Livingston James Case Study – Colin Kennedy, CEO, ICS Learn


Livingston James was approached by private equity businesses Par Equity and Ironbridge Capital Partners, to recruit a CEO to drive forward ICS Learn, a distance learning organisation.

After advertising the role and carrying out a detailed search process, Livingston James provided a shortlist of six candidates, which included Colin Kennedy, then General Manager of Thomson Reuters Elite’s mid-market division.

Although Kennedy had no previous education, B2C, or digital marketing experience, our consultants understood that his background in growing and accelerating technology businesses made him a serious candidate for the role.  After beginning a recruitment process in October 2014, Kennedy was offered the position of CEO at ICS Learn in December 2014.  We spoke with Colin on his experience since joining the business and the impact it has had on business performance and his own career.

Business Impact

“When I joined ICS Learn in January 2015, my broad remit was to grow the business.  I was fortunate not to be confined to a pre-conceived strategy.  Initially, I focused on learning about the business and the wider educational sector.  Coming from a different background allowed me to bring a new perspective and push the team to examine why the business was run as it was.

“Very quickly I realised that the business model was outdated and inefficient, and that significant changes would have to be made.  I worked with the team to continue to streamline the courses we offered from around 250 to 45, with a focus on professional qualifications such as HR, accountancy, and general business, as well as A levels and GCSEs.  We moved away from a ‘print and post’ method of delivery to online, creating excellent, interactive learning experiences with a wider reach at reduced cost.

“I also focused on growing our B2B business, and on widening our international market.  We now serve more than 20,000 students from around the world, and have grown our B2B market to 20% of our customer base, creating a more stable revenue stream for the business.  As a result, the profitability and productivity of the business has vastly increased in the last six years.”

Personal Impact

“My previous role at Thomson Reuters Elite offered insight into growth and acceleration of a business within a wider corporate structure, but the senior leadership team of which I was a part was mainly based in the US which meant a huge amount of travelling, and led to the eventual realisation that I had gone as far as I would be able to from my base in Scotland.

“I was also aware that my experience in the legal technology sector was very niche, and if I didn’t move in the near future, I would soon find myself pigeonholed.

“The opportunity to lead the ICS Learn team allowed me to diversify my experience whilst remaining in Scotland.  I have been able to bring my experience with start-ups and accelerating businesses to significantly transform the way ICS Learn operates, exceeding the expectation of shareholders and create significant personal wealth for the management team.  It is also personally gratifying to be able to be part of a Scottish SME success story.”

Read the client case study here to find out more about the business impact of Colin’s appointment.

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