The CEO of Stagecoach talks about the values central to the brand and the biggest challenges facing the children’s services industry at the moment
With more than 25 years of experience in driving business performance and profitability, Andy Knights has a wealth of expertise in board-level roles for private equity-backed companies.
Following a career in regional management for major UK retailers and management consultancy experience, Andy has held a number of UK and global C-suite roles, providing his deep strategic and operational expertise.
He is currently the CEO of Trafalgar Education, a global education company which acquired Stagecoach, the performing arts school, in 2018.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the Stagecoach organisation?
The pandemic forced us to adapt, but we have ensured that the fundamental principles of Stagecoach have remained at the core of our offering. Communication has always been central to Stagecoach, and while the rapid need for digital means of communication was a challenge, we adapted and thrived, and we now use that progress to our advantage.
We have developed systems and processes that streamline our ways of working. While we embrace face-to-face communication, the pandemic restrictions highlighted how digital systems enhance how we work. Our intranet communication system equips our franchise network with 24/7 access to automated support. The efficiency of this system means our franchisees are instantly put in touch with the right person to deal with their query, improving response rates, productivity and franchisees’ satisfaction rates. Similarly, our staff training can now be completed online, which is something we have continued to adopt post-pandemic to make it more efficient for franchisees.
With the challenges of the pandemic on franchisees, we have focused on supporting them in all the ways we can. When restrictions prevented in-person classes, we provided a resource that families could access from the safety of their homes.
What is the biggest challenge facing the children’s services industry at the moment?
With the cost-of-living crisis and market surveys pointing to increasingly cautious consumer behaviour, we have found ourselves in a time when we have to remind parents that investment in their children is absolutely essential - especially given the way the last few years have affected young people. We focus on providing a safe and nurturing space for young people to develop and communicating that to parents can be a challenge. Despite this, what we are seeing more and more, both in the UK and on an international scale, is that parents are investing in activities for their children that offer personal development as well as being fun.
What is your go-to piece of advice for successful leadership?
As a leader, you need to show that you value your network and inspire them to perform better. Remind people of the business vision for the future whenever you bring them together. It helps remind everyone of the aspirations of the brand and provides a direction of travel. Ultimately, you need to motivate your people to achieve extraordinary things together, and this can only be done when everyone within the network is on the same page.
What are the vital components behind a well-run organisation?
Shared values, behaviours and practices guide each member of the organisation. ‘The Stagecoach Way’, which covers the philosophy, ethos and processes that define our work across the performing arts, ensures that everyone within our network is working towards the same common goal. It also means that everyone in our global family feels welcomed, respected, celebrated and heard. Defining the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the Stagecoach commitment, these values remain at the core of what makes Stagecoach one of the most well-known and established children’s performing arts franchises in the world.
What do you find fulfilling about being a franchisor?
Being able to provide a business opportunity for passionate, talented people to do what they love, and seeing how each franchise, and our collective network, grows. It is hard to believe that Stagecoach started over 30 years ago with just three schools in rented rooms in Richmond, Redhill and Woking, and now it has developed into a global franchise that operates in eight countries. It is remarkable to think that now Stagecoach sessions reach more than 55,000 children weekly on a worldwide scale. Our vision to change the world through Creative Courage for Life and our commitment to this is unwavering. Seeing children’s lives change in front of our eyes as their confidence and self-esteem grow is the driving force behind everything we do.
Do you believe franchise networks have an inherent responsibility to give back to the community they operate in?
One of the amazing things about franchising is the way that your brand can reach the communities of thousands of people across the world. We understand that supporting local communities is one of the most gratifying and fulfilling ways to put our success as a franchise to good use. We know that our success as a franchise is largely influenced by the success of our franchisees and the way they integrate their business and build close relationships within their local communities - something that we encourage them to do. These relationships are vital, not only from the standpoint of raising awareness of the school but also helps the schools develop and grow with and within the communities that our franchisees operate.
What will Stagecoach look like in five years?
In terms of the UK market, our goal is to encourage as many franchisees as possible to utilise our management model to facilitate rapid expansion and to open new schools. But our ambition - which has not altered in almost 35 years - is to ensure our franchisees are equipped with the resources they need to run a business that suits their needs and those of their students. By continuing to uphold this mission in the years to come, we hope to see the continued growth of Stagecoach in the UK and around the world.
Our vision is to change the world through Creative Courage for Life. We do this by teaching performing arts to children, improving their confidence and giving them life skills. Through our commitment to continually improve our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies at Stagecoach, we will establish our brand as the first choice for prospects looking to make a real, tangible change for their own communities.