Five minutes with…Iain Pearson, CEO of Galloway’s Society for the Blind

18th October 2022

Berwick Partners had the pleasure of supporting Galloway’s with the recruitment of their new CEO and were delighted to appoint Iain Pearson who joined on 1st March 2022.

This exciting appointment came at a crucial milestone in the charity’s history, when they embarked on a new strategy intended to reach more people affected by sight loss within the community. As the region’s largest sight loss charity, they aim to deliver the best possible outcomes for those supported by Galloway’s.

Iain Pearson brings a wealth of experience to Galloway’s from previous roles within the Public and Third Sectors and latterly as Executive Director of Business Development at Age Concern Central Lancashire, a post he held for over 10 years.

I talked to Iain about his first few months at Galloway’s and his experience of his first CEO role.

What inspired you to want to work in the not-for-profit sector?

I have given this question a lot of thought and ultimately it comes down to personal values. Simply put; I believe I am better suited to a career in the third sector where my decisions and actions have a more tangible connection to helping others and towards a greater cause.

As a first time CEO, what was your approach to transitioning to Galloway’s Society for the Blind?

I did the usual things such as reading information on the charity’s website and Companies House and met with trustees on several occasions prior to starting but the main aspect was preparing myself mentally.

The transition to a first time CEO is a big step and I was very conscious about adopting a healthy frame of mind. I focused on phasing out any feelings of self-doubt and reflected on my strengths and what had led me to this point.

Resilience is huge and I can honestly say that putting an emphasis on my own outlook and adapting to change has really helped.

What should organisations/employers bear in mind when considering a candidate with no prior Chief Executive experience (what are the risks and rewards)?

I can fully appreciate the answer is largely based on the organisation and their situation with each employer needing to consider their goals when recruiting their new CEO, experienced or otherwise.

However, what I would say is that no one is born a CEO and at some point every CEO that ever lived has been given that first privileged opportunity with many going on to reshape their organisation and industries in the process.

Clearly there are risks when appointing a person with no prior CEO experience but ultimately there are no risk free options in recruitment and I would urge organisations to look beyond titles and towards the potential to secure rising talent and fresh perspectives.

Reflecting upon your career so far, what have been the pivotal successes which have shaped your approach to leadership?

It is hard to pick out one specific event or thing that has shaped my approach, it has been and continues to be a journey combining experiences gained through work and supplemented through life-long learning.

I have provided leadership within the context of underperforming services, restructures, redundancies, new innovations and growth and of course COVID19 but again, I would suggest the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In essence I believe that leadership is about serving others and in doing so you must leave your ego at the door.

What would your advice be to those stepping up into their first CEO role?

As a first-time CEO the dynamic is certainly different. There are so many things but several key pieces of advice include:

Board relationships are crucial as too is understanding the organisations legal/governance structure, decision making processes and how you operate within those. Get to know your Board, their views and what they consider important to the organisation.

The same extends to your senior leadership/executive team.Take time to listen, observe and form your own opinions about the effectiveness of the group.  Are they leading by example, is there trust and confidentiality evident or is the opposite true? Form your own opinion and go from there.

The old cliché is true, it can be a lonely place.Take time to carefully establish connections that you can trust both inside and outside of the organisation.

Establish the autonomy you need as CEO to make decisions and if you require more leverage to be effective? Be prepared to constructively challenge policy when needed.

Do not feel rushed or pressured to make decisions.Take your time to make deliberate and informed choices to save problems, time and money further down the line. Whilst others may press for change at pace remember, it is better to go slowly in the right direction that quickly in the wrong direction.

Ensure your organisational strategy is informed by the views of your customer segment and do not adopt too many KPIs. Focus on fewer yet more relevant indicators. The Board will probably thank you for it.

Having made the transition to first time CEO, I am testament to the fact that it can be done. Be yourself, be authentic and be ready to take the next step. The leap is not as great as you think.

For more information, please contact Sandra Hamovic, Associate Partner in our Not for Profit practice.

Categories: Not for Profit