Growth matters in so far that we are fulfilling our mission and serving more children and young people in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, and providing schools of character underpinned by our ethos.

As part of the ‘#BeingTheCEO Report 2020’ we interviewed a number of serving CEOs of multi academy trusts. This interview with Professor Mark Pike, CEO of Emmanuel Schools Foundation, 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 began my career as a teacher of English, and became curriculum manager in a large comprehensive school. I subsequently did a masters and then a PhD in Education focussing on the teaching and learning of 14 – 16 year olds. I then moved into delivering teacher training, and my final job before becoming CEO was as a Professor of education and the head of the school of education at the University of Leeds. In this role I led research projects on whole school values, school transformation, character education, and teaching and learning. I became CEO of Emmanuel Schools Foundation in September 2017.

What attracted you to apply for the CEO role?

I enjoy strategic leadership, and I was attracted by the challenge of developing and growing the trust, which had been a family of schools but hadn’t grown in ten years. I was also attracted by the moral purpose of the trust. When I was interviewed for the role, the chair and the trustees made it clear that they wanted me to focus on developing and growing schools of character, underpinned by a Christian ethos. I wanted to fulfil that vision, and to serve students and families in disadvantaged communities.

What are the main differences between the CEO role and your previous role?

Not as many as you might expect because I had a very outward facing role. I was in schools a lot, looking at whole school values, school transformation, and working with school leaders. One of my areas of research was character education. I was also leading and managing a large School of Education in a Russell Group University with around 36,000 students.

What have you enjoyed most about the CEO job so far?

I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I’ve enjoyed being strategic, getting the right people in the right places, and building legacy. I also enjoy the variety that comes with the role. I think you’ve got to be quite flexible because there aren’t too many days that are the same.

I really enjoy working with our board of trustees and school leaders and enjoy being challenged by them. Learning from the board and being spurred on has been brilliant.

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 greatest impact I have had so far is in developing and growing the trust. In 2019 we added our two latest schools, Grace College in Gateshead and Christ’s College in Sunderland. Growth matters in so far that we are fulfilling our mission and serving more children and young people in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, and providing schools of character underpinned by our ethos.

What have you learnt most since becoming CEO?

The need for absolute clarity about strategic direction – as Michael Pain says in his book ‘Being the CEO’, having your north star. When you have that clarity, you make the decisions that take you closer to that. While doing that you’ve also got to be relevant and engaging, and keep listening to the communities you serve.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the job? How are you overcoming this challenge?

Re-structuring and building our leadership team as we’ve grown the trust. The make-up of our leadership team is quite different to what it was in 2017, and it’s taken time to get the right people in the right roles, who are aligned with our vision and where we’re going. I’ve learnt the importance of recruiting and growing high calibre leaders; you need the best people around you, and you also need a range of different skills, and a range of perspectives.

What has been your greatest source of support and advice in taking on the role?

There’s lots of challenge as a CEO, so for a balanced life you need the support of your family and friends. The support of my wife of 30 years has been especially important.

My chair, trustees, and the executive team have also been a great source of support and advice. I’ve also appreciated the support and advice of other CEOs.

I found Forum Strategy’s #BeingTheCEO programme extremely useful, particularly the way it explains the leadership narrative in relation to strategy, governance and the board. The Being the CEO book is a little handbook of great wisdom and practical advice which has provided me with a great deal of reassurance and clarity

What is your top advice for those about to become CEOs?

  • Know why you do what you do.
  • Know where you’re going.
  • Do the right thing not the easy thing.
  • Do what takes you towards that north star not away from it.
  • Communicate really clearly.
  • Build an excellent, inclusive, high calibre team.

The job requires a whole range of virtues, wisdom and fortitude; there are so many challenges, but it is important to always stay positive and hopeful.

Professor Mark Pike 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.