Meet the MD: Allison McKay of Humantics CIC

Allison McKay

Meet the MD: Allison McKay of Humantics CIC

Alison McKay heads up Humantics, a CIC based at the Forum Music Centre in Darlington, she tells BQ how her career has taken her from hairdresser to MD of a music venue.

What is it the company does?

Humantics is a Community Interest Company that operates the Forum Music Centre in Darlington, which is a dedicated music and cultural community venue. It houses a licensed bar and cafe, a digitally equipped 200 capacity live performance hall, five fully equipped, plug and play band rehearsal rooms/community meeting rooms and a digital recording studio. 

The Forum has a vibrant schedule of live music, film nights, and comedy nights and is also available for private hire and charity fundraising events. The Forum team include specialist in- house sound and studio recording engineers and an event production team. On average, the Forum has a footfall of 16500 for live events, band rehearsals of around 720 hours per month and over 440 young people attend music lessons at the Forum every month. It is a place where people meet in an informal setting and gives opportunities for people who wish to pursue their interest’s hobbies and careers in music and the Arts.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I am the managing director at the Forum therefore I oversee and manage the day to day operations including financial management and staff management. It is also important that I constantly review and monitor our social impact plus strategic growth and business development. The team at the Forum manage the events bookings, rehearsal rooms and studio plus sound and stage management, bar and general activities. We are a small team so we all work together to ensure the Forum is a great place to be for all.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

  • 1984 I trained as a hairdresser and moved to London when I was 21 years old
  • At 27 years old, I became managing director of a chain of London salons and moved onto become company artistic director
  • At 30 years old, I became a freelance session stylist, travelling the world styling hair for editorial and advertising, TV and photo shoots as well as hosting seminars and workshops
  • Moved North in late thirties and set up my own studio and agency representing people in TV, film and media.
  • In 2008 registered Humantics CIC and developed a business plan that would secure the forum’s future under community ownership by trading as a not for profit social enterprise.
  •  2010 was successful in securing investment for the Forum and have continued since as a managing director at the Forum

What do you believe makes a great leader?

The important thing is to be yourself: know your own personality so that you can be authentic in the way you engage with other people and the way you use your authority. Understand how you as an individual can best have a positive impact and influence on others and try to understand how they perceive you. Always be clear in communicating your values, what you care about and what you stand for – through your behaviour as well as your words.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Setting up Humantics CIC to take over the Forum Music Centre in 2011 was challenging and in the early years I made many personal sacrifices to ensure its survival. Every day is a frustrating challenge because we don’t have surpluses and are therefore unable to financially invest in the ideas we have as well as upgrades for the business and building.  Thank fully we have a great team at the Forum and we can all multi task, especially Phil who is a great sound engineer, fantastic cook and handy at fixing electrical items.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Swimming and social time with friends (not talking about work) at my local village pub in Heighington, The Bay Horse.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an actress or fashion designer.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I don’t like petty moaning, it happens in every workplace but it can be so de motivating for everyone.  Even though the word petty means; ‘of little or no importance or consequence’ it can be the start of greater destruction in the workplace if it isn’t acknowledged. Quite often we all just need to get a gripe off our chest, to be heard, and then people can move on

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

I see ourselves in a larger building or the current one being extended so that we can attract higher profile artists and greater audiences as well as new services being implemented. More work needs to be done in supporting new and upcoming artists as well as established artists; I have many plans and ideas so all I need know is a huge chunk of investment.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

No one succeeds immediately, and everyone was once a beginner. As Steve Jobs wisely noted, “if you look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” Don’t be afraid to invest time in your company.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

The confidence I currently have has grown from looking back at past achievements and experience. I wish someone had told me how to be confident in my abilities in the present and the future. If you have a confident approach and belief in what you do it helps when making important decisions.