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The Big Business Interview - Andrea Carr

July 4, 2022, 9:32 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Having built a successful business from scratch, Andrea Carr knows how important it is for leaders to listen
The Big Business Interview - Andrea Carr

Need to know:
Company: Rising Stars
Job title: Founder and CEO (2002-2017) 
Time in role: 15 years
Number of staff: 28

How do you set goals?

There are two ways I approach this this. Firstly, it’s important to set broader strategic goals and to take the time to consider where the organisation is now, and where it should be in three- or five-years’ time.
To be successful, this process would ideally involve as many people as is possible. This ensures the team owns that strategy, and plays a part in the development of the organisation. Staff members feel valued and understand their own role in the wider plan.

How do you motivate staff?

Delegating and allowing staff the space to be able to do their job is very important. This is something I’ve found hard in the past, but I have got better at it over time.
Many leaders feel they need to keep an eye on every detail, perhaps because they lack confidence themselves, but this can lead to employees feeling micromanaged and then becoming demotivated.
Once objectives have been set, the leader is there to look at the bigger picture and to plan ahead. Staff need space to flourish, but they also need to be given the opportunity to speak up when they find something challenging. Effort should be recognised through praise and promotion where appropriate. 

What significant changes have you led successfully in your company?

The biggest change was taking Rising Stars from an independent business into the arms of a large company. It means that all the staff moved from our own independent bubble to a big corporate environment, with new offices, new systems and new ways of doing things.
That was a very tough process for many of the team although the transition (into Hodder Education) was ultimately very successful. There are similarities with the transition of a school into a MAT.
It’s important to engage with all stakeholders, whether staff, customers, students or the wider community. By listening you learn and more likely to win hearts and minds. 

How have you learned from any mistakes?

There have been times when I’ve pushed ahead with strategies without properly testing them out first. For example, about eight years ago, I decided that Rising Stars would build an online CPD platform for primary teachers.
Nothing really existed that enabled schools to take short online modules to support their teaching and planning. Our research indicated that schools were not ready for online learning, but I felt strongly that it was needed, and it was the way forward.
Now, post-pandemic, everyone recognises this as the new normal, but in 2014 it was still too much of a stretch for most schools. I pushed ahead regardless, we invested quite heavily and sadly it didn’t work. Schools were not ready - it was too much technology too soon. 
It turned out not to be a catastrophic error, because when things started to move on-line, we were ready. But it was a salutary lesson that while it’s good to be ahead of the curve, you also must listen and tread carefully! 

What challenges have you overcome in your work as a leader?

When you get into a leadership position, you have to accept that you don’t know everything and often still have a lot to learn to be effective.
One area, for example, in which I had to become pretty expert, quite quickly, was how to effectively oversee the company’s finances and to understand cash flow and financial planning.
I had to plug those knowledge gaps and I continue to learn. But I also surrounded myself with excellent people with complimentary skills. Having a strong SLT is absolutely vital to the success of any organisation.

Career path

2002-2017: Founder and CEO Rising Stars
2014-2017: Director, Hodder Education
2017 – Present: Trustee, Causeway Education
2018-2022: Chairman and Director, Sumdog
2022: Board Director, Education Albert