Five minutes with Chris May

Chris May is the founding director at Bath-based Mayden, a health tech company which specialises in designing and building insightful software for healthcare.

Q. Where did you grow up and how did this define you?
I was born and raised in a Manchester suburb in what was considered to be a middle-class street. But it was an area in decline; I recently sold our family home for £80,000. We weren’t poor but neither did we have a lot of disposable income. I didn’t get all the toys my neighbours got, but I think that was instrumental in developing my imagination.

Q. What is your training and background?
I did an undergraduate degree in engineering at Leicester followed by a postgraduate in
manufacturing at Cambridge. My first job was designing automated production lines at
Cadbury’s. Tough gig for a chocoholic, but someone had to do it.
I later went on to work as a manager in a hospital trust and then as a consultant developing business cases for new hospitals, which is where my fascination with healthcare came from.

Q. Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
There was definitely some trial and error but I was always purpose-driven. I remember having the thought at Cadbury’s that my career wasn’t having the societal impact I sought, but I’ve since reflected on that – after all, Hogwarts’ infirmary prescribed chocolate for everything!

Q. What was the draw of the healthcare sector when you set up Mayden?
I think a part of me was always drawn to healthcare but I wasn’t cut out to be a medic.
The eventual attraction was realising how technologically behind healthcare was compared to the rest of the world. Ultimately, Mayden was founded from a core realisation that the healthcare sector was collecting huge amounts of data – and then not using it to do anything useful. Mayden was established with the foundational purpose of solving that problem.

Q. You were named as one of the LDC [Lloyds Banking Group] Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders of 2022. What makes you a good leader?
My driving purpose, I discovered, is really just to help people thrive and live their best life. That feeds into my ambition to make healthcare better, but it also extends to the kind of company I wanted to build. At Mayden, innovation in healthcare technology goes hand in hand with innovation in ways of working. A few years ago Mayden embarked on a new way of organising the business that saw our directors devolve the leadership and delivery of projects into the hands of the staff themselves.
My ambition for Mayden was to make the company the best possible place for staff to collaborate, innovate and be happy at work. Our annual surveys tell us that 100% of our staff are proud to work at Mayden, and that means a lot to me as a leader. It means that my colleagues are thriving, and that is ultimately going to benefit our customers.

Q. Mayden is described as: ‘an agile, open working culture, a flat structure with shared responsibility and reward for our success’. How does this work in practice?
Change always brings challenges. But we have an incredible team of really talented people, and we knew we could work through those challenges together. Ultimately it was worth it to give those same people autonomy and empowerment to do their best work.
We don’t have middle management making the decisions. That responsibility now lies with the experts that are in the best place to make them, the people closest to our product and our customers. It makes so much sense, I wonder why more organisations don’t adopt it. Some of the biggest challenges we faced related to making sure we had all the right frameworks in place to support people as they took on more responsibility. For example, we introduced coaching. In lieu of a manager that people may go to with a work problem, we have coaches that work with people to help them come to their own solutions.

Q. What was the idea behind setting up the iO Academy to offer coding courses and why did it make sense for the business?
We were finding it increasingly difficult to recruit talent to our tech teams. In the end we founded a software training academy in Bath to get the talent we needed. The iO Academy is now an independent enterprise in its own right supporting the Bath and Bristol tech sector. Being in Bath has also enabled us to engage with a wider network of tech businesses, forge strong links with the University and Bath College, and get involved in supporting many of Bath’s charities.

Q. You have co-written a book Made Without Managers. What is the idea behind it?
When we embarked on our own organisational change, we found there wasn’t much literature to draw on, that was based on lived experience. We wanted to address that imbalance in the hope that others could learn from our journey. Organisations don’t need to settle for traditional structures that hold them back. By sharing what we have learned, it is our hope that readers will see how a less hierarchical structure can unleash creativity and innovation, make it easier to respond to opportunities and threats, as well as boost productivity. We hope our story provides clear, practical insights rooted firmly in reality, as well as advice and guidance gained through experience, that will help to make any organisation’s transition easier.

Q. What plans do you have for the future?
For me this is about staying true to my purpose of helping people thrive. As a team we will continue to build a company we all love to work for. We will continue to provide our healthcare customers with a system that helps support them in the vital work they do.
But ultimately, Mayden exists because we can see the role that technology and data will play in helping healthcare services to continually learn and improve, and ultimately to improve outcomes for patients. And that is why I started Mayden in the first place.

What quote reflects your approach to life?
“As long as there is chocolate, there will always be happiness” by Wayne Gerard Trotman.