Interviews

"Don’t waste time justifying your plans to anyone": June O'Sullivan on changing the world

7 min read

29 May 2018

Editorial Director

London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) is the UK’s largest childcare social enterprise, which runs nurseries in the disadvantaged areas in London. We talk to June O'Sullivan to get to know the woman behind LEYF.

June O’Sullivan MBE is a Change Maker. As the CEO of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), she has been revealed as one of the shortlist of six female business women for the prestigious Veuve Clicquot Business Women Awards as well as the award for social purpose. 
LEYF is the UK’s largest childcare social enterprise, which runs nurseries in the disadvantaged areas in London to ensure parents and children from all backgrounds can afford a nursery place. Here’s her story.

Name: June O’Sullivan 

Job title: CEO  

Company: London Early Year’s Foundation (LEYF)

What is the number one thing you want change in your industry and why? 

It would be that children from ALL families (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) have access the highest quality education. This is very much the mission of LEYF fueled by our ambition to change the world one child at a time through our social enterprise business model and our specific pedagogy.  

The experiences children have before the age of five set them up for the rest of their lives and research shows that nursery education best supports children’s early development. Before age three, our brains develop faster than any other point in our lives and nursery education is proven to give children a significant social and intellectual advantage at primary school, through to adulthood.  

Economically there is an argument that shows too many parents, especially women, want (or need) to work but are locked out of the workplace because of the cost of childcare. As a result, many children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not just missing out on the high quality early education that can help them educationally but also child poverty (of which 1 in 4 children live) is aggravated in households where there is unemployment.

One of the biggest barriers for poorer women to return to work is the cost of childcare and its availability in poor neighborhoods. LEYF attempts to change this situation.

To make sure parents and children from all backgrounds can afford a nursery place, LEYF runs nurseries in some of London’s most disadvantaged areas (subsidising 43% of parents to access a free nursery place) and is the largest provider of the free two-year-old offer in London. 

By giving children a high-quality nursery education, supporting their parents to work, creating jobs for young people through our apprenticeship programme and campaigning for fair Early Years policies, LEYF is helping whole communities to thrive, now and in the future.    

What are the top 3 insights you’d like to share?

  1. Trust your insight and “gut” 
  2. Leadership requires bravery, credibility and emotional intelligence 
  3. Know your stuff.  People especially junior staff see through someone who doesn’t know it and feel it 

 What was your first job or business? 

I trained as a psychiatric nurse which was my first real job.  As an adolescent I worked in Dunnes Stores Supermarket in Cork and then summer jobs in Roches Stores. 

Complete the sentence: If I wasn’t a business leader, I would be… 

…leading a training, development and research team in some care related area (probably homelessness).  

What is your favourite achievement? 

Apart from developing, growing and surviving as the largest childcare social enterprise for ten years (this year), developing the LEYF pedagogy. I am really proud of that.  It takes theory and research and combines it into a practical means of delivering really high-quality care and teaching to small children. I love seeing it in action when I visit nurseries.  It makes me feel so proud of the LEYF team. 

What is the most difficult leadership lesson you’ve learned? 

That sometimes people in roles of authority are dishonest and self-serving.  When the challenges come, they step away, blame others, fail to support you and let their own issues and demands dominate rather than the wellbeing of the business and all those who depend on them. 

What is one must-read book that has changed your outlook? 

One is too hard! My top 5 are…

  1. Creating a World Without Poverty, Mohammed Yunus 
  2. Bowling AloneRobert Putnam 
  3. Just Playing, Janet Moyles 
  4. Margaret Macmillan: Portrait of a Pioneer by Elizabeth Bradburn 
  5. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Thaler and Sustein 

Who are your biggest role models?  

People often ask that but I have met some amazing people who have given me hope along the way. I have met some fantastic women, ordinary women doing extra ordinary things. I have been blessed to be friends with some of them.  Sue Chambers was a huge inspiration to me when I first met her in 1994 and we marched against Nursery Vouchers.  We became firm friends until she died last month. She was a huge advocate for children with special needs.  Alice Sharp is another influence with her enthusiasm for children’s learning. Jenny Holloway is a superb social entrepreneur who runs a factory in Haringey where she provides clothes for M&S, ASOS and Gieves and Hawkes, while training women to become seamstresses.  

Great social business leaders would include Mark Sesnan from GLL and Mark Simms from P3 and social entrepreneur politicians like Baroness Glenys Thornton and Lord John Bird always give me the sense that everything is possible.  

What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received? 

Make your plan and surround yourself with good people who get youDon’t waste time justifying your plans to anyone. Get a good group of friends who will tell you the truth nicely. 

Haters, back off! What’s your best comeback to naysayers? 

Thank you for your advice. I have put it in the laundry basket and I will wash it out later!