A News story by Ellena Schuster-Farrell 15 November 2017

Trustees play a vital role, volunteering their time and working together to make important decisions about E-ACT’s work.

This week is Trustees’ Week, an annual event to showcase the great work that trustees do, so we’ve been getting to know a little more about some of the people who sit on our board.

Today, it’s over to Sean Alleyne for his reflections on being a trustee for E-ACT. Sean has over 15 years’ experience in financial services and is currently Managing Director of Credit Suisse and the Chief Operating Officer for Credit Suisse AG London Branch. He is Chair of the Audit & Risk Committee.

As you know, it’s Trustees Week this week…

Wonderful! Do I get a card or something?

We’ll send you a box of chocolates! So tell us about how you became involved with E-ACT.

It’s actually quite a funny story. I was at a dinner about four and a half years ago and I met two rather interesting characters – one by the name of Dr Ann Limb (former Chair of the Board of Trustees) and another one called David Moran, who had just started at E-ACT. We got chatting and I thought they were two inspirational and passionate individuals, and it went from there!

What in particular attracted you to the role of trustee?

There’s a couple of factors. In the first place, and the reason I was at this dinner, was because I was interested in how education helps break the cycle, unlock opportunities and level the playing field. That’s something I passionately believe in, so when I heard David and Ann talking about E-ACT’s philosophy, values and their vision, it made sense for me. I wasn’t actively seeking to become a trustee at that time, but I just thought it was the right thing to do – it made sense to engage with them.

As I found out more, I thought it was something that I could help with. We were probably in one of the most difficult times for the organisation, and I felt that my skill set and background in finance, audit and as a chartered accountant would help to fill a gap and strengthen the board of trustees. Hopefully I helped that all come together…I guess you could say it was fate in a way.

How does your professional experience inform your work as trustee for E-ACT?

A lot of what I do and spend my time thinking about is risks and controls. As we manage an increasingly complex multi-academy trust, it’s vital that we’re forward-looking, thinking about things on a risks basis and anticipating where we’re going. We need to prioritise, because we have some very important things to achieve with fairly scarce and limited resources. Doing that in a disciplined and structured way is essential, so hopefully my background helps to inform some of that work.

What in your opinion makes an effective trustee?

The most important qualities of a good trustee are honesty and integrity. I think an effective trustee also has to have the ability to question and analyse, with a healthy professional scepticism. They also need to be aware of the importance of partnering with the executive management – helping them achieve their goals but also holding them to account.

What makes an effective board?

An effective board needs to have that balance of skills and that cognitive diversity. It needs to be willing to have those tough conversations, and importantly make the tough decisions and set that strategic direction.

It almost becomes like a good, close-knit family: the ones who can have the most difficult conversations but can also support one another.

What does governance best practice now look like?

I think the board is one piece of the puzzle, but governance really needs to go through the fabric of the organisation. We as a board are not the most important thing to the organisation. The most important thing has to be the students. Therefore, the next thing you need is people around those students who are able to deliver good outcomes, then leading on from that you need the organisation to provide the infrastructure and the support required to achieve those outcomes. Finally, the board of trustees are there to make sure that all of that fits together and to orchestrate it in some way, but even that really has to happen at an executive management level.

Good governance is continuity, end-to-end throughout an organisation.

Keep an eye on our website for the second part of Sean’s interview, where he shares his thoughts on the most rewarding aspects of his role and his vision for E-ACT.