Although she had planned for career in sports physiotherapy, Kerry McLaverty found her calling working with children and adults with disabilities. After moving into management just four years ago and subsequently arming herself with an MBA, she was appointed head of operations in LauraLynn two years ago and is now also company secretary.
About Kerry McLaverty
Can you tell us about your education and career background?
I was awarded a JFK scholarship to Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania in 1998 and spent four years there completing a bachelor’s in sports medicine. When I came back home to Ireland, I went on to do an accelerated master’s in physiotherapy at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown.
I finished this course in 2005 and had grand aspirations of working for Manchester United, but it turned out that job was already taken! At that time the HSE moratorium had just kicked in and physiotherapy jobs were few and far between. So, I took a job in Stewarts Hospital in Palmerstown, working with children and adults with severe and profound physical and intellectual disabilities. Though far removed from sports physiotherapy, it turned out I had found my calling, in paediatrics in particular, and I spent about seven years working there.
During that time I also started to get involved in the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists, participating in clinical interest groups in intellectual disability, as honorary editor of the Society’s magazine Firsthand, and as a member of the board of directors. I also took a role as adjunct lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons, teaching on its foundation year physiotherapy course in intellectual disabilities.
In 2012, I was headhunted to the physio department at LauraLynn Children’s Hospice which had recently opened. Two years later, when the clinical services manager resigned there was an internal competition and I threw my name in the hat. That role involved overseeing a team of multidisciplinary clinicians and developing clinical programmes across the hospice and the disability service.
As it was my first management role, I requested support to undertake further education in people management or clinical services management. The CEO at the time suggested doing an MBA, which hadn’t been on my radar at all. I followed it up and was fortunate to receive an Aspire scholarship to do the executive MBA at Smurfit in 2015.
In the midst of the MBA, I was seconded into the new role of head of operations, which is now my permanent post. In November 2017 I also took on the role of company secretary on foot of the MBA and having done the corporate governance module.
Tell us about your current role
LauraLynn Children’s Hospice provides a wide range of supports for children with life-limiting conditions and their families. Ensuring business continuity and overall smooth service delivery 24/7 is ultimately the responsibility of the head of operations. It is therefore one of those all-encompassing roles in LauraLynn.
The analogy I use is that it’s like spinning plates. It spans so many facets of the organisation – finance, marketing, clinical, non-clinical – and there are so many different priorities. I have to keep everything spinning at the same time and make sure the organisation continues to operate without dropping any plates!
One of the key areas I’m responsible for is around strategic planning. We’re currently developing our five-year strategy so I’m heavily involved in that with the CEO at the moment. Another significant area is budgeting, procurement and overall financial management – I hold the operational budget for the service and monitor all the non-pay expenditure.
Data analytics and reporting is another focal area. I’m responsible for reporting back to our board and committees on data relating to our capacity, occupancy rates, referrals and service user demographics, and looking at ways we can link in with HR and our director of nursing around workforce planning and trying to maximise capacity.
I link closely with other members of the executive management team on aspects including audit and quality standards, media relations and event management. The facilities manager reports directly into me, and IT also sits in my remit. A range of other bits and pieces crop up all the time –deputising for the CEO when she’s on holidays or otherwise occupied, linking with fundraising on a donor pitch, even dressing up in costume for our family fun days! No two days are the same for me at LauraLynn.
The MBA definitely prepared me for this role. For me, the best thing about it was the exposure to people from so many different backgrounds. You’re in groups with accountants and engineers – people who think very differently from you and from each other. It certainly broadens your mind around how you approach and think about things and having that perspective definitely helped me in taking on this role.
What motivates you?
Probably challenge. I’m definitely one of those people who gets bored easily and I’m also quite competitive: if an obstacle is put in front of me I’ll always try to overcome it. So, seeing a challenge or a problem that other people are struggling to solve motivates me.
I also believe it’s important to surround yourself with people who are achievers themselves and make you want to strive to be better.
What is your leadership style?
I have a strong focus on my staff. I do believe you have to acknowledge the importance of the people around you and build a strong team. I was in the audience once when Richard Branson was being interviewed and his quote around minding your staff really struck me. He said, “your clients don’t come first, your staff come first – if you take care of your staff, they take care of your clients”.
In healthcare that’s often forgotten. People always say the patient comes first and is central to what we do. As a physiotherapist that was always my belief. As a manager, however, my priority has shifted to the staff and that bigger picture of understanding that if you take care of your staff, they are then better equipped and motivated to mind our service users. Working in children’s palliative care, this is particularly important, where compassionate fatigue can often be experienced by our staff.
I believe some of the important characteristics of a leader include being clear and concise in decision making; ensuring you bring people along with your vision and communicating it really clearly – being consistent and not constantly moving the goalposts. It’s also important to be passionate – as a leader you have to love what you do because that drives you to strive for the best. If you’re only going through the motions it filters down and creates a culture of apathy and complacency. Be authentic.
Are there people who have inspired or influenced you?
First and foremost it’s my family. Both my parents left school before the age of 15. My dad was from a working class background and worked from a very young age, bringing money into the household. He always worked for himself and reinvented himself many times – everything from dry cleaner to security and running a nightclub to having his own clothing business. He was quite entrepreneurial and instilled that in my two brothers and me. My mother definitely instilled a sense of conscientiousness and an ethos of hard work.
Seeing the families we support in LauraLynn and how resilient they are in the face of absolutely unbelievable challenges also has a big impact. You realise how much you take for granted and it reminds you that no matter how tough things get you’ll always get through it. These families are truly inspirational to me on a daily basis.
What is your biggest achievement?
I don’t think there’s any one thing. Achievements can be measured in so many different ways. On the personal side, finishing my first marathon was massive for me at the time. Educationally, completing the MBA has been a huge stepping stone. Professionally, because I’ve had so many changes in my career there have been different kinds of highlights. As a physio, I remember one little girl with cerebral palsy taking her first steps and her excitement and her mother’s reaction and that will always stay with me. On the managerial side in LauraLynn, the implementation of our electronic medical records system, which I led in 2014, has probably been the most transformational change project in the organisation in recent years, and was a huge learning experience for me.
Are there any failures you look back on?
It’s more a feeling of personal disappointment for myself. In the last semester of the MBA as part of the entrepreneurship module a group of us came up with a start-up company and business plan. We got such good feedback we decided to do it for real. It is now a company that is up and running. Unfortunately it was bad timing for me – a combination of work pressures and personal circumstances; I just didn’t have the bandwidth and had to take a step back from the start-up. I’m still invested in the company but I consider it a personal failure that I lost out on the experience of being involved and bringing it to fruition.
At the time, I found a quote that I put it on my office wall, because it’s so true: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”.
What are your tips and advice for success?
The first thing I’d say to anyone is to always be positive. I constantly surprise myself with things I’ve done. I’ve learnt that the most important thing is putting yourself out there and in a position to do it in the first place, and being ready to say yes to whatever is put in front of you. That way you have no regrets.
You also need to surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire and support you in your decisions and don’t hold you back.
It’s really important to build your network – not just for the sake of it or for connecting with people who can help you get ahead, but looking at how you can help them too. The best networking tip I ever got was to always try to figure out what you can do for the people you meet, no matter how small it is. They in return will be more open to conversations and reciprocating and not feeling that you’re just after something.
Be open to accepting feedback. Solicit it, welcome it and don’t be afraid of it – well intentioned feedback can only make you better so the more you get, hopefully the more you can continue to improve.
Probably the most important thing is to continue to challenge yourself. Don’t accept mediocrity or complacency. I regularly ask myself, is this it, is this as good as it gets? If the answer is no, then there’s more work to do. If you can confidently stand over something and say, yes, this is how I think it should be, you know you’ve reached your goal. That gets me to go the extra mile and always give 110%. It’s not about being a perfectionist but more about being able to stand over the fact that you know you did your best and you’re happy with the outcome. I apply that to day-to-day things, but also to life in general.
What are your plans for the future?
The immediate future is family focused. To date, I’ve always put my education and career first and that path has led me down a few unforeseen twists and turns. But it’s now come to a point – and I think it’s something many career minded women have to deal with – where I’ve faced this decision around having children. To be honest, they weren’t really on my radar at all, to the point that not so long ago I couldn’t see myself having children. Now, my perspective has changed and this is probably going to be my next challenge.
I’m passionate about children’s healthcare so that is the sector I see myself alwaysbeing involved with in one way or another. I see myself at some stage starting my own organisation with a view to bringing change and improvement in the sector. There are so many different possibilities. As long as I’m learning and continuing to challenge myself, working in an area that I love, I’m open to whatever the future brings!
What do you do in your spare time?
I love reading and creative writing and even have aspirations of writing my own novel at some point.
I’m also a sporting enthusiast. Ever since my time in college I’ve enjoyed North American sports – my husband’s Canadian so that stuck! Aside from spectating, I also like to play sports, and I’ll try just about anything. I’ve played in lots of different mixed sporting leagues, including basketball and softball and last year I took part in the MBA touch rugby world cup in Smurfit – we got to the ladies final, but were sadly beaten by London Business School. I’ve taken up golf recently, and I also have two Bernese mountain dogs, so we do a lot of hiking in the Dublin Mountains.
Finally, travel is one of my other great loves and we are going on a three-week round the world trip in a few weeks’ time for my husband’s 40th birthday, which I’m very excited about.
How has your degree benefited your career?
The MBA has without doubt shaped my career trajectory. It opened my eyes to broader horizons, and I would definitely not be in the role I am in currently had I not undertaken it.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit School?
Those frantic last few days pulling together our capstone project and the feeling of sheer euphoria when it was handed in – realising that it was the end of the MBA journey.
How important is your UCD alumni network to you?
One of the best things about doing the MBA is the connections you make with your classmates. I value these relationships almost more than the learnings I took from the MBA.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you
I was once a backing dancer at a Boyzone concert in 1997!
What piece of technology can you not live without?
Unfortunately, I’ll admit that my iPhone is like an extension of my arm that I feel lost without.
What are your pet hates?
I can’t tolerate bad drivers, and I get really impatient when I get stuck on the country roads around my house every weekend behind swarms of cyclists taking up the whole road!
Who are your favourite writers and books?
I’ll generally read anything I can get my hands on, so no one favourite, although I do love the classics – Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens. I just finished The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, which I really enjoyed and highly recommend.
And what is your favourite band or musician?
I couldn’t begin to pick just one band or artist! I have a hugely eclectic taste in music; everything from the 50s crooners, to hip hop, to classical, to pop. If I had to pick a genre, it would be American country and bluegrass.
What’s the last gig you went to that you loved?
Being a huge country music fan, I absolutely love the Country to Country three-day music festival that plays in Dublin each year, bringing the biggest names in American country music to town.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
My husband actually does almost all the cooking in my house. I’m spoiled that way!
What teams do you support?
My father always used to say, “I don’t have a favourite team, I just like to watch good sports.” I’ve inherited that from him, and for most sports that’s the case – though I’ll quietly admit when it comes to football, it’s still Manchester United!
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
America’s deep south has a strong pull for me – it’s something about the laid back way of life, that infamous southern hospitality, the music, dancing, and diverse culture that grabs me.
However, I’m sure my upcoming round the world trip will open my eyes to a whole new range of cultural delights!
Name three things on your bucket list
Write a novel, set foot on every continent, learn to play guitar.
What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
My father passed away six years ago under the exceptional care of the staff at Blackrock Hospice, and I will always be grateful for the care they provided.
I can also say in all honesty,and without bias, that I am extremely proud of the work that we do every day at LauraLynn Children’s Hospice.
Hospice care is such a vital support for families when they are at their most vulnerable, and I believe it to be a very worthy cause.