Andrew Thornton on ‘Armed Robbery and Heart!’

As regular readers here will know, I own a supermarket in North London, Thornton’s Budgens, which we use as our laboratory for our Heart in Business work.

Last Thursday, we had an attempted armed robbery. I was on the shop floor, opposite our Post Office on the phone when I hear screams and saw a hooded figure with a gun in our Post Office area, helping himself to piles of cash.  It transpired it wasn’t a real gun and thanks to extraordinary teamwork, courage and unity, he was pinned down to the floor by 4 of my team and held there until a dozen armed police officers arrived. Thankfully the next day he pleaded guilty to two charges at Thornton’s Budgens and a whole bunch of others that the police had been trying to get him on for the last few years.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Heart? For me, the whole incident shows how a heart connected team can function in a crisis. Outside of a war zone, being in an attempted armed robbery has to be one of the most stressful things a team of people who work together will have to experience.

So let’s look at this step by step. First off, the speedy response to the screams from Ralitsa in the Post Office and the call on the tannoy “code 9” (usually means shoplifter) – 6 or 7 men arrived on the scene within a minute – 4 of which held him to the ground, while others helped them remove his bag containing piles of our cash.  This amazing teamwork left me able to second by second assess the safety of the situation, quickly establishing it that was a fake gun and then continuously checking whether he had a knife or other weapon.  Together we negotiated with him so that we could move him from right in the centre of the store, surrounded by shocked customers and team members, towards the back of the store until the police arrived.  At that point the store was closed (as a crime scene) and all (team member) witnesses had to wait to give statements to the Flying Squad when they arrived (an hour or so later). One of the team spent the time checking in with everyone on how they were, and then we did the biggest Starbucks run I have ever seen.

Later that day, our company Whatsapp Group (which all 85 of the team are on) was alive with appreciation for the 4 men who secured the suspect and about how safe everyone felt with these strong and courageous men in the store.  It was a very emotional and vulnerable series of messages.

The next morning, our Head Coach (we don’t have a store manager) called a meeting to check in on people and how they were doing.  A number of people with days off or outside store commitments dialed in on FaceTime and Skype and were virtually present.  This was an emotional and at times tearful meeting and most of those tears were in response to one person’s sharing about how they had never felt safer in their life – in the middle of an armed robbery!

All of this does not stop difficult conversations we need to have.  Why was the Post Office ‘fortress’ door left open? Are there times where there are not enough strong men in the store to deal with situations that arise and help others feel safe? Where else do we leave ourselves vulnerable to attack?

As an aside, as part of the self-leadership journey thatwe are on, we have merged two ‘departments’;  one was called, ‘Customer Service’ (that operates the checkouts) and the other was ‘Security’. We now have a “Welcome and Safety” team who welcome people to our store and to keep all of us safe. It was the new head of this team, Nadir, along with his colleague, VJ, who are the backbone of our strong men and who were highly commended by the Flying Squad, who remarked that “through their actions, we have been able to take a very dangerous man off the streets”.