Ten years after starting EdStart, MD and former professional rugby player Chris Irwin is rolling out a franchise programme to grow his business.
What does your role involve?
I head up EdStart: I’m really lucky because since I launched the business back in 2007, I’ve been able to turn my two great passions - sports and education - into a really fulfilling career. Each day is different, and my role can include anything from meeting with local authorities or schools about how they can get kids to be more active, to discussing the next phase of our sports software for schools. I’m also a board member of the CAA – Children’s Activities Association, and part of this role is working with the board to put strategy in place and to help generate discussion and influence government policy around sport and physical exercise for children.
EdStart is also rolling out a franchise programme, and as I’m really fussy about the pedigree of the franchisees we bring on board, I spend a lot of time nurturing this programme, to make sure that as we grow, EdStart continues to be known for our passion for excellence in delivery.
What is it the company does?
There are many strands to EdStart: one division of the organisation provides quality PE solutions for local authorities and schools. We’ve developed some exciting new software, which helps take the stress away from hitting Government targets for levels of physical activity in schools. It measures progress, and keeps the kids engaged with virtual fitness coaches. We also run after school sporting clubs.
The other division of the business provides specialist education for disengaged children. We either support them back to mainstream education, or continue their education within EdStart.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started my career as a professional rugby player: I was a fullback for Wigan Warriors and Swinton Lions. Later, I channelled my love of sport into education, spending time as a teacher, before setting up afterschool programmes and then EdStart.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who is passionate and believes in what they’re doing. Integrity is important and how you go about your business and operate every day. A great leader takes their team on the journey with them: someone who can inspire and motivate people through ambition, which will filter through the business.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
From the moment we set up it’s been my goal to make EdStart something big and worthwhile: we’re still on that path, and getting from a start up to where we are now has been a huge challenge!
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Chateauneuf du Pape! That and spending time with my family – I’m really conscious not to let my children’s childhoods slip by without noticing.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a sportsman. I’m lucky that I’ve managed to do that – and then continue in the field, bringing my love of sport to the next generation.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Although I’m always on the minute, I hate lateness in people – I think it shows lack of professionalism which is really important to me. I’m not one to let things go, and will always pull a team member up if they’re not showing the professionalism I’d expect. That aside, I’m fairly tolerant of office habits – little things don’t bother me too much.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
I’d like EdStart to be a nationwide brand, recognised throughout the UK. This will happen through rolling out high quality franchises. I’m committed to growing without compromising on our values and approach – so we’re starting slowly with the franchises, handpicking each one to make sure they’re in line with the EdStart outlook and will be strong ambassadors of the brand. The aim is to have launched 10 franchises by July this year.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be patient and always look for solutions. This is something that’s really helped us: rather than selling a service, we go to our customers – who are schools and local authority organisations - with solutions to their various problems.
Also, stick to your principles and back yourself. That means that if everything doesn’t go according to plan, you know you’ll have no regrets.