National Boss Day – Meet Louise Cooper, CEO of Governors for Schools
Posted on 16th October 2018
Louise joined Governors for Schools as CEO in April 2017, having worked both in the UK and internationally in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. As it’s National Boss’s Day, we caught up with Louise to talk about her motivations for becoming a CEO in the education sector, and how she got there.
Did you always aspire to be a CEO of a charity?
Since my late 20s I thought I’d like to run an organisation with a social purpose. I felt drawn to education because both my parents were teachers. I read the stats about the number of young people not in education or training, and thought about what it takes to have a solid education. Having your own children really brings home how important it is to build the right foundations, and I wanted to help make that difference.
Tell us about your own education.
I was fortunate to have a good, well-rounded education. But that’s not true for everyone, which is a large part of why I decided to work in the sector. I studied Chemistry at Oxford University then I did an MBA at Harvard which was a fantastic experience. My first year was hard – when you move halfway across the world you’re starting again with relationships. The second year was a lot more fun. The brilliant thing now is the Harvard network – it’s helped me both personally and professionally, giving me access to lifelong learning.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
We’ve got so many ideas about things that we could do. The hardest bit is then prioritising what will make the biggest difference with the resources we have.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Working with the team. We’re all proud to talk about what we do. I love meeting people and telling them what Governors for Schools does, and about the governors we place and the difference we can make.
Have you had to fight to get to where you are as a woman in business?
I studied chemistry at university in Oxford, and women made up about 20% of the course. Then when I started working in management consultancy, women only made up around a third of the intake. When I consider male/female comparisons, I think about the fact that often women think they need to have 100% of the experience and skills to apply for a role, while men tend to think they need about half. So I’d say to other women, have the courage to make the best of who you are and don’t be put off by over-confident (and sometimes under-experienced) men.
Do you see many similarities between the private and charity sector?
Any great organisation has to have a clear vision and mission. Strategy falls out of that. If you don’t have clarity at every level then you don’t have an effective organisation, which is true across both the private and third sector. Good businesses understand their customers, and good charities need to understand their beneficiaries too.
Generally the pay in the charity sector is lower, which is why it’s particularly important to create a working environment that’s good for people. I think staff development and opportunities are vital. I make it a priority at Governors for Schools.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt over your career?
The importance of listening and communication. It’s very easy for the people at the top of organisation to think they’ve given a message everyone understands. But communication, and sometimes even over-communication, is vital at every level to make sure everyone’s not only understood, but can interpret this for their role and be confident what it means to them. And then talk to someone if this doesn’t make sense.
What do you think makes a school governor important?
There’s the general point that as governors, we’re improving children’s education. A child only gets one shot at education, so it needs to count. Then there’s the more specific experience you get from the role – you can influence decisions on budgets and the curriculum, and you’re working with the senior team to put tangible plans in place.
What’s the next step for Governors for Schools?
We’ve undergone a lot of change over the past 18 months. We’ve rebranded, grown the team, and made great progress within our operations and in understanding our impact at the same time. I think we’ll start to collaborate more with other organisations. We can do so much ourselves in terms of recruiting and placing governors, but we make sure every school has excellent governance on our own. 2019 will be the year of building outwards.