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10 years as a CEO: celebrating a personal milestone

This week I celebrate ten years as a CEO. I can’t quite believe that it’s been a decade since my appointment as a Chief Executive. My predecessor had served a similar term and at the time, I couldn’t properly appreciate his achievement. Now I have a better idea…

When I first stepped into the role, being a CEO seemed daunting. I had respect for the responsibilities and power such a role brings with it regardless of how large or small an organisation you lead. When I was appointed I was 31 and I was lucky to have a wonderful mentor who had a wealth of first hand experience of what it was like to have an executive role as a young woman.

Over the past ten years the organisation I lead has achieved much. Every time we publish a new Impact Report, I look back at the year and reflect proudly on all that our staff, Trustees and Members have done. Each time, my respect for and appreciation of how much impact we can make as a community is rekindled.

As a new CEO, what motivated me was curiosity and confidence. Every day brought new challenges and my working life was far from boring. I was keen to challenge myself. Curious to find out whether I was equal to meeting the demands of an executive role. What I lacked in experience, I made up for in organisational knowledge. I had several roles in the organisation before I was appointed as CEO and that allowed me to get to know the organisation from the ground up. Having seen what we do at events and for Members, I was confident that I had what it took to make a positive contribution, to help the organisation thrive.

Forging my path and finding my voice was never easy. For a time, I was so focused on my work that I became nearly synonymous with the organisation. Our values align with my personal ones so strongly, that it felt rewarding to stay in the flow of work for much of my time. We were making great strides to transform the organisation and the way we worked and I loved seeing my hopes become a reality.

With the help of many colleagues and inspired by many keynotes, blog posts and conversations I gradually found my voice. Once I found it, I used it to amplify our work and increasingly also my personal professional priorities. My blog became a place where that started to happen more and more and on social media and later on internet radio, too, I found ways to build a personal network. Around the same time, I started give a series of keynotes, including one at the ALT Annual Conference in 2018, that helped me to articulate my particular perspective more widely.

Throughout this period, I have benefited much from everyone around me sharing their practice. It may still be quite rare to find leaders who do, but in our community there are many who work in the open with generosity and grace. Inspired by their example, I share my expertise and experience both in my day to day work and beyond it. I am working on a book on leading virtual teams which is due to be published later this year and I have begun to coach women seeking to develop in their careers in Learning Technology on a pro-bono basis.

So what’s next? Ten years is a long time in the same job, especially a high pressure job. To me, it feels like I have had at least three different jobs over the past ten years. The first five years as a CEO in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 were a steep learning curve. Then the transition to leading a virtual team in 2017 and closing our office in 2018 provided a unique a new opportunity for learning how to run our organisation all over again. And then the global pandemic happened and in 2020 and 2021 we had to adopt a new business model as the Learning Technology landscape changed beyond recognition.

I can honestly say I have never had a boring week and that is exactly what I was hoping for when I applied for the job. I also have the privilege of working with a wonderful group of people, our Board and Members, a deputy I can trust and colleagues whom I love working with.

The past two years have prompted many to re-evaluate their work/life balance and make a change. For me working throughout the dark days and months of lockdown has only increased my respect for our community and given me a renewed sense of purpose. All the reasons why I felt that the work we do is important ten years ago have now taken on a new context, a new sense of urgency as the digital dimension of education has become a more contested space.

Whilst the constant uncertainty of the past two years has made it clear that it is not wise to assume that we know what is ahead, I am grateful that I will continue to serve as the CEO of ALT for the foreseeable future. I hope to bring the same curiosity and confidence that I have started with, with added expertise and experience that I have gained in the past ten years.

Most importantly, I feel a fierce commitment to working for an independent charity that has found its voice grow more influential and that gives me the support and space to have my own voice, too.

Photo of Maren Deepwell in 2022.