Magazine article New Zealand Management

Young Executive of the Year: Claire Szabo - A Change Leader

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Young Executive of the Year: Claire Szabo - A Change Leader

Article excerpt

Restructuring an organisation is one of the hardest tasks a chief executive can face -- yet Claire Szabo has done it twice, putting her organisation in great shape over a tough period in the business landscape.

"I have restructured twice since starting as CEO in June 2006, as strategic plans have taken us in a new direction," says Szabo, who heads English Language Partners and is this year's NZIM Central Region winner and winner of the NZIM/Eagle Technology Young Executive of the Year.

English Language Partners (formerly ESOL Home Tutors) offers migrants and refugees a range of English-language programmes delivered by a combination of qualified professionals and trained volunteers. "Our clients are all people with amazing stories who have been through amazing things to get here," Szabo says.

Staff management and leadership has been made easy by working with an excellent team of highly committed, diverse and skilled people, she says. "Being appointed chief executive at 27, I got lots of support from the fantastic staff in my team."

Szabo says she inherited an organisation that was dissatisfied with its salary system. Funds dispersed by the national office for organising and delivering services were seen as inequitable and out of step with the market.

"Working with senior managers, I implemented a programme of change on salary funding for members. This involved participatory processes to prioritise a range of possible changes, external sizing of 200 roles, analysing roles to create categories, sourcing of market data, significant fundraising, and a two-stage process to move salary funding to benchmarked bands over a six-month period.

Hard on the heels of that restructuring and a name change to better reflect the organisation's role, Szabo went into a year of strategic reviewing and planning, resulting in 39 recommendations.

Working with a senior staff member, she drafted a strategic framework encompassing a vision for the community, a vision for the organisation in three to five years, four result areas and 13 specific goals.

To gear up for the new strategic direction, she restructured the national office, appointed a deputy CEO from within the staff and hired someone to a new role as client relationships developer.

So which project is Szabo most proud of? "In 2008, I had the chance to negotiate a new $1.12 million annual fund with the Tertiary Education Commission. This purchased a programme for 690 people needing small group or one-to-one language support and was rolled out across all 23 locations. Seventy teaching staff were trained to deliver the specialised tuition."

Szabo says the job was made tougher by a very short timeframe, which created some stress. "But the tensions were worked through admirably by staff." This year, the second year of its delivery, it funded 127 new tutoring positions, reaching several thousand clients a year."

External relations have been a major focus, say Szabo, who was a founding member of three alliances over the past three years -- Adult and Community Education Strategic Alliance, Literacy Alliance and the Settlement Non-Government Organisations Networking Group, which she chairs. She has also created a new partnership with the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand to deliver a foundation skills programme, and with the Rural Education Activity Programmes Aotearoa NZ (REAPANZ) to deliver language training to learners in rural locations. …

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