Darren Yarnell is the Chief Operating and Sustainability Officer at Greenwood Academies Trust. In this interview he shares key insights into his role including his responsibilities, the main challenges he has faced, his key priorities moving forward, and what he enjoys most about leading trust operations at scale.
What was your professional background in the run up to becoming a Chief Operating Officer?
I began my career working in construction and project management consultancy, before moving to the local authority, working in housing and managing the capital programme. When Nottingham City Council became a unitary authority in 1998, I moved over to the education department during its formation. That was the catalyst that brought me into the education sector. At the City Council I managed contracts across all of the schools in the city, procurement, and health and safety. When I moved to Greenwood Academies Trust (GAT) it was a fairly new organisation, so as well as bringing my technical skills to the new role, I was also able to bring my experience in establishing systems and processes.
How would you describe your role within the trust?
My role in the trust has developed and evolved over time. I started off as Procurement Director for GAT, but I brought with me a whole range of other skills around construction, project management, capital programmes and health and safety. When I joined the trust in 2011 we had three academies; we are now heading towards having 38/39, so there has been rapid growth. It was when we reached around 10 academies that it became clear that my role needed to encompass more, as we moved towards more centralisation of services, so it was around that point that I became Chief Operating Officer. We brought a number of teams together under my leadership, covering everything from estates, health and safety and capital programmes, to catering, procurement, and marketing.
“While the CEO and leadership team steer the ship to get the outcomes we want for the trust, the COO and their team ensure that everything runs as it should to enable this to happen.”
In my view, the collection of services overseen by a Chief Operating Officer are like the engine room of an academy trust. While the CEO and leadership team steer the ship to get the outcomes we want for the trust, the COO and their team ensure that everything runs as it should to enable this to happen. We keep the lights on, make sure that everybody’s safe, fed and watered, and that the buildings are doing what they need to do. We make sure everything is in place so that the teaching staff can use their skills and professional expertise to completely focus on delivering the curriculum and improving the learning experience and outcomes of the pupils.
In my role as a COO I get to see the fruits of my work; and that’s hugely rewarding because I can see the impact of what my team and I achieve, and know that it’s making a real and positive difference.