10 Questions: David Grailey

February 4, 2019

David Grailey is CEO of NCFE, a charity in the education sector that offers vocational qualifications to learners of all ages. With almost 30 years’ experience in the education and skills sector, David has an MSc in marketing and product management from Cranfield University and is a qualified food technologist. In 2000, he was bestowed the Freedom of the City of London

What was your first break in business?

Joining my mother’s family’s butchery business, initially as a Saturday lad and then full-time as an apprentice on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS). This instilled a great work ethic and understanding that working hard to deliver customer needs is critically important to business success. Having not achieved my potential at school (one ‘O’ Level), it also provided me with the opportunity to achieve vocational qualifications, which gave me the ability to get into the skills accreditation and qualifications sector, which is now my chosen career.

What did you want to be growing up?

I wanted to be a forrester or RAF fighter pilot. I love being in the countryside and spent most of my school holidays in the country with the family dogs and friends. Similarly, as a young boy, I was in awe of the achievement that the British and other nations’ pilots achieved by winning the Battle of Britain, against all the odds.

What attracted you to your current role?

I’ve always believed in the importance of technical education. NCFE is the perfect fit for me in that its aim is to help learners to make their lives better. NCFE is a values-based organisation which is important to me, and we passionately believe in delivering great service. We’ve achieved a world- class net promoter score (NPS) have been placed in the Sunday Times’ Top 100 Organisations to Work For (Not for Profit) eight times in the last ten years. We’re also the only Awarding Organisation to appear in the Top 50 Companies for Customer Service.

What is your organisation’s mission?

We don’t have a mission statement as we don’t
feel the language is right for us. Instead we have a purpose which is to: ‘create opportunities for success to enrich society’.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Recruit the right people, spend time understanding what motivates them, give them the space to exercise their skills and experience and set expectations. It’s then about working with colleagues in an adult manner to achieve those expectations. Respecting, including and trusting everyone in the business at every level and role
is really important to me, giving colleagues the opportunity to develop and also improving myself to the best I can be.

What has been your career highlight?

In my first job out of college, aged 20, I taught young butchers on a Youth Training Scheme at an independent training company. A colleague and I helped two young people who were studying part- time to achieve a technician level course in one academic year rather than two, and then go onto college full-time. The young people were learning sponges – enthusiastic and keen to work hard.

We supported them through good analysis and by making the learning interesting. Seeing their enthusiasm to learn and the impact I had – when their results came through and they’d passed it was a great feeling. This experience really sowed the seeds for my future career, so that is a definite highlight for me.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The technical education sector faces its fair share of challenges and the last few years have been no exception with various education reforms and huge sector changes. I think our biggest challenge has been to adapt, change and grow to meet these changes head on in an often volatile political landscape. I’m hugely proud of what we have and are continuing to achieve at NCFE – keeping the learners at the heart of everything we do is what keeps us going.

Who or what inspires you?

My partner, who works in a male-dominated sector, my mother and father, my sisters – one of whom works in a NHS Special Care Baby Unit and saves babies’ lives every day, and the other who helps young people and adults with learning difficulties.

I’m also inspired by my colleagues who help give people life choices through education – and my daughter who gets my unconditional love and inspires me to do the best for her.

What are your company’s short and long-term goals?

Short term goals are in our annual business plan, which every colleague gets a copy of so they know what they are contributing to. These can
be summarised as: Be the leading business in our chosen market segments; diversification to ensure a sustainable and growing charity for our beneficiaries; work with our people to make us all change agents to forge the future.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

I don’t always get it right but I’m working on it! To help achieve a balance, I do a range of things such as exercising and using the gym every working day, having a good diet, making time and laughing with family and friends, learning new things and travelling.


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In the limelight - February 2019