Lessons from the C-suite: Ann Watson

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Your people are your biggest asset - treat them with respect

I started out…

My early career was in marketing working within engineering companies and then moved to work for a skills charity.After being made redundant, I applied for the role of marketing manager for Enginuity’s specialist skills partner and awarding organisation for industry, EAL. I was fortunate to have lots of opportunities and became the managing director of EAL at the age of 34, and then the COO and finally the group CEO of Enginuity.

I knew this was the right career path for me when…

I realised it gave me variety, the chance to work with fantastic people and to play a role in developing the engineers of today and tomorrow, ensuring they have the skills and qualifications they need to succeed and help change our world for the better.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way…

Your people are your biggest asset – treat them with respect and don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

My proudest achievement…

Leading EAL through a major change programme which involved insourcing a key part of the business and introducing from scratch a new system. It was an amazing team effort, but the biggest achievement for me was when the EAL team presented me with a bracelet at the end.

My biggest mistake…

Not considering engineering as a career. It wasn’t suggested to me at school, despite the area having a very rich engineering heritage. When I see the amazing things the UK designs and manufactures and the career opportunities available, I think it would’ve been a perfect alternative career for me.

My biggest inspiration…

At Enginuity I’ve been privileged to work alongside brilliant leaders and under inspirational chairs. From them, I’ve learnt how to be a better leader, how to get to the nub of an issue and how to be brave.

Over the past six months, Enginuity has recruited a data and digital team and the creativity that’s coming from these recruits is an inspiration. They’re opening my mind to how technology can blend our engineering expertise with our newly acquired ingenuity in data, to create practical solutions to meet the skills needs of employers.

Keeping me awake at night right now…

What Brexit will mean for employers and how it may impact their need for skills. We employ a lot of specialist expertise to help us with projects and rely on the contractor workforce. Navigating the new IR35 rules while maintaining the agility of a small business is an interesting challenge.

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be…

How to respond to change. At Enginuity, we’re seeing an unprecedented change in skills as a result of changing technologies. To continue being relevant to our employers and help them with their skills challenges, we’ve had to become more digital driven.

I need my HR director…

To be as externally focused as internally. Enginuity is dedicated to creating practical solutions for individuals, educators and manufacturing and engineering employers who want to develop the skills needed to succeed, today and tomorrow. To do that, I need my HR director to be an external innovator of best practice in skills-foresighting and development.

It annoys me when HR…

Becomes an admin function rather than the business enabler. I’m fortunate to have recruited a brilliant chief people officer and people team, who have moved us from that admin approach to one that is strategic and future looking. The recruits we’ve attracted are great evidence of this working.

More HRDs would become CEO if…

They recognised the great opportunity that the role gives them to understand a company. To learn what every team does, get a feel for the business, and how it works formally and informally.

What I’m reading right now…

Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman.

My top leadership tip…

View yourself as the most disposable person in the business, then you put your efforts into making the team the very best it can be.

Ann Watson is chief executive of Enginuity

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