Neal Meets.... Young Enterprise

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Neal Lucas, Managing Director of the leading Executive Search company Neal Lucas Recruitment, shifts focus to the third sector to meet with Carol Fitzsimons of Young Enterprise, a popular figure in the local business world.


Name: Carol Fitzsimons

Title: Chief Executive

Company: Young Enterprise NI.

Established: 1986

No. of Employees: 49

Previous Jobs: Head of L&D at gem; Assistant Production Manager, Desmonds.

Hobbies: Scouting and baking.

Proudest Moment in Career: We ended our 25th anniversary year last year with our strongest level of delivery ever, and I was proud of the team that we had built up in order to develop this goal.


What process do you use for strategy formulation?

I believe it is important that the process is informed by the stakeholders, so I seek input from those that are involved as service users and in delivery. Staff on the ground have a very high level of knowledge that is important to gather, so that your strategy is also embedded in the reality faced by our customers. The external environment is also a key consideration, which includes looking at Government policy and the implications for our work.

What are (or have been) the major inhibitors to your strategy?

Long term financial stability. There is huge demand for our work in Young Enterprise, and ambitions to extend the work we do further; however, this is constrained due a lack of funds. Much of our funding is on a one-year cycle which works against the ability to create a longer term strategic view. Balancing our ambition with the resources available is a major challenge.

How do you communicate the strategy to employees and other stakeholders?

I have an all staff meeting which brings all the team together, and I take them through the strategy, and what this translates to in terms of an operational plan for the year ahead. This then aligns into their annual objectives, so it should all link back to the strategic plan. These documents are also shared with staff and our regional boards, so that everyone has a good understanding of what we are working to achieve.

What key attributes of your own leadership do you feel have been important in delivering on the strategy?

Continuous improvement is a key theme for me. Given our academic cycle, it would be very easy to fall into a ‘same as last year’ approach, but I have encouraged the team to take the approach of a ‘learning organisation’ and to challenge the status quo. The review and improve approach, is important to me, so that we continue to grow and develop our organisational impact, but this needs to be driven by everyone, not just me. This has been the other aspect, to engage those delivering on the strategy in the process of how it will be delivered, and to ensure they have ownership for achieving it on a day-to-day basis.

What was your biggest challenge in moving from a management role in your previous job to the number one role in YENI?

Realising that it can be a lonely role, as you don’t have a peer group of managers in the same way. For me, that is why it is important to also have a good mentor, an engaged board, and to develop a strong network of others who work at similar levels in other organisations.

How do you define leadership?

I don’t have a hard and fast definition, but I believe the role of the leader is to set the tone and culture for the organisation, and to be clear on the expectations of what the successful organisation will look like.

Is there anything you would like to change about business in Northern Ireland?

I see an interest in engaging with our work in Young Enterprise, but I would like businesses to get much more actively engaged with us, as part of their longer term strategy to develop the transferable skills of young people, since these are ultimately their future employees. It is vital to link the worlds of education and business much more closely together, to focus us all on the long term success of Northern Ireland, in terms of building our entrepreneurial potential and knowledge sector economy.

What personal traits do you feel have helped you get to where you are today?

I aim to be honest with people and engage in two-way communication. I think this is vital in terms of building up genuine relationships that can make sure both organisations benefit.