In each issue of Wear Business we sit down for a cuppa and a natter with a local business leader…
Name: Rob Lawson.
Lives: Fulwell, Sunderland.
Organisation and job title: Chair of Education Partnership North East (incorporating Sunderland College, Northumberland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form). I also run my own PR and media consultancy.
When I was at school, I wanted to be… editor of the Sunderland Echo. I was appointed editor of the Echo in 2002, previously having been editor of the Shields Gazette from 1997 to 2002. I became editorial director of Northeast Press and Tweeddale Press in 2009. I remember talking to the headteacher at Southmoor School when I was in the sixth form there. He asked me what I wanted to be and I said: “An editor by the time I’m 30 and editor of the Sunderland Echo by the age of 40.” I somehow managed both.
The best career decision I ever made… was accepting the role of production editor at the Shields Gazette in 1992. I learned so much at the Gazette and became editor in 1997. It was a great time for me, both professionally and personally. The Gazette had so much potential and was well regarded on South Tyneside, but had suffered through neglect and a lack of investment. My friend Ian Holland and I were two young journalists working on the Sunderland Echo when the owners bought up the Gazette and sent us across to develop the paper. Ian was editor and I was production editor. Ian went on to become a visionary editor of the Echo, and was taken from us too soon when he died in 2000.
The best part of my job is… I stepped down from the Echo editorship in 2012. I had always wanted to work for myself and launched my own PR and media consultancy on leaving the Echo. I now work with companies, organisations and people I admire, respect and enjoy spending time with. I work my own hours and love helping to increase the profile and potential of my clients.
The biggest downside of my working life is… I work from home and often find it difficult to “switch off”.
My greatest achievement is… my family. Everything starts and finishes with my wife and two sons, both of whom have now left home.
My greatest honour… has to be the OBE I was awarded last December for services to further education in Sunderland. The honour was so unexpected and as well as being gobsmacked, I was – and still am – thoroughly chuffed! I was delighted that Ellen Thinnesen, EPNE’s inspirational CEO, received an OBE at the same time. I became chair of Sunderland College in 2013 and the college merged with Hartlepool Sixth Form in 2017 and then Northumberland College in 2019. I took my journalism qualifications at a further education college (in Darlington) so was aware of the power they have to shape and change lives and it has been a privilege to help the college and now EPNE develop in some small way. As well as chairing EPNE I’m a national leader in governance for the Department for Education, providing support to other further education chairs. I’m also a governance reviewer, looking at the performance of governing bodies at colleges in the sector.
My favourite local charity is… Foundation of Light. I was a trustee for the charity when I was at the Echo and was in awe of their work. I have since completed six fundraising Foundation of Light Cycle Challenges, which have included Dublin to Sunderland, Brussels to Paris, Geneva to Mulhouse and from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, across France.
When I’m not working, I like to spend my time… reading crime fiction and biographies, walking and going to the cinema and theatre (I can’t wait for their reopening!)
My guilty pleasures are… foreign dramas on Netflix and chocolate. I’m off the chocolate at the moment as I’m training for a C2C ride in aid of the Red Sky Foundation.
The best holiday I ever had was… we’ve been to Disneyland, Florida, several times and have always loved our holidays there. The kids loved the place when they were little and we’re still going (and I’m still paying, despite them being 23 and 25).