Every month, we put the spotlight on a member of the team. This time around, it’s the CEO of Parenta and founder of our charity, Parenta Trust. Find out more about Allan’s role and his inspiration for starting the business nearly 20 years ago.
When did you first spot a gap in the market for Parenta’s products and services?
I was working as a director for Vaillant – the central heating and boiler manufacturer. My sister would ring me up all the time; she ran a nursery and would ask for answers to what I thought were relatively basic business questions. Together, we started looking closely at the sector and came up with the idea in 1999 of enabling parents to view their children in nursery through webcams.
In 1999, the internet was only just developing and that technology was very, very new. We spent about 6 weeks looking at that marketplace trying to figure out what to do. The good news is that, within 6 weeks, we realised it was a completely rubbish idea – the technology wasn’t really ready and also parents weren’t that keen on it, let alone childcare providers! So we started to develop websites for nurseries and quickly became the largest provider of these websites; from there we started to recognise that a lot of nurseries had problems collecting their fees so we created a brilliant service called Fee Planner. Why was it so brilliant? Because it solved such a significant problem for nurseries: getting paid on time. In 2006, we went on to develop nursery software and eventually bought a training company called Academy Training.
How would you describe your role within Parenta?
My role now is about providing guidance to the Senior Management Team as we strive towards our vision of being Remarkable in everything that we do by 2020. They’re working incredibly hard to support the business and our ‘Remarkable’ vision, building systems and working with their team members to ensure that our vision occurs by the 1st January 2020.
The Senior Management Team are running the business, now! My job is to chair meetings and to make sure we’re on track with our vision and with the objectives we need to achieve in order to ensure we realise that vision.
Much of my day-to-day role is now leading the company that owns Parenta – MBH Corporation PLC – and especially building its education arm, Lara Group PLC, although my heart belongs to Parenta and the childcare sector.
What do you think makes Parenta stand out as a software and training provider?
That’s really easy – what stands out is our staff. Our staff make such a difference; I have never worked with such a dedicated and committed team of people! What makes us so special is that we look after our staff, treating each other just like family. We ensure that when people are down or when people are having issues at home, in whatever way possible, we support them.
In the company’s history, what achievement are you most proud of?
Again, that’s a really simple one. Last year we were able to pay out profit share to our hardworking staff. That’s not the way that most companies – big or small – work in our country. You have a couple of companies like John Lewis who do provide profit share. But, in the main, companies don’t do that. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I was absolutely thrilled that we were able to pay out full profit share for all of our partners. It made me incredibly proud and I hope it made a difference to the lives of our colleagues.
In what ways does Parenta give back to disadvantaged children and why is this important to you?
Our charity, Parenta Trust, is incredibly important to me. I think it’s a key part of who I am as a person and I hope it’s a key part of what Parenta offers and stands for. So far, we’ve built and opened 4 schools which provide a pre-school education for nearly 800 children. We’ve also commissioned our fifth school. This school is really important to everyone at Parenta as it’s being named after our colleague who sadly died 18 months ago – Dan Carlton.
We’ve also raised about half the money we need to build school number 6. I think we’re in an incredibly privileged position. Being able to give back to those who are disadvantaged is very important to me and I think, with our charity, we’re successfully doing so.
What are your teams working towards in the coming months?
Our teams are working on transforming Parenta. We’ve set a target that every interaction internally will be 100% right by the 1st January 2020. This is our ‘Remarkable 2020’ project and we’re aiming to ensure that responses from our customers gain a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 9 or 10. Our vision is to ensure that every transaction with our customers yields a strong positive reaction from them, so they’re able to vote us an NPS of 9 or 10.
It’s about ensuring we achieve 100% “right first time” throughout the business. We’ve not always done that in the past and it makes life difficult for everybody – our customers, our staff – and particularly when we move a product or service from one department to another. If it’s not done right first time, the other department ends up having to pick up that slack or redo the work. And that just slows everybody down and makes it harder for everyone! So our vision is very much about achieving ‘Remarkable 2020’ – on the 1st January 2020 all our services, products and delivery WILL be remarkable.
What were the reasons behind writing your book “Improving the Business of Childcare” and how can childcare settings benefit from it?
I’ve visited more than 1000 settings in my near 20-year history of Parenta and not just in the UK. I’ve been to settings in the US, I’ve been to settings in Australia and New Zealand, I’ve been to settings in Singapore, one in France and several in Africa. When talking with people who run commercial settings in the UK, I found that the challenges and problems that most nurseries face are essentially the same and I was providing the same advice on every visit. That prompted me to write my book, providing knowledge on how to make a childcare business successful.
What’s really interesting about the book is that, out of all the suggestions I make on how to improve the business, only 1 requires anyone to invest any money. So I think that’s very positive in itself! And I’ve been absolutely bowled over by the response I’ve had to it. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking launching a book because you don’t know what people will say, but the feedback has been staggering. I’ve had so, so many people write me a note or send an email, it’s been quite amazing.
Tell us a few things about yourself that most people don’t know
I can tell you several things! I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for Marie Curie Cancer. I’ve also climbed the highest mountain in Uganda – Mount Elgon – for Parenta Trust.
I had a kidney transplant in 2015. I think donating an organ is one of the most incredible things that anybody can give to anybody else and I often speak at our local hospitals advising or guiding people who are waiting for a kidney transplant and telling them about my experience.
And just to finish off with something silly – I used to, when I was 18 years old, do telesales for a kitchen company where we had to sing down the telephone. Each person would get a page from the telephone directory and start in the top left-hand corner, calling every single number and singing down the phone!