Paul McElvaney Secures Director of the Year Award

The flurry of awards at Learning Pool continued last week. This time it was the turn of our Chief Exec who picked up the award for SME Director of the Year at the Northern Ireland Institute of Directors.

I sat down with Paul to find out what’s going on at Learning Pool these days and his reaction to securing the coveted Director of the Year award.

Paul, congratulations on the award. Why did you enter and what does it mean?

Thanks! To be honest the award came as a bit of a surprise. Learning Pool’s chairman, Bryan Keating nominated me without telling me, and I only found out a few weeks ago that I’d made the shortlist. Bryan’s worked with more Chief Execs than most so the fact that he nominated me is a real honour, and to pick up the award is a great endorsement of the work we’ve all been doing at Learning Pool.

I think the judges of this particular award were looking for evidence of putting the right structure and governance around a small but growing business. We’ve had a formal board structure in place for a couple of years now and its been a real learning curve for me personally so getting this recognition is very welcome, and its great to get some endorsement that the work we’ve put in is paying off. The board has also been important in helping us grow substantially and introduce new products so it all ties in quite nicely I guess.

Learning Pool has been in the news a lot lately. What’s happened that’s caused all the fuss?

Well firstly, I think it’s down to the fact that a lot of awards happen around the same time of year! We’re very clear that while awards are nice its ultimately our customers that decide whether we’re successful or not, so we won’t be getting complacent any time soon.

The recognition we’ve received recently is great though and I think it’s especially significant because we’ve put a lot of focus around growing the team while maintaining a positive and slightly quirky culture here. That’s something that the IOD judges commented on specifically.

Richard Branson has a famous quote about looking after staff so they’ll look after customers and the process we’ve been though with The Sunday Times Best Companies and Investors in People has given us confidence that our management approach is working. As a company focused on innovation its crucial that we can attract and maintain world class talent and it certainly seems like we’re doing a lot of things well on that score and we have ambitious plans to build on this.

The IOD award was hotly contested. Why do you think your application stood out?

I’m a bit uncomfortable about the notion of individual awards because in the end Learning Pool is a team effort. That being the case I think we show that having a team that is completely committed around a few core objectives is a recipe for success. We recast our vision last year to be the most customer centric learning company and to have each other’s back no matter what. Those things really define our strategy and help us make the right decisions day to day. We don’t always get it right but there is something authentic about the idea that we have the backs of our customers and our team regardless of what the contract says or what time of day it is.

One of the things you always say is that you’re pretty new to the role of CEO. What has helped you be successful?

There are a bunch of things. Having a great team helps a great deal! Being a ‘leader’ is all well and good but ultimately it’s the team that makes Learning Pool a success. We’re lucky that we have some great people working here who are as committed as I am to delivering innovative and useful services to our customers.

I also benefit from some great advice that’s really invaluable. Our non-execs at Learning Pool have tons of experience and are hugely committed to our success so having them on board has been a great experience. Our board is highly supportive but also hold the management team – including me – to account every month and expect us to do what we said we would. They’re a lot like customers in that regard, so the dynamic works well.

 

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