Brenda McLeish started her career in education and by the time she was 28 became a senior manager at a Teesside further education college. She was headhunted, for the role of business development director, by Learning Curve Group (LCG) in 2008. At that time, the business had 40 staff and was turning over around £1m. In 2013, she became group managing director and then CEO in 2015. Learning Curve has grown to a £42m turnover with 420 employees and around 600 associate staff
What’s the best business decision you ever made?
I think the best business decision I’ve ever made was taking the jump from the public sector into the private sector. The founders of Learning Curve Group are a huge inspiration to me, as they headhunted me from an FE college 10 years ago. It really taught me about what being entrepreneurial was all about. If it wasn’t for their influence, I wouldn’t have taken the risks that entrepreneurs do.
Do you use social media, and what is your opinion of it?
Yes, I love it. I was locked out of my LinkedIn for a while and it was a hard few weeks! I think Twitter and LinkedIn are great business tools. They’re also great for catching up on news and what other people within the sector are doing. Equally Facebook is great for connecting with potential learners, right across the country, so we utilise it a lot.
You are on the board of Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). What’s your motivation for doing that?
Being from Teesside, I’m very passionate about what happens in the area so I’m exceptionally proud to be on the board of the Tees Valley LEP. I joined at quite an exciting time with the devolved budgets, particularly around adult learning.
It’s important that companies such as Learning Curve Group are involved in what’s happening in local authority areas. We need to be at that table, helping to inform what the skills agenda needs are. It’s fundamental to the success of the Tees Valley.
What type of books do you like to read and what was the last book you read?
I’d love to have more time to read but to be honest I’m always so busy. As sad as it sounds I spend my time reading bids, tenders and things that people that aren’t in the training industry would find dull.
Name your fantasy board of directors (up to four people), and why you have chosen them.
If I could recruit one person into the business it would 100 per cent be Barack Obama. He’s just such an inspirational leader. Other than that, I honestly think the team of directors I have is the dream team. They come with such a wealth of experience and can draw from their diverse backgrounds to truly lead this business to transform lives through learning.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would be your dream job, and why?
I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher, funnily enough. So it’s bizarre now that I run one of the biggest training companies in the country.
What are your favourite places in the North East, and why?
It’s too hard to choose my favourite place – I love living by the coast, but also the buzz of the city (and the shops) in Newcastle. Durham Cathedral is also a favourite, and we’ve actually got a 150-year-old stone which was removed from the Cathedral in 2016 as part of the restoration works which we’ve housed at the entrance to our new head office.
Which are your favourite newspapers and online sources of news, and why?
I absolutely love FE Week, it covers news for the education sector and gives us frequent updates on what’s going on in the education landscape.
Which recent business achievement are you most proud of?
2019 saw Learning Curve Group announced on The Sunday Times’ Top 100 Best Companies to Work for list. For a business that has grown from its North East roots into a national training provider, it’s an incredible achievement to make such a prestigious list.
What’s your best piece of business advice?
The best piece of advice I was ever given was to understand what you’re asking people to do before you ask them to do
it. It’s something that has really stuck with me, and I often ask people to do things and they say it’s really difficult and can’t be done and I can say: “This is the way I would do it.”