Regard Group chief executive Sandie Foxall-Smith, talks to Tim Barsby, business development director, at CarterSchwartz, about training, quality and commitment.
Who is Sandie Foxall-Smith?
I think first and foremost I’m someone who came into the care sector because I enjoy what I do. When I joined The Regard Group it was about making sure all the systems were tightened and putting process and procedure in place. When I took it by the scruff of the neck and invested in training and put quality into the company, it started to grow. We’ve found that the combination of training and quality has been a fantastic recipe for success. From £9m EBITDA to potentially hitting £25m this year – doubling since we sold for £12m about two years ago. You’ve got to have the right ethos and the right culture. It’s important to get out into the business and I regularly visit services. My newly appointed managing director Carol Edmonds has already visited 130 of our 157 services. To grow the company, we go to the local authority to see what the need is. We don’t just buy something and then try to fill it – we work with commissioners and have a 40-point template to work through before we do anything. We’ve done this opening 12 sites in the last 12 months and all but one of them are full. As a group, 93.3% of our services are rated as good or outstanding and that is something to be proud of.
When have you made a mistake, how did you rectify it, and what did you learn from it?
For any mistake, absolutely the first thing I do is own up. Now I would ring the chairman straight away and say I’ve made a cods up. I never hide anything and everybody in the building knows that. If you have that honesty and you lead from that perspective your staff will be very honest with you as well.
Is there anything specific that you believe everyone in social care should be working towards?
I think a personal plan for everybody in the entire business, whether you’re a service user or member of staff, it’s the only way forward. One of my regional directors came up with the idea because if you treat your staff and your service users in the same manner, you can then alter your care plan and your staff training accordingly.
And what advice do you give your home managers when you go and meet them?
Treat people as you’d want to be treated. There is no other advice.
What advice would you give to yourself on your first day in the care sector?
Maybe a better work life balance but in care the only way to deliver is to see it first-hand. That’s not just a 20-minute Royal Visit. You have to be there a couple of days so you understand the challenges that your team face.
What can we learn from other sectors?
Social care is a product, okay, it’s a challenging sector but you can’t change your principles just because its social care or you will be short-changing people. If those principles mean you make more money and you can put more in your CAPEX bill that’s your upside. If it means you spend more on your training and you deliver better care that’s your upside. Sometimes people come into social care, take their coat off at the door and forget there are all those fantastic business principles they’ve learned over the years; they think oh well, it’s different because it’s social care. It’s not different; at Regard we’ve been fantastically lucky and hardworking and we’re achieving an amazing product. For me it is because of all those business principles that I refuse to forget that we are successful.
How do you see the future in terms of public perception?
Until you buy a yellow car you never see a yellow car on the road. Until you have a child with learning disabilities you know nothing about it at all. So, consequently, I think people need to smell the coffee and realise that service users not in their family homes are much less likely to have parental contact at all, so we are their families. We must train our staff to do it right but there’s got to be more funding. It’s absolutely outrageous that we’re fighting for people to have a normal life that you and I wouldn’t even consider not having. Why should the people in social care services not be able to go onto further education, or go on a course, or go out for a day to the seaside? These lovely people who we look after deserve the best life they can have and people who have no knowledge of special needs probably need not comment. I suppose the question should be, how can you make a difference? Whether it’s in care, or how you make a difference in the road where you live or to your family or friends. I think if you keep the ethos of trying to make a difference, hopefully a positive difference… then that’s as good as it’s going to get and it’s getting better.
Article first published in Caring Times – October 2017