The Big Interview

Issue 85

DAVID ARMSTRONG Managing director of Access Training

What were your career ambitions growing up?

I was always good at maths, so I wanted to be an accountant. When I was around 15, I did some work experience at Haines Watts Chartered Accountants and that spurred me on to follow that ambition. I became Chartered at the age of 24, which is something I’m very proud of.

Tell us about your current role?

I’m managing director of Access Training and I was previously the finance director, so I’m still responsible for a lot of the accounting and financial processes. My job, essentially, is all about creating clear and consistent objectives and putting the right people in the right place to achieve them.

What is your proudest business achievement?

I was incredibly proud of being appointed as a director in 2017. There’s a huge amount of trust and responsibility that comes with that title, and I thrive on that.

How has your industry changed in the last decade?

The introduction of the apprenticeship levy and apprenticeship standards in 2017 was a significant change. Levy paying employers want to get the best return possible on the tax they’re paying and we are now enrolling more senior staff on higher level apprenticeships than ever before. There’s been a big shift away from the days when most apprenticeships were school leavers going into entry-level roles.

What are you currently working on?

We’re delighted to be part of the North East Workforce Skills programme – a European Social Fund project that allows us to deliver fully-funded training to the region’s workforce. It’s a great opportunity and we’ve seen some truly exceptional results. We offer a wide range of short courses, mainly around business management principles, that employers can benefit from.

Tell us about the team you work with?

We’ve got an outstanding group of people at Access who love what they do and who they work for. The culture is great and there’s a huge sense of pride in how we affect people’s lives and careers. We’ve grown in numbers a lot over the last couple of years and we’ve been able to recruit some really talented people.

What is the best piece of business advice you have been given?

We started working with Scaleup North-East when we made the decision that I would become managing director at the start of 2020. They work with companies who are either experiencing or anticipating growth and guide them through the potential challenges that come their way. I found this really useful and it helped me to focus on what exactly we were trying to achieve, and why.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Becoming the managing director of a company is a weighty challenge, but the timing of my appointment made it even more testing for me. I was appointed on 1st April 2020 – a week after the start of the first lockdown. We all knew it was coming so we were fairly well prepared for the huge operational changes ahead but it certainly added an extra spice to the new role!

Saying that, I actually found starting as MD in a pandemic was quite helpful in some ways. The scale of the challenge meant that the team really needed strong leadership and there was already a real need to modernise our processes. I’m not one to throw my weight around, so the circumstances offered me the chance to achieve modernisation in a much more natural and collaborative way.

Who are your heroes inside and outside of business?

That would have to be my dad, Malcolm Armstrong. He has worked at Access for over 35 years, and I’ve been here since 2011. We’ve always had a brilliant relationship; it can be difficult working with family (or friends) but we never struggled with that and I genuinely appreciated having the chance to work alongside him. The reputation and culture of Access that we’re all so proud of is largely down to him and his vision. Outside of work it would be Jimmy Glass. As a Carlisle United fan, the goalscoring-keeper-saviour is an absolute legend.

How do you unwind outside of work?

Most of my time outside of work is now spent with my two young children – a three year old and a nine month old. We spend as much time as we can outside on adventures – we relish a muddy puddle!

Favourite Book and Boxset?

I read Bob Mortimer’s autobiography, “And Away” on holiday this year and I giggled all the way through. He’s an incredibly funny man – and from the North-East, which helps!

Boxset wise, I loved This Is Us. The relationship between each of the characters was hilarious and gut-wrenching in equal measure.

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