Demystifying the trustee: Stuart Broster

For Trustees' Week 2021, we have produced a new interview series to demystify the trustee role to potential candidates. In this interview, Stuart Broster explains the trustee role and why he volunteers in education.

Stuart has over 40 years experience in the hospitality sector, and has held executive roles for hotel and health and fitness companies. Most recently Stuart was CEO of Anytime Fitness. Stuart is now semi-retired and joined the Olive Tree Primary School – a single academy trust located in Bolton – in 2020.

Why did you become a trustee?

Education wasn’t an area I had any previous involvement with. I thought it would be quite fascinating area to get stuck in with and the setup of Academy Ambassadors was interesting. I had a chat with a Regional Advisor from the Programme, and they matched me with an academy trust that fit what I was looking for. I wanted to become a trustee to widen my portfolio. Alongside other roles I have, it’s helped me to understand things like environmental, social and corporate governance better; school curriculums; and delegation of duties.

I was open minded about what volunteering in education would be like. The single academy trust I was matched with had various issues. The trust had issues recruiting trustees, as well as a financial notice to improve. I was quite happy to be matched with an academy trusts where things weren’t perfect.

What it the function of the trustee?

You’ve got to be ‘nose in and hands-off’. That’s the destination of a non-executive role.

You can’t ever lose sight on why the trusts exists and why funding for an academy trust is there: the success of children. If we ever move away from that, I’m not fulfilling my duty as a trustee.

Has it been rewarding?  

With the challenges the academy trust faced when I agreed to take on the role, absolutely. There was a clear opportunity when I joined the trust, as many issues had been flagged.

To make a difference is easier in a case where issues are exposed; it’s different from joining an academy trust which may have many undetected problems beneath the surface. In any case, when joining an academy trust you need to be on top of every aspect to prevent issues arising.

What are the similarities and differences between your professional life and the non-exec role?

When thinking about whether to apply for a non-executive role out of your comfort zone, it’s natural to have imposter syndrome. But if you are genuinely good at what you do in the corporate world, you can add value to any business. It doesn’t matter whether it is third sector, public sector or any other corporate business. There’s no difference.   

As long as you understand that the trust has to get better every day, then you can add value. The ability to ask questions without offending is the greatest skill. When I was an executive, I wanted to ask questions which found the truth, not what I wanted to hear – that’s transferable and it improves performance regardless of what business or charitable organisation you’re trying to progress. But from a non-executive position you have to ask questions in a different way, with your eyes wide open. You have to be enquiring, inquisitive and come from a position where you don’t already know the answer.

Would you recommend becoming a trustee?

In a heart-beat, but you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. As a trustee you need to ask questions and challenge the way your trust operates. I think it is incredibly fulfilling. My experience has been hugely positive helping an academy trust with issues to come out on the other side. We can now strategically plan for the future and support children to secure a job and ultimately live a happy life. 

If you’re starting out as a trustee, then education and schools is a fantastic and rewarding place to start - but it’s not a free-ride. You have to get involved and embrace it. Not just within the trust but taking courses outside which will help you learn and understand your role and ultimately allow you to be more objective in your position as a trustee. 

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