Q&A with our latest OBE

Pablo Lloyd, the co-founder of our visionnaires entrepreneurship and mentoring programme, has worked in education and skills – inspiring the next generation of businesswomen and men – for 20 years. 

And on Thursday 7 November, his years of dedication to young people’s vocational and technical careers were rewarded, when he received an OBE (at a ceremony called an Investiture), from HRH Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

After the Investiture, we caught up with Pablo, to ask him about his journey from primary school to an OBE and to find out if he took the bus to the Palace…

Capital City College Group (CCCG): Hello Pablo and first of all, congratulations! What an achievement! Can you tell us why you were awarded an OBE?

Pablo Lloyd: Hello, and thank you! The citation states that my OBE is “For services to WorldSkills UK”. I was a Trustee of WorldSkills UK for 12 years and, although I stepped down last December, I still do some informal project-based advice and coaching for them, including support for their exciting new Productivity Lab.

WorldSkills UK is a charity that champions vocational and technical careers and world-class skills across the UK. They do this in a number of ways, but principally by selecting and training young people to represent the UK in the EuroSkillsand WorldSkillscompetitions. They also run the national skills finals, held every year at the massive WorldSkills UK LIVE event in Birmingham.

The WorldSkills and EuroSkills competitions are a big deal. Take WorldSkills for example. The last one was earlier this year in Kazan, Russia. In all, 1,354 young people from 63 countries competed in 56 different skills competitions: best chef, best landscape gardener, best beautician, best tiler, etc – categories covered everything from Cyber Security to Fashion to Plastic Die Engineering. China, Russia and Korea are the countries to beat, but the UK usually gets in the top 10 in the categories we enter, and in Kazan we won Gold medals in two incredibly competitive categories, Aircraft Maintenance (Haydn Jakes) and Beauty Therapy (Rebecca West).

CCCG: So it’s fair to say that skills and education are close to your heart. What’s your personal education journey?

Pablo: Well, I grew up in south London and I managed to pass my 11 plus exam at primary school. That meant I got a subsidised bursary place at a public school in Wimbledon called Kings College School. From there I went on to read maths at Cambridge University and got a job in the City of London as a trainee Chartered Accountant. Today we’d call it an apprenticeship.

For a while, I was a Finance Director in the music industry, at the Performing Rights Society(PRS) – making sure that musicians and performers got the royalties they were due when their music was played publically or on the radio. One of the PRS’s Board members was the record producer Pete Waterman. At that time, Pete was famous as the man who’d recently made Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue pop stars and I remember him as a funny, insightful and very dyslexic man. He was one of the people who showed me that everyone has a talent, and some people need help to find it.

In 1999, I moved into the education sector and I’ve been here ever since.

CCCG: How did you feel when you were notified of your OBE? Did you have to keep it a secret?

Pablo: I was astonished and humbled. To get an award like that, someone has to nominate you. WorldSkills UK nominated me, which was wonderful, but in reality, the WorldSkills UK’s successes are a massive team effort.  I am delighted to have been honoured but I hope it will also help to gain proper recognition for the work that we all do in vocational and technical education and training.

My OBE was announced in the Queen’s Birthday honours in June [there’s also a New Year honours every January], but I was notified back in April, so I had to keep it a secret for two months until the official announcement in June. It was hard not telling anyone about it apart from my wife!

CCCG: What happened on the day? Any strange looks on the bus wearing your finest, or did you get a taxi?

Pablo: We got a cab; we couldn’t go to Buckingham Palace on the bus wearing hats and fascinators…but more seriously, my mother in law can’t walk very far!

When I found out I could only get five tickets for the Investiture, I worked out that the most important people in my life are all women, but I did invite my brothers-in-law to have lunch with us afterwards. There have also been a few celebratory drinks with friends over the last few months too!

CCCG: Were you nervous?

Pablo: On the day, I felt strangely calm. I was just as excited to meet the other people being honoured! There were about 80 of us in all; men and women from all walks of life – from the armed services, fire service, policing, the care sector, performing arts, the Scouts – all sorts. No-one wants to be late for their Investiture, so everyone arrives early and there is a fair bit of waiting around, which means there are lots of opportunities to chat to the other recipients about what they’ve done.

Don’t tell anyone, but I was secretly disappointed not to meet Olivia Coleman or Elvis Costello who were also honoured in the Queen’s Birthday honours list. It turns out they went to the palace on a different day.

CCCG: What was it like meeting Prince Charles? What did he say to you?

Pablo: He was incredibly well informed considering he had 80 people to pin a medal on within an hour or so. He asked me if we were making progress in helping young people. I told him we were, because they are so gifted and motivated, and our training experts are so expert! I reassured him that our future is safe in young people’s hands – he didn’t look convinced, but I am. I get so much hope and energy from working with young people.

We are working with Prince Charles’s charity The Prince’s Trust as they are a referral partner for the Start Up, Step Up Londoninitiative we are running with the Mayor of London. The Prince told me about a new initiative he’s started called Industrial Cadets, but unfortunately, there wasn’t time to chat about visionnaires too.

CCCG: Reflecting on the nomination, announcement and now your Investiture, how do you feel about having been awarded an OBE?

Pablo: I am hugely appreciative of the hard work and effort of all the professionals who I’ve worked with over the years, which means that a few random people like me can shout louder about our efforts in vocational and technical skills.

It’s time we valued, and supported, our entrepreneurs more

Entrepreneurs make a massive but often overlooked contribution to the UK economy. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, the UK has an impressive 5.82 million small businesses (those with less than 50 employees), accounting for 99.3% of all the businesses in the UK. Three-fifths of everyone with a job in the UK – that’s 16.6 million people – works for a small business.

Between them, the UK’s small businesses have a turnover of an estimated £2.2 trillion – an amount of money so vast it is hard to get your head around. If you had a big enough pile of pound coins and could count one coin per second, it would take you 69,761 years and six months to count up to £2.2 trillion. It’s a lot of money.

So, entrepreneurs matter.

This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week #GEW2019 – a celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit – and you might be surprised to know that, as one of the UK’s largest further education college groups, entrepreneurs are important to us too. Every year, dozens of people leave our colleges – City & Islington, Westminster Kingsway and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) to be entrepreneurs. Armed with the skills they learned with us, they set-up their own businesses – be they consultancies, photography studios, hair and beauty salons or even as personal trainers.

And that’s not all. We’ve set-up our own incubator – Visionnaires – a social enterprise co-founded with the Capital City College Group that provides mentoring and practical support, advice and access to funding, for people who want to pursue their dream. I started Visionnaires because I saw that new or budding entrepreneurs often struggled to make that huge first leap from having a great idea to turning that idea into a tangible and viable business.

I’ve drawn heavily on my own experience of working for and running start-ups, to make sure that Visionnaires is valuable. My first experience of a start-up was 20 years ago, when I joined a new business that used early web technology to teach maths and English. It was exciting, unpredictable and very hard work. Eventually we grew to become the largest further education provider in the UK, and over 1 million people achieved qualifications using new technology. I loved the fact we were breaking new ground in education and giving a lot of people practical help. That’s when I became a social entrepreneur and went on to start three more successful businesses, which in turn led me to start Visionnaires.

Over my years in business, I have seen many people start businesses and many fail. Here are my four tips for start-ups – which we expand on in the Visionnaires programme:

1.   Build a vision – it’s not just about the money, your purpose is to make a positive difference to your customers, your team, your communities and the planet.

  1.   Love your business – if you don’t love it, your customers won’t either, do something you care about and do whatever it takes to make it happen.
  2.   Get curious –  listen to your customers, team, competitors and your own creative spark, build a bank of crazy ideas, one of them will be your next move.
  3.   Ask for help – don’t be alone, work out what you’re good at and build a network which helps you with everything else, find a mentor and business partners you trust.

Maybe Global Entrepreneurs Week will be the spark that starts you on your journey? You can find out more about Visionnaires on our website www.visionnaires.ac.uk

Pablo Lloyd OBE

CEO and Co-Founder, Visionnaires