This week’s Throwback Thursday is Barry Leahey MBE, who has had an incredible career and was recently named in Insider Magazine’s 42 under 42 which showcases the best business talent in the region.
Barry remembers his time at Winstanley fondly and was happy to share his story with us…
“I loved my time at Winstanley and always look back with fond memories. I met friends for life and the subjects I studied set my direction in life. A huge part of that direction comes down to being mentored by good teachers, the discipline and dedication was inspiring. I was proud to represent the college at Rugby League for the two years I was there. Obviously, it was the start of the developmental years so discovered nights out with friends, but I think my social skills developed the most with a 3-week exchange trip to Chicago, giving me the confidence to travel the globe later in my career.
From Winstanley I went on to study a BSc Sports Science at the University of Sunderland (where I was named Alumni of the Year in 2017) and achieved highs and firsts on this course – I was the first student to study in the USA at Valdosta State University and my dissertation was published as part of my course leader’s research. Socially I put the university on the map and I set up the Rugby League team with a small grant from the Student Union.
On leaving Sunderland in 1996, I won a European Social Fund Scholarship to study an MSc in Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moore’s, where I had my research used for the preparation of athletes at the Sydney Olympics. This was noticed by a company called Technogym, a global leader in Health and Fitness. I joined their UK area management team and at 23 I was the youngest by 7 years, again the discipline I was taught at Winstanley allowed me to succeed.
For the last 15 years though, I have been with a company called Playdale Playgrounds Ltd. We design, manufacture, install and service outdoor children’s playgrounds. This is where I have made my most notable career achievements. I joined as Sales and Marketing Director in a hyper competitive market where there are at least 60 other registered businesses doing the same in the UK alone. Playdale was on the verge of being in the top 10. Through professional systems, reorganising and restructuring I grew the business from £5m to close to £15m in the space of 7 years, this saw Playdale becoming the 2nd largest UK based business in the industry.
In 2011, I led Playdale into the export markets with the ambition to be in 40 countries by the company’s 40th birthday in 2018. I did this by educating myself and my team through free courses at the then government department of UKTI. My system involved getting on a plane to a new country and spending a week meeting potential distributors, architects, municipalities and school principals to assess the potential of the market.
In 2016 Playdale were named by the Federation of Small Business’s (FSB) as National SME Exporter of the year. On the back of the this, the then small business secretary invited me to open the London Stock Exchange with her during national export week and then I received an invite to attend the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, both mind blowing and very humbling experiences from a guy from Wigan who studied at Winstanley College.
However, my biggest career achievement happened in June 2017. A shock and a very humbling moment when I was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, I received an MBE for my services to Export and International Trade. An honour that I dedicate to the hard work of my team and proof that great things happen to the most ordinary people who aspire to be the best. An award that I would never have achieved if I had not had that grounding at Winstanley College.”