Alumni Achiever of the Year 2017 – Barry Leahey MBE

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Barry Leahey graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Science and has become since an industry expert in International Business and Manufacturing.

During his time at the University of Sunderland Barry was the first student to study in the USA for one year at Valdosta State University in Georgia. He also set up the University Rugby League team with a small grant from the Students’ Union. In the first year they lost every game, but Barry took his coaching qualifications and by the end of the third year the team won every league game and went on the semi-final of the British Universities Sports Association cup.

He is now Managing Director at the largest UK manufacturer of outdoor children’s playground equipment, Playdale Playgrounds Ltd where he has been working for 14 years.

Through professional systems, reorganising and restructuring he grew the business from £5m to close to £15m in the space of seven years (worthy to note it had taken the business 25 years to get to the £5m). This saw this family owned British manufacturer based in Cumbria became the second largest UK based business in the industry.

When the austerity hit the industry Barry had a plan to not only survive but to build a platform for future success and led Playdale into the exports markets. Barry took over 450 flights and lived outside the UK for over two years to ensure the future of more than 100 employees at Playdale.

Now the company operates distributors in 46 countries and has survived a UK market contraction of 40%. To recognise this the UK Trade & Investment named Playdale as a UK Export Champion in 2013 and Barry became an ambassador for them and started to help and mentor other business on export on his own time.

In 2016 Playdale were named Family Business Manufacturer of the Year and also National SME Exporter of the year. 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 he was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, 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.  An award that I would never have achieved if I had not had that grounding at the University of Sunderland.”

Barry has also very recently 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.

Barry actively participates as part of the alumni community and has organised reunions with his fellow classmates and the next reunion is already being planned for 2021.

In recognition for his exceptional career, Barry has been named an Alumni Achiever of the Year 2017.

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