I started out…as a personal assistant at Royal Mencap Society and rose the ranks with my final role at the charity being chief executive which I held for six years.
I knew this was the right career path for me when… In providing care for people with disability and amplifying their voices to challenge the systems that disable them further, I found something that I believed in, and am passionate about. I am dyslexic which hampered my academic studies at school.
At work, that same dyslexia became my superpower. The work ethic I developed as a student in trying to overcome my challenges with dyslexia has stayed with me. I saw how too often disabled people are denied the choices others take for granted. Everyone deserves a safe place to live; everyone deserves the chance of a proper break.
Previous lessons from the C-suite:
The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way… that investing time in our people is my top priority. I spend a lot of time in our holiday centres or with groups of colleagues from different departments to learn about the reality of their work – both the good and the bad.
My proudest achievement… so far, is establishing Golden Lane Housing in 1997 to help people with learning disabilities find a home. We were successful in raising £30 million for new housing through four public retail bonds – the first time a charity bond was listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Order Book for Retail Bonds.
But I hope that my proudest achievement is yet to come. Revitalise creates brilliant holiday experiences for disabled people and their carers coupled with 24-hour on-call care. This is one of the few services in the UK where people truly are choosing to buy support. We have ambitious expansion plans, including developing a new purpose-built holiday centre.
My biggest mistake… I don’t have any major regrets other than not believing in myself sooner. I wish we had adapted to coming out of Covid as well as we adapted to its outbreak. Restarting our centres for holidays with a full programme of excursions and activities has thrown up new operational issues which I wish we'd planned for earlier. We're getting there, but it's taken longer than it should.
My biggest inspiration… is always people. Whether that is our guests or colleagues. Their views, life experience and humour provide me with enormous energy and drive.
Keeping me awake at night right now… is the staff recruitment and retention crisis in social care. The situation is bleak. While hundreds of thousands of people are in urgent need of respite care, there are currently an estimated 100,000 vacancies across the social care sector.
The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be… In the hospitality sector, I think there are two key challenges: recruiting and retaining good quality colleagues coupled with the fastest rise in living costs for 30 years. Inflation means that operational costs are going up, together with staff demands for higher pay, at a time when people’s discretionary spend is lower than pre-2019.
I need my HR director to… help me promote and embed a culture that embraces our values. I want everyone at Revitalise to be change makers - hard-working, joyful, inclusive and caring. The rest will follow.
More HR directors would become CEO if… they demonstrated a deep understanding of the broader strategic challenges and priorities of the organisation and its beneficiaries and shaped the HR and organisational development strategy to support the achievement of those rather than being drawn into prioritising current HR fashion and fads.
What I’m reading right now… To Catch a King, Charles II’s Great Escape by Charles Spencer after visiting Boscobel House and The Royal Oak
My top leadership tip… The African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together."
The full article of the above first appeared in the July/August 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.