John Connolly of South Yorkshire education and training provider, RNN Group, explains why Martin Luther King or President John F Kennedy are great leaders in his books.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I lead a team of talented and dedicated colleagues who believe in the power of education to improve the life chances of young people and adults living in the Rotherham and North Nottinghamshire area.
I work across all of our four main campuses, helping to maintain our focus and sense of purpose in the face of continuing changes to education policy and funding.
I also work with our external stakeholders, in businesses, voluntary and public sector organisations across the Sheffield City Region and D2N2 (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire) areas, on initiatives to help nurture and grow successful communities and businesses.
What is it the company does?
RNN Group is a leading education and training provider, meeting the needs of thousands of employers, adults and school leavers each year across Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
The Group is made up of three colleges of further and higher education (Rotherham, Dearne Valley and North Notts colleges) and five other training organisations. We educate school leavers, undergraduates, employees and those rejoining the workforce.
We work in partnership with employers to recruit and develop the workforce they need to ensure their future success, through training, apprenticeships and recruitment solutions.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I originally trained as a certified accountant in private practice, before moving into industry. After varied roles in the automotive, mining, construction and property sectors, including some time in the USA, I felt my career was in need of a new and more socially rewarding direction, and chose to move into the education sector. I joined North Notts College as deputy chief executive in 1999, and was then successful in being promoted to principal and chief executive in 2007. Following the merger with Rotherham College in February 2016, I was appointed to the role of chief executive of the newly formed RNN Group.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Personally, I have always been impressed by those leaders who can inspire and motivate through their oratory - Martin Luther King or President John F Kennedy.
But I see examples of great leaders in everyday life, from those who would never consider themselves to be such. The primary school teacher who inspires her class to want to be the next J K Rowling or astronaut, or Nobel scientist; the young work colleague whose response to a serious medical condition is to embark on a major fundraising effort for research into a cure; the community worker with seemingly endless patience and determination supporting a family in crisis – the list is endless and provides constant inspiration for my own leadership.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
We undertook the immensely complicated technical processes of merging three colleges into one over a period of just 12 months, to create a Group with a turnover of nearly £50m and employing around 1500 people across four campuses. I’m delighted to say the mergers both completed on time and without a hitch, thanks to an enormously large and very detailed Gannt chart!
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I’m lucky, I guess, that I’ve always been able to switch off from the stresses and strains of the job. I have the support of a great family, and time away from work with them is hugely important to me. I also enjoy a good pint, or a great meal in the company of close friends, and finding new places in the world to explore.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always had a strong competitive streak, and loved playing all kinds of sport as a kid, so I would have jumped at the chance to be a professional sportsman of any kind. Sadly, I was never quite good enough!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Petty office politics and people wasting their energies on point-scoring over others are things that annoy me, although I’m glad to say they are an extremely rare occurrence. I always try to tackle any instances quickly, to stop them spreading and becoming an issue.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
RNN Group will be one of the country’s leading Further Education Colleges, delivering outstanding technical and professional education and training, helping businesses succeed and grow, and transforming the lives of our students and our communities.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
In my experience, the success of an organisation is largely down to its greatest asset – its people. So I focus on developing a strong and effective team, and then try not to get in their way!