Ms Whitfield online, with one tweeting: “Good on her for putting her kids first.”

But others said it was a luxury few workers could afford.

One tweeted: “‘The opportunity to apply for an unpaid leave of absence is available to all Co-op staff, according to the company.'” Not the ability to afford this I guess. Equality of opportunity as tokenism?”

Sarah Doole, chief executive of TV production company Red, told the BBC that Ms Whitfield’s decision showed “there is more to life than the salary you bring home”.

“She’s a fantastic role model for all of us,” said Ms Doole. “[Showing] that you can change the system and make it work for you and your family as well as doing a great job at work so good on her, I say.”

Ms Doole also said home schooling during Covid lockdowns had made “parents realise how tough education is”.

However, some were less enthusiastic to follow Ms Whitfield’s actions. Thomas Frame, founder and chairman of consultancy firm Etch UK, quipped on Twitter: “I would rather stay at work.”