Meet the CEO: Amol Devani

Strong and committed leadership help steer early years groups through highs and lows, supporting each level of the business step by step. NMT speaks to Amol Devani, co founder and chief executive of Bright Little Stars Nursery for our Meet the CEO series

Since opening its first setting in 2013, Bright Little Stars has expanded to six nurseries. A London native who graduated from the London School of Economics, Amol worked in London, New York and eventually Switzerland becoming a managing director for an investment bank. However, he started to seek out a vocation with greater community and social benefits.

Devani says: “My co-founder, Rupeen Popat and I wanted to take a fresh approach to early years and decided that we wouldn’t lease any sites; instead we are only going to purchase very selectively and with clear requirements. We were also firmly committed to only open a nursery every 18 months, so from the beginning it was quality over quantity and that’s still true for us today. Stable growth is essential.

“Rupeen’s family business is care homes and that sector is intertwined with the early years sector. So, working with Rupeen, bringing my finance background into play we formed a successful and effective business model and Bright Little Stars was born.”

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the cofounders opened two new nurseries and while they faced challenges, both are now full and running a waiting list.

Meet the CEO: Recruitment and retention

What’s very clear when speaking to Amol is how much he values his staff and acknowledges the essential role they have played in making Bright Little Stars a success.

That appreciation and the introduction of new initiatives has significantly helped maintain great retention levels. He agreed that over the past couple of years, everyone in the sector has been affected by workforce challenges, but so far this year has been positive.

“Of course, it was a tricky year and actually the hardest recruitment environment I’ve experienced in 10 years, but now we are fully staffed and have a couple of vacancies and recruitment isn’t a problem anymore for us at the moment and that’s because we have invested heavily in our staff.

“So, 12 months ago I took a pause, and we did a deep-dive company survey. We do these anyway, but this was much more in-depth. We had 75% participation from employees, and we had employees sit down in working groups to talk things through. We had numerous meetings and came up with a 12-month plan.”

Some of the things implemented were:

  • With the cost-of-living crisis Bright Little Stars implemented a staggered six monthly pay increase for staff to support retention rather than every year
  • A new benefits package was rolled out which was largely inspired by staff recommendations
  • Being valued and recognised featured high in the employee survey so BLS (Bright Little Stars) bucks were introduced. Staff can be awarded bucks for things like completing a training initiative, creating new ways to engage with children and great parent communication etc. Employees can trade in bucks over every quarter for some company incentives
  • A parent educational programme was started and twice a month Bright Little Stars provides online live and interactive training that cover areas such as parent paediatric first aid, mindfulness training and school applications
  • An external employee family wellbeing service provides support not just to employees but to family living in their households. It includes unlimited private online GP appointments, mental health support, a mindfulness app, but most importantly financial and legal support.

Growing a nursery business

Devani continues: “Acquiring a new setting or premises can be a daunting process, but the first thing you need to get right is the business model, because if that doesn’t work it’s going to have a knock-on effect.

“Secondly, create that core management team. If you have already built a positive culture, you’re going to want to maintain that, so try to offer promotions internally first and opportunities for existing staff.

“If staff are valued, retention rates are most likely going to improve.”

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