‘Make decisions – then deal with what happens next,’ says Third Sector Director of the Year 2019

Director of the Year Awards Jonathan Spiers

Every day in the approach to Christmas, we’ll speak to winners from the recent finals of IoD Director of the Year Awards. Today it’s Jonathan Spiers, chief executive of Autistica, who won the Third Sector category

Spiers began his career in the third sector after graduating from Cambridge in 2002. He spent six years at Cancer Research UK, where, as head of public affairs and campaigning, he led its efforts to protect under-18s from the risks of sunbed usage. Serving autism research charity Autistica as CEO since 2015, he is also a trustee of the Association of Medical Research Charities.

Who has inspired you the most in your career? “Autistica’s founder, Dame Stephanie Shirley, is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. She is a stellar businesswoman, an advocate for the oppressed, a champion of philanthropy and a tireless righter of wrongs. It’s an honour to run one of her charities.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “I’m a huge believer in the principle of borrowing other people’s ideas and making them your own. I spend a lot of time on looking at ideas from business, academia and the arts – and on working out how to combine elements of these to create something new and exciting.”

What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve heard? “I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: ‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticised anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and you’ll be damned if you don’t.’”

What advice would you offer less experienced leaders? “It’s dangerously easy in turbulent times to delay decisions until you have more clarity. But that might come too late or not at all. Make decisions – and then deal with what happens next.”

What aspects of your professional development would you like to focus on in 2020? “I’m interested in the idea of reverse mentoring, so I’m looking to find someone early in their career who can help me to understand the pressures and (I hope) the excitement felt by those entering the charity sector today. It’s very different from when I started.”

Entries are now open for the 2020 IoD Director of the Year Awards – click here for more info and to nominate


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Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

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