Where Are You Now?

Barry Leahey

Barry Leahey MBE

BSc Sports Sciences 1996

Barry is Managing Director at the largest UK manufacturer of outdoor children’s playground equipment, Playdale Playgrounds Ltd.

After graduating from the University of Sunderland in 1996, Barry won a European Social Fund Scholarship to study his MSc Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University the following year, where he had his research used for the preparation of athletes at the Sydney Olympics.

This was noticed by a company called Technogym, a global leader in Health and Fitness, where he was offered a junior management role. 

After hard work and dedication he was moved to the senior manager development programme. During his time at Technogym he developed over 100 world class facilities including the redevelopment of Liverpool FC’s Training ground and football academy. 

After that, the Sunderland graduate joined Caudwell group as a sales manager. After a stint of almost two years working for Caudwell, Barry joined Yell as the area manager for a year, before finally joining his current company as the sales and marketing director where he has already been working for 14 years. 

The 43-year-old has experienced so many challenges during his career life, such as surviving in a very competitive market place, but he has also had great achievements. Through professional systems, reorganising and restructuring he grew the business from £5m to close to £15m in the space of 7 years (worthy to note it had taken the business 25 years to get to the £5m).  

This saw Playdale becoming the second largest UK based business in the industry.  The company now operates distributors in 46 countries, covering Europe, North America, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Australasia. This has not gone unnoticed and in 2013 UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) named Playdale as a UK Export Champion, an award they give to good examples of export excellence.  

In 2016 Playdale were named by the Federation of Small Business’s (FSB) as National SME Exporter of the year, beating 1000 other companies that were nominated through the regional offices. 

Despite recognition the Sunderland graduate realised continued success means continued hard work and in early 2017 he completed his mini MBA at Salford Business School. Playdale were also named a Commonwealth Export Champion and asked to mentor business on a bigger scale. 

However, the biggest career achievement happened in June 2017 when Barry was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, and he received an MBE for his services to Export and International Trade.  

He said: “I dedicate this honour to the hard work of my team and proof that great things happen to the most ordinary people who aspire to be the best.” 

Barry has also been named in the ‘insider’ magazine 42 under 42 which showcases the best business talent in the region and he is rubbing shoulders with some of the nation’s best known entrepreneurs.  

Even though his career has taken a complete turnaround from what he had initially planned, Barry thanks the University of Sunderland for the skills he acquired on his course to become an industry expert in International Business and Manufacturing. 

He said: “Back in 1996 there weren't many BSc Sport Science courses. But the University of Sunderland offered it and the structure looked great plus it allowed me to study my second year in the USA where Sports Science is a whole other level.” 

Barry also set up the University Rugby League team with a small grant from the Students’ Union. 

“In the first year we lost every game,” he said. “I took my coaching qualifications and by the end of the third year the team won every league game and went on the semi-final of the BUSA cup only to be beaten by the eventual winners and beating the mighty Loughborough along the way.” 

His advice to current students is to differentiate themselves from the competition from day one.

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