ultimately your role is to bring people together, not to be the sole point of direction and decision making.
As part of the ‘#BeingTheCEO Report 2020’ we interviewed a number of serving CEOs of multi academy trusts. This interview with Gavin Booth, CEO of Infinity Academies Trust, is taken from the wider report, which is available to all #TrustLeaders members from 22nd October 2020. The interview was conducted by Rachael Gacs.
Tell us about your career before becoming CEO
I took on my first Headship in 2010 and was in that role for six years. I took on my first Headship in 2010 and was in that role for six years. During that time the school became an academy, and we supported another local school in difficulty. Then in 2016, a role came up within the local authority, where I worked as the service manager for education strategy for about 18 months.
However, I missed leading my own team, so in 2017 I became the Executive Head of St Thomas and Wyberton (The Great Oaks Federation).
I already had in my mind that the Great Oaks Schools (St Thomas and Wyberton) could join with my previous schools, so joining a Trust was part of my interview pitch. Conversations began with Infinity who were very keen, and we managed to convert Great Oaks to become part of the Trust in April 2019. We also began to sponsor another school, St Nicholas CE, from September 2019. When Great Oaks joined the trust I became CEO on a part-time basis alongside my Exec Head role.
From the start of this (2020) academic year we promoted our heads of academy, so I no longer have any Executive Head responsibilities, and I am now the full time CEO across all five schools.
What attracted you to apply for the CEO role?
For me it was a natural evolution. I moved into executive headship and it was a progression from there. The Trust was my vision from the start and it’s something I worked on, along with many other talented colleagues, to make a reality.
What are the main differences between the CEO role and your previous role?
The main difference for me is the movement from the operational to the strategic; being less hands on in terms of the doing, and instead learning to steer the ship – guiding the direction that we want the trust to go in.
For me, Being the CEO is also about learning to strike the right balance between allowing schools to have autonomy, but bringing in elements of standardisation where they are needed.
What have you enjoyed most about the CEO job so far?
I love the variety that comes with the role. I get to work with a wide-range of people, and I don’t work in one place – I’m out and about and meeting people – and I’m most definitely not doing the same thing every day. In the space of a week I can spend time with a class of children, work with the central team, train staff, and meet and learn from other CEOs through Trust Leaders networks. I’ve found that my perspective is hugely broadened as a CEO.
It’s also very exciting when things are moving forward and developing, and you can see the improvement of the schools in your trust.
Of all the different roles I’ve had, this is without a doubt the one with the greatest amount of responsibility, but it’s also the one with the greatest levels of variety, enjoyment and satisfaction.
Where do you feel you have had the greatest impact so far, and why have you been so effective in this aspect of the job?
I think the biggest success is that we have five schools that now genuinely work together – that work collaboratively – and that have no hesitation about picking up the phone or sending an email to one another. We have created a reciprocal network of schools that are doing everything they can to make each other’s lives easier, and that has huge benefits for our teachers, our pupils – everyone.
What have you learnt most since becoming CEO?
That there is no blueprint – no rules that every trust can simply follow to be successful. However, what I have also learnt is there are so many people out there who are prepared share what they know, and offer help and advice. I think the key thing is never to be too proud to ask – but to be honest and open with colleagues. Don’t think you can lock yourself away and do it all on your own, because no one individual has all the answers. The Chief Executive must also be the Chief Learner.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the job? How are you overcoming this challenge?
One of the most challenging things I’ve found is being able to explain the importance of the role of the CEO to others in a clear and concise way, trying to distil that information into a short, succinct explanation for a parent or governor, for example. People understand the role of teachers and headteachers, but there is still a lack of understanding when it comes to role and the purpose of the CEO.
What has been your greatest source of support and advice in taking on the role?
Definitely the Being the CEO programme and the #TrustLeaders networks through Forum Strategy, and everything that’s comes from that, including contacts that have been made, and the relationships that have been built as a result. We’re also lucky that we have got a really good local authority, and they’ve managed to get a Lincolnshire based CEO network up and running, and that’s been helpful. Being open to feedback within your own organisation is important as well.
Finally, I would say that having experts around you is crucial; for example, I don’t have to spend my time stressing around finance because I know I’ve good people that are on it.
What is your top advice for those about to become CEOs?
Definitely to get connected and stay open to advice, guidance and feedback, and make sure you utilise the experts around you. Also, remember that ultimately your role is to bring people together, not to be the sole point of direction and decision making.
Gavin Booth is a member of the national #TrustLeaders CEO network and a former participant on the #BeingTheCEO programme. Find out more www.forumstrategy.org
This interview is taken from the Being The CEO Report 2020,. The full report will be shared with all #TrustLeaders members on 22nd October 2020.