Andy Miller was appointed as CEO of Folens Publishers in June 2017, having first joined Folens as Sales and Marketing Director in October 2015. Andy previously worked in the IT industry as Sales Director for over 20 years and was delighted to join Folens, where he could further pursue his passions for sales and education. Folens is celebrating 60 years in Irish education in 2018. As CEO, Andy is committed to continuing the legacy of Folens, who throughout its history has been listening, understanding and adapting to the changing needs of teachers and students to help deliver better learning outcomes.
Andy is also an advocate for companies playing their part in Corporate Social Responsibility. He heads up the Folens Giving Programme that looks to support charities and organisations, that make a real difference in the lives of young people and teachers through education in its widest sense. Andy is an avid armchair sports enthusiast and rugby supporter, having recently stepped down from the executive of Old Wesley RFC. Andy likes to complete at least one triathlon per year, even though his body says he is too old.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
Leadership is a skill that can be taught but all good leaders must possess some of the basic qualities within them to start with such as passion, ambition and an eagerness to learn. Leadership is often not the most popular role but something that as an individual you have the inner belief that by stepping up to the plate you can make a difference. Sometimes decisions that must be made can be hard but often these are the right decisions for the betterment of your team and/or company etc. Practice, repetition and consistency in delivery are the traits that can be taught to help leaders develop. In my experience what people look for is a leader who has consistency, and therefore provides reassurance to the business. The old golf adage from Gary Player of “the more I practice the luckier I become” is definitely something that all leaders need to remember.
When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?
Someone who has ambition, willingness to learn, integrity and passion. Someone who is not afraid to stand up for what they believe but at the same time has a keen sense of cultural norms and the mood music in an organisation. Will your potential leader be able to work in the organisation as it stands today and will they over time be able to bring their team and the company on a journey that could help positively add value to your business? Sometimes the best hires come from outside your industry because they have a genuine interest in working out how we can drive change, improve value and add something new and different to the business.
If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?
In my opinion, the strength of a good leader is the person whose leadership team know exactly what the ask is, and who have the necessary level of ability and confidence in their own skills and judgement. I came into a new industry with no intention of telling my management team how much I knew about the education sector instead I used the opportunity to learn from them. In turn, I was able to use my skills to help them improve their own natural abilities and better execute on their industry knowledge. If I stepped away from the business for 1 year I would be confident that the day to day would continue on an even keel. My advice would be to continue as if I was in the business and take the time to step back and ask themselves the question if Andy was here what would his advice be? 9 times out of 10 most people actually have the answer themselves but just want reassurance when making the harder decisions. No one is indispensable but the value that we bring as leaders is the ability to manage the difficult, the important and harder aspects of business – that takes time and practice to master.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
I now spend a portion of my week visiting schools, talking to industry experts, researching online and really thinking about the direction our industry is taking and the opportunity for us to be at the forefront of this in the future. No one can predict how their business will perform over a long-time horizon, however being open to accepting that what we know today may be completely different tomorrow and how best we can adapt to this is really exciting. “We cannot control the dancefloor, but we can learn how to dance.”
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
I have been very lucky to have worked for two great CEOs in the IT industry one of whom has been running a very successful IT company for over 20 years and has now over 150 staff. The other is providing consultancy services to companies like us that may not have all of the skills and resources needed internally on a full-time basis so recruit industry experts for discreet pieces of work as needed. People who I personally admire would include Joe Schmidt, the work that he has done for Leinster, Ireland and the creation of a mindset for all modern professional sports in Ireland is immense. Others would include, although reluctantly, Michael O’Leary, not from any close knowledge of the person and not for how he tries to wind people up but for his sheer dogged determination and belief that he could change an industry, which I think it is fair to say he has and we as consumers have benefitted from.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
We have recently invested in LinkedIn Learning for our entire staff as an online eLearning self-directed platform. In the few short weeks since rolling it out, the benefits that I have personally found are really encouraging. Most of our staff have already taken at least 1 course. There are thousands of leadership videos and courses that can take from 20 minutes to 2 hours to complete. Setting aside an hour a week is something we asked every member of staff to do. One of the most enjoyable and slightly off the wall courses that I recently took was “Humour in the Workplace”. While I didn’t learn any new jokes or snappy one-liners it was an insightful course that allowed me to fully appreciate how humour is used in a workplace in a positive and negative manner and how the culture of your organisation can be shaped by the type of humour that exists in the company. Who knew!