Brenda McLeish

CEO, Hartlepool

Sector: Education and Training

Brenda McLeish is CEO of Learning Curve Group (LCG) and within her time in the business, it has increased from a £1m turnover to a £45m turnover. 

Where do you call home? 

My roots have always been firmly based in the North-East as I grew up in Stockton and now live in Hartlepool. I absolutely love living by the sea and the sense of community that you feel across the whole region. I feel so proud to now lead one of the largest employers in County Durham that has such a huge impact on people’s lives across the country. 

Tell us about your role?  

I am the chief executive officer of Learning Curve Group (LCG), one of the UK’s largest training providers. I joined LCG in 2008 when the business had 40 staff and was turning over £1m. I became CEO in 2015 and I have driven significant growth within the business, which delivers an extensive range of educational services and training programmes across diverse industry sectors to learners across the country. Now in 2021, the business has grown to a £45m turnover, with over 550 employees. Community is such a huge focus for me in my role at LCG. My vision to “transform lives through learning” impacts over 200,000 learners every year, many of which are those who are hard-to-reach, and not in employment, education or training. 

How did you get to where you are today? 

I have spent my entire career in the education sector. I entered the sector at East Durham College as an administrator and worked hard to develop my knowledge and experience in a number of roles before joining Learning Curve Group in 2008. 

By the time I was 28, I had become a senior manager at a further education college in Teesside. This was a defining moment in my career as I was so young and it was quite unheard of to be a senior in a college at that age, which made me stand out a lot. I was then headhunted by LCG in 2008 and I joined the company as a business development director, later becoming managing director for our skills academy provision. In 2013, I moved into the role of group managing director. 

I progressed to my current role as chief executive officer in 2015 and since I joined the company, the employee count has risen from 40 full-time employees to more than 550. Over the decade that I have been at LCG, the company turnover has increased from £1m to in excess of £40m. 

What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way? 

I think one of the biggest challenges for us at Learning Curve Group, and many others in the education industry, is navigating the ever-evolving funding landscape. While it is a challenge, it is one that the team at LCG thrive on. Being able to help ensure that we can take education funding and government initiatives and get them to the people that need them is a major strength of the business. It’s the nature of our industry, and one of my biggest passions is ensuring that education is accessible to all, and funding makes that happen, so while it is one of the biggest challenges we face, it also comes with huge opportunities for both us and our learners. 

Describe the moment you first got a feel for success? 

One of the highlights of my career was when we achieved our mission of transforming one million lives through learning at the end of 2020. One of our core values at LCG is putting learners at the centre of everything we do, so to know we have had a positive effect on so many lives is fantastic and puts into perspective everything we do. This was an incredible milestone to hit, but we aren’t stopping there – our Purple People are continuing to work towards the next milestone! 

More recently, we held our staff conference which saw all our 550+ Purple People come together in one place. It was our biggest employee event to date and the first time we brought together the new businesses we acquired during lockdown, so it was the first time many of our staff had met face-to-face! Standing in front of over 550 Purple People and seeing them enjoy themselves and connect with each other and the business was an incredible moment, and I knew everyone in that room felt part of something special. 

Do you have any advice to aspiring young females? 

I strongly believe that anything is achievable through hard work and education. I urge young females to continue to develop their skills and knowledge and take every opportunity to learn that comes their way. It is never too late to learn something new. 

I have always been inspired by Michelle Obama and this quote from her is one that truly encompasses why the work that we do in the education sector is so important: “We can’t afford not to educate girls and give women the power and the access that they need.” 

This is something we have always been passionate about at Learning Curve Group. We work to break down barriers through our community-led learning, to ensure women have access to the education that they can build a career from. Whether we’re working with women from cultures where education for women isn’t the norm, or with our partners at women’s centres where women have been through significant trauma, when women are empowered to learn skills, they begin to believe in themselves. 

What advice would you give for your younger self?  

When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. It is so bizarre that I now run one of the largest training providers in the country that impacts hundreds of thousands of learners a year. Therefore, I would tell my younger self to grasp every opportunity to learn and keep following a passion for education that I have always had. 

What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?  

Our Purple People – I don’t need to look far for motivation at Learning Curve Group. I only need to walk outside my office and go talk to our dedicated staff that work so hard every day to transform lives through learning. Our Purple People are at the heart of the business, and I take a lot of inspiration from them.

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