Julia Martin has relentless energy and celebrates the benefits of her neurodiversity. She uses creative thinking and problem-solving to see the bigger picture and create smaller steps to realise those ambitions. She can fit double a normal workload into five days and motivate staff to achieve things they didn’t think were possible. She can see ways to do something quickly by breaking things down, which means her productivity is incredibly high. It also helps to love what you do and set a strategy you believe in wholeheartedly! She can trust staff to deliver and sees leadership as guiding and mentoring rather than micromanaging.
Julia brings foresight and forward thinking to everything she does. She doesn’t want to run a company the way all others are run but constantly strives to improve. Her brightest leaders in the company could have been lost had she not put in place strategies to let them balance work and home and their responsibilities there. As a result, she has a team of incredible women whose talent she gets the benefit of just by flexing how they work and making looking after the family normalised. Company values include ACCEPT, TRANSFORM, and INSPIRE (they are her values too).
ISEB is also a learning organisation. They’re in the education business, so they must think about growing and developing themselves all the time and invest in that. Gone are the days when companies could only list objectives and KPIs and hold employees responsible for delivering that. “We need to give something too. Great things happen if you believe in people, support them, and give them the tools to make work a rewarding part of their life and not just an obligation. It’s about living your values and doing the right thing,” says Julia.
The pioneering leader takes her role as a privilege and responsibility. It’s a huge honour to be trusted to run a company and develop it for the future. She doesn’t take that lightly, and it shows in their work. If she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and do anything (and she does), then she demonstrates that there are parts of the business they’re all responsible for.
Inspiration & Ethics
Julia was inspired by her father. He came from a single-parent working-class background, but his intellect, neurodiversity, and later the education he could access as a result of this meant he not only started his own company but changed the face of the industry with his inventions. He taught Julia not just to celebrate success but dig into the bits that didn’t go right and ask how she could continually improve. It was an incredible lesson in the transformative power of education and how he never wavered from his principles. He would make decisions that weren’t about making the most money but were the best for his staff, for his company, and in line with his principles. She does not doubt that the fact he didn’t ever sell out and stayed true to his principles was part of his success.
He also gave Julia her first start and insight into business, trusting her with a business area you might not typically give to a 20-year-old, but that she grew, made her own, and learnt a tremendous amount from. It’s something she does when she recruits people and mentors them now. She lets them make something their own, and they never stop impressing her, doing things she may never have thought of and allowing their expertise to shine.
Her father created an industry-leading, international, technologically-advanced business from their kitchen table because he was clever, worked hard, never stopped learning, and cared about people. Making the world a better place was more important than making money. That’s not to say she doesn’t admire significant figures. Still, she believes we have heroes in our lives and our focus on greatness is sometimes more impressive if it’s based on principles rather than publicity or notoriety.
Building A Company
ISEB was created in 1903 to run Britain’s oldest entrance exam, the Common Entrance (CE). For 120 years, they have been the examination board that has sat at the heart of the UK’s independent and international schools. Their long and respected heritage means they are trusted by schools, teachers, pupils, and families, and their independence means they can continue to innovate in assessment design.
Building on the trusted foundation of their CE exams, ISEB offers a growing range of diverse and flexible assessment options for schools worldwide, whether independent, maintained, or state-funded. Julia has enormous ambitions for ISEB; one current focus is SEND and neurodiversity, and the board has significantly invested in research in this area. She feels that regulations, ways of thinking, and current guidelines are very outdated, and there doesn’t seem to be any new thinking to update these and support children.
ISEB is looking at changing the regulations to ensure a fairer system for children taking examinations today. The current system does not recognise that many children go undiagnosed. Many adjustments can be made, and adjustments are not universally applicable; extra time, for an ADHD student, for example, is an adjustment that can make things worse. We want to invest in research and work with the best minds to update the system so that ISEB can lead by example to benefit the maintained and state sectors.
Julia is here to change the assessment experience for all pupils. In addition, ISEB believes it’s its responsibility to invest in and research effective assessment designs to create qualifications that won’t need reasonable adjustments in the future. The goal is to make them a thing of the past because assessments can be genuinely inclusive to pupils, whatever their conditions or needs. She’s not saying they will solve things overnight, but, as an exam board, it’s their responsibility to make a difference. She sees her job as a huge privilege and lives her values at work to leave everyone and everything better than she found them.
ISEB has so much to achieve. The sky is the limit when your values are quite ‘big’. Julia aims to show people what can be done if they put their minds to it and assemble the right team. Her company is here to support education and the sector through great ideas, assessments, research, and data. She genuinely knows and believes they can and will do that.