• 07 October 2021
  • 21 min read

Aneurin Brown's Career Advice For Climbing The Social Care Ladder

  • Liam Palmer
    Registered Home Manager
    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
  • 0
  • 207

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Liam Palmer talks to Aneurin Brown about his journey into Social Care and gives advice for climbing the career ladder.

Liam Palmer:

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This is Liam Palmer from the Care Quality Podcast - Meet the Leaders and Innovators. Very pleased to introduce Aneurin Brown, called Ni. Ni is the Group Operations Director for Hallmark. And we're going to talk to him about quality in regards to his career, in regards to his work at Hallmark, and how Hallmark achieve and approach the task of how to create quality in care homes. So, Ni very well welcome to you.

Aneurin Brown:

Hi Liam. Thank you for having me.

Liam Palmer:

Absolute pleasure. Absolute pleasure. So obviously we've talked a little bit before Ni, and we're fascinated to hear a bit of your story about how you got to be the Group Operations Director for Hallmark. Obviously, in the quality end of care homes certainly it's a premier brand, very well regarded in the industry. So I'd be fascinated to hear a bit about sort of what brought you here. I mean, do you want to take us from when you didn't go to university? That was a little anecdote we had when we were planning. So do you want to take us from there?

Aneurin Brown:

Yeah. The answer to that Liam is quite by accident. I'd never... social care was never on the agenda for me, kind of when I was growing up. And at the age of 17, off I went to get my first job, and much to my parents dismay decided not to go to university because working in a hotel was much more appealing and earning money and being able to buy a car for the first time as I'm sure lots of young people at that age do.

And off I went. I think in those days working in hospitality, but very fortunate looking back to have that grassroots sort of business acumen and managerial experience learning, learning by doing and learning on the job and making mistakes and not making those same mistakes for a second time. And work really closely with a team of people at that hotel. But my passion and my delight was always the entertainment and theater and TV industry.

Liam Palmer:

Right.

Aneurin Brown:

And if I had of gone to university the first time around, that would've been what I did. But chose not to and worked at the hotel and learned lots of things there on health and safety and food safety. And what I see now as being lots of read-across, across into other sectors, and just a sort of hard graft as well of-

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Of long hours, hard work, at points achieving the impossible.

Liam Palmer:

Right.

Aneurin Brown:

Just coming together as a team. Interestingly, I did go off to university, but much older.

Liam Palmer:

Okay. Sure.

Aneurin Brown:

I found myself at the age of 21, 21/22, in amongst all these 18-year-olds. And now that gap doesn't seem that great, but when you've been in the world of work and have sort of grown up a little bit-

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

And then you go back to study with people who are in their late teens.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

I can tell you that the gap is bigger than you think.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

So yeah. I did go to university, albeit a bit late, and studied at the School of Theater, Music and Media at the University of Wales in Carmarthen and graduated, but worked all the way through that. And then was lucky to find work with BBC Worldwide in London.

And BBC Worldwide are the commercial arm of BBC that we all know. And BBC Worldwide essentially is a commercial business that exists to exploit the BBC's commercial brands. And was working there and then came across a job in the Welsh Valleys, in a lovely old town called Merthyr Tydfil.

Liam Palmer:

Oh, I know it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I lived there. I know it.

Aneurin Brown:

Did you?

Liam Palmer:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I lived in Blaenau near Abertillery, in Abertillery [crosstalk 00:04:50]

Aneurin Brown:

And I head to the valleys there, and of course-

Liam Palmer:

That's right.

Aneurin Brown:

Hallmark Care Homes' Greenhill Manor Care Home in Pentrebach is Hallmark Care's largest home in Wales.

Liam Palmer:

Okay.

Aneurin Brown:

And we were advertising at the time for a hospitality services manager.

Liam Palmer:

Oh yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

And a very good friend of mine was a regional director of Hallmark, and we had some conversations and I learned a little bit about Hallmark and went along for the interview. And the rest is history, as they say. And I was taken from that very moment of stepping into a care home. I have to say that all of those stereotypes run through my head, for people that don't understand care homes and what care homes do, of course, people that work in this sector.

I mean I know much, much better now, but at that time I was unsure, I was nervous, I didn't know what to expect. But from the minute I walked through the door and the experience that I had, I was in. And I always say that I joined Hallmark, I felt like I joined something. I didn't come to work for a company, I joined something quite special.

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Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

And from there, I had some, some fantastic experiences at Greenhill Manor working as a Hospitality Services Manager. And then taking on various different roles in the company. I've been lucky to do so over the years, moving out of Greenhill into sort of regional roles, into group health and safety roles, looking after the estates and the hospitality functions.

And then kind of honing more down into the real [inaudible 00:06:22] ops, regional management and regional director, and then more recently group operations director. So I have to look back sometimes and think, how did that happen. You asked me that question at the start. It's a question I ask myself very often. But it did and I'm very glad it did.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah?

Aneurin Brown:

I love every day of it and no two days are the same.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Superb. Yeah. I mean, as we talked in prep, I visited is it Anya Grange? Is that right? Anya Grange?

Aneurin Brown:

You got Anya Court in Rugby.

Liam Palmer:

Anya Court. That's it. Anya Court. Yeah. I visited there a couple years ago for a Home Manager role, which I explored, at the time it wasn't quite right. But I just completely fell in love with the place, the Hallmark whole branding, and the sense of finish and quality, and the sort of sense of dignity about how those spaces are designed. It really is something isn't it? It really is something quite, quite special.

Aneurin Brown:

It is. And I think it's that thing about, and this is what caught my eye when I first joined was this ethos of exceeding professional standards. And if we're going to do it, if Hallmark were going to do it, not just doing it to reach a standard but to really blow that standard out of the park.

And that's something which still amazes me now is that will to commit to quality projects, to whether it's the homes that we build, whether it's the services that we offer, whether it's the way that we train our team. And there are many examples. But yeah, you are right. And I had that exact same reaction as you, Liam. I still do when I'm walking around some of our new build care homes, where you stand there and you look around and just think wow, you know this is a phenomenal facility.

With everything, the way that this is designed, all that goes into thinking of the way that those rooms will be used, the technology that we put into them, the feedback that we get from our teams that work in our current homes and the residents that currently live in them.

All of that goes back into making those homes better and better and better, and there's that real cycle of real pure continuous improvement.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Every one, I know it sounds a little bit cliche, but everyone is better than the last and that really is true.

Liam Palmer:

Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that makes total sense. I mean, so how long have you been at Hallmark?

Aneurin Brown:

I joined Hallmark in 2014. So...

Liam Palmer:

Okay, about seven years.

Aneurin Brown:

Just about seven years, yeah.

Liam Palmer:

A meteoric rise, which is brilliant, to be fair. I mean, from outside looking in obviously you've, hospitality is a useful discipline to come from, isn't it? Because you've got your food, you've got your customer service, you've got the sense of customer experience, the dining experience. Really interesting about your experience with theatrical acting, media, kind of, that's the sort of epitome of how to design an experience, to create one, isn't it?

So that seems interesting. I mean, so how do you think your roles that you've had at Hallmark prepared you for the one you've got now? I mean, was it sort of incremental learning or...? How has it made sense to you?

Aneurin Brown:

I think I'll take it right back to the beginning. And I was very lucky to have a General Manager when I joined Greenhill in the hospitality role. I had a general manager. I remember he said to me, I will teach you everything, your role-

Liam Palmer:

Really?

Aneurin Brown:

Yeah. And I'm eternally grateful for that. And that's something that in my current role I look now when I speak to general managers about that succession planning. Because I think we can often pigeonhole people, either we do it ourselves or our managers do it to us. It would've been very easy for my general manager to say your role is hospitality, so that's your box and you turn within that box, and then everyone else will operate in their box. But he didn't do that. What he said is I'll teach you everything.

And I very quickly found myself learning about medicines management, about safeguarding, about care planning. And I loved it because of course it was totally new to me. And I was like a sponge just absorbing it all and learning. And that's the best training course I could have had.

Liam Palmer:

Wow.

Aneurin Brown:

And I'm really grateful for that. And that's what I learned. And I think in terms of my role now, I'm still able to, if needed, go in and do the do. Because I've done it.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Investigations, all that grassroots sort of stuff.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

That happens in our care homes on a day to day basis.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

That was my training. And I'm really, really, really glad that I have that. And then I think, off the back of that, I've got a little bit of a reputation. People are being kind to say that I'm sort of inquisitive.

Liam Palmer:

Oh yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

I'm honest and I'll say I'm nosy. And I think that in whichever role I've operated in, I've always sort of kept an eye over there and I kept an eye over here just to see what was happening.

And if I can learn something and to do it, and sort of put my hand up for various roles and said I'll do that. Can I do that. And of course there's a lovely culture within Hallmark where, if it's appropriate, the right people will say well yeah, you can.

Liam Palmer:

I see.

Aneurin Brown:

And hence how kind of health and safety turned into health and safety and estates, looking after the property management. Health and safety and property turned into hospitality. So then sort of three strings to my bow in terms of...

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

And from there onwards really. And I think, but I take it back to the first experience that I had, which was arriving in that care home and learning from bottom up, this is how we do it, this is how we... And of course I learned from a very experienced general manager as well, which again was invaluable of course-

Liam Palmer:

It was a gift. Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Yeah. And somebody that really knew, because I mean Hallmark of course has got a 24-year history, and next year is our 25th-

Liam Palmer:

Wow.

Aneurin Brown:

Anniversary. But you know, I'm seven years in and then the person I was learning from they are seven years on me.

Liam Palmer:

Wow.

Aneurin Brown:

So being able to really be entrenched in that discipline of that culture, and the way that we do things in Hallmark, I think that was really invaluable.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah. Well, that certainly speaks to me about the power of the inspirational mentor, the power of a thorough training and induction, and also like you said about the culture of allowing you to grow and try stuff.

Aneurin Brown:

Absolutely.

Liam Palmer:

It's pretty enlightening you'd think. So I mean obviously I've seen, Avnish is very well known clearly as the owner and founder, I've not met him myself but seen him on all sorts of podcasts and various things and-

Aneurin Brown:

We have to arrange that Liam.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah. Oh, thank you. Yeah. I mean, how would you sort of summarize, I guess sort of his impact on the culture of Hallmark? I mean, what is it about his work that's created this brand, X years on. I mean, it's just a sort of 24-year overnight success type of thing, but it's been a consistently successful brand, hasn't it? And certainly at the sort of far reaches of customer service and marketing and stuff like that. I mean, anything that you could sort of share with us for care groups coming up or independents that want to sort of be the very best they can? Is there any bits from Hallmark that we could learn from?

Aneurin Brown:

I think that, again just my thoughts, but the thing that strikes me is about never standing still, because if you're standing still you're going backwards. You've never arrived.

Liam Palmer:

Okay.

Aneurin Brown:

You can get to a certain level but there's still work to be done. And that's very much that comes across because at Hallmark we're constantly innovating, [inaudible 00:14:18] our next thing.

And that's something that, that vision, is certainly something which our mission instills in the company.

Liam Palmer:

Really?

Aneurin Brown:

Yeah. And I think the other thing I would say, I'm speaking about Avnish is, and I hope he doesn't mind, is standards. There's a very clear expectation within Hallmark and Avnish uses a phrase, which I'll quote which is, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Liam Palmer:

Okay.

Aneurin Brown:

And that goes from the top down, from Avnish and the executive board right through to our regional teams and the teams that work within our homes. It is not overlooking anything. Because if we overlook it we're accepting it. So really if there's anything which is of an issue for us, we tackle it head-on and Avnish will tackle it head-on as well. So I think it's those two things, is that constant innovation, of never standing still, and being standards driven from the top of the organization.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Okay. Yeah. I mean, it's really been fascinating to hear your experience and to get a taste about, or an insight I suppose into some of the thinking that powers Hallmark as such a strong brand in social care. So, I think that's probably it. I mean, is there anything else for... I suppose my last question would be, for someone who's a Home Manager or a Hospitality Services Manager who wants to develop their career, you're a real success story and we greatly respect that. Is there any tips that you could give someone like that who wants to sort of develop their career in social care? Any tips you could give them, Ni?

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Aneurin Brown:

Yeah. I think the first thing I'd say is I think it's a shame, to going back to the start of my first question that was around, I think that more people should think of social care when they're back at school, and I think it's a shame that I didn't. And that's the first thing. And I'm a great believer in the work that people like championing social care are doing-

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Around actually making health and social care a career path, that children, young people in school, say I want to be a Home Manager, a General Manager in a home.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah, yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Actually it is a desirable career path and the opportunities. So that's the first thing I just wanted to say. And then I think probably going off my own experiences is three things I've thought about, which is be inquisitive. And I think it is a difference, I joked earlier about it, but there is a difference between being inquisitive and being nosy, because you can be respectful.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

Be inquisitive, ask questions, find out what's available either within your own organization or in other people's organizations.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

The second thing I'd say is put your hand up because it's just definitely served me well. And I think leaders and managers are waiting for people to put their hands up. How much easier is it for all of us when we are looking for somebody to take on a particular project or a task, when somebody perfectly capable and competent says I'll do that and they put their hand up, and it gives us great delight to be able to say thank you.

So, and I think we are trained as human beings as well, aren't we, not to put our hands up.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

I think that comes from perhaps when you're children, you don't want to be the one to raise your head above the parapet. So my advice would be, put your hand up. The worst that can happen is that somebody says no, and you move on to the next thing and put your hand up for that. And eventually someone will say yes, so-

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

That's my second sort of tip. And then the third one is to, and you mentioned it earlier Liam, get a mentor. A mentor or a coach.

And coaching is something that I've benefited from immensely. And mentorship, as you said, and going back to that, those general manager days, but also in more recent years.That thing about actually finding someone that's hugely successful and saying to them, I'd like to also be successful, any chance that you can coach me through this, mentor me through this.

And again, nine times out of ten people want to help you. And the answer will be yes. But it's taking that step and saying, actually I want a bit of that. I recognize that that person is good at what they do and I'm going to ask them will they help me be better at what I do.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah.

Aneurin Brown:

So I think being brave enough to ask for coaching and ask for mentorship is a really positive step for anyone that's looking to develop on to that next step.

Liam Palmer:

Yeah. Brilliant. I think I'm going to reflect on what you said. I'm not going to add to it. So...

Aneurin Brown:

I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing Liam.

Liam Palmer:

Oh, it's a good thing. It's a good thing. So Aneurin, Ni, it's been a real pleasure. I'm sure the listeners to the podcast will really enjoy listening to what you said. So thank you very much.

Aneurin Brown:

Thank you Liam. Thank you.

Liam Palmer:

Again, many thanks to Aneurin Brown, Ni, of Hallmark there. That was really enjoyable for me to listen to. I got a lot from his story and some of the insights he shared. I wonder what stood out for you. What stood out for me was the benefits of bringing people from other disciplines into social care. This is something I believe in. I've come from manufacturing and distribution, with world-class methodologies, lean ideas, ideas of empowerment, staff empowerment, those sort of cultures and ideas. And I found it really interesting to come into social care and bring some of those ideas. I found them to be very transferable.

Clearly with Ni, he's brought this career history in hospitality and also that background in studying theater, music and media, and working for the BBC. It's a really interesting breadth of skills and awareness, I think, that he's brought to his role, and it's worked really well for him and for Hallmark. I think what else stood out for me was Hallmark's commitment to quality, and in particular the whole drive for continuous improvement and innovation. These are qualities of an outstanding weighted service, one that continually improves.

So Ni was very clear that this was effectively embedded into the ethos of the organization. So I thought that was interesting. I also liked that Ni credited some of his success to having a mentor that taught him everything. It really does talk about the power of great inductions and development plans. I mean when I was leaving college, which was 30 years ago, all the big brands were doing these management development plans for two years, where you worked in all these different departments. I don't know if they do them now, but it was an idea back then that by working lots of different areas it gives you perspective. So I think that that really stood out for me.

And then lastly, the three points that Ni finished with was, to be inquisitive, to put your hand up to use initiative to offer to help with things, and also to get a mentor. So some great points from Ni and many thanks.

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About the author

  • Liam Palmer
    Registered Home Manager

Liam Palmer is the author of 3 books on raising quality standards in care homes through developing leadership skills. In Oct 2020, he published a guide to the Home Manager role called "So You Want To Be A Care Home Manager?". Liam has been fortunate to work as a Senior Manager across many healthcare brands including a private hospital, a retirement village and medium to large Care Homes in the private sector and 3rd sector. He hosts a podcast "Care Quality - meet the leaders and innovators”.

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  • Liam Palmer
    Registered Home Manager

About the author

  • Liam Palmer
    Registered Home Manager

Liam Palmer is the author of 3 books on raising quality standards in care homes through developing leadership skills. In Oct 2020, he published a guide to the Home Manager role called "So You Want To Be A Care Home Manager?". Liam has been fortunate to work as a Senior Manager across many healthcare brands including a private hospital, a retirement village and medium to large Care Homes in the private sector and 3rd sector. He hosts a podcast "Care Quality - meet the leaders and innovators”.

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