Headshot photo of Trustee Stewart Rapley in spectrum design

My name is Stewart Rapley. I’m a Trustee of the National Autistic Society and I am myself diagnosed as autistic.

I have recently been part of the process here to recruit a new Chief Executive for our charity. People will rightly have questions about how we recruited our new Chief Executive, Caroline Stevens, and how autistic people were involved. I’m hoping as someone involved in the process I can set this out.

Leading the National Autistic Society is a big job and it is hugely important to all of us on the Board of Trustees that we find the best possible person to run our charity. We have made great progress in changing society’s attitudes through work like the Too Much Information campaign and we have driven great new innovations in transitions and education through initiatives like the Cullum Centres and our new Enterprise Campus.

But past success simply creates a greater expectation of more to come! In order to lead us in taking forward all our ambitions, we need a Chief Executive with a wide range of skills, experience and knowledge. The role requires, of course, understanding of autism and the challenges autistic people face, but it also requires understanding of our regulatory obligations, of finance and fundraising, of the health and social care and education legislation that we work within, as well as all the day-to-day aspects of managing a large organisation. In addition, our Chief Executive will need to be able to manage an extensive range of stakeholders, from Government departments and regulators to major donors, to represent our charity on the national stage, and to build partnerships with other charities and organisations where we need to work together.

Our Chair, Carol Homden, led us through the process of finding someone with these skills, first by working with a recruitment agency that has experience of recruiting chief executives for other disability charities and could reach beyond our networks. Alongside the agency, a panel of Trustees (including me) came up with a shortlist of candidates and invited them, first, for a one-to-one conversation with Carol and then for a full interview.

As Trustees, we are legally responsible for the charity, so it was our decision finally to make the appointment. I have a background in programme management and change, so I was particularly interested in how candidates had managed change across big organisations like our charity. The other Trustees brought their knowledge of providing services for children and adults, of finance and of marketing. Many also have experience of supporting relatives who are autistic and we had a mix of charity, public and private sector experience.

It has always been important to us that our beneficiaries and supporters should be confident that our new Chief Executive would understand autism, the challenges that autistic people face and be the best possible person to fulfil our charity’s vision of creating a society that works for autistic people. Candidates therefore also met with a panel of autistic people. This panel included women and men, people from different ethnicities, people who have attended our schools, as well as people who volunteer for us and have campaigned with us. Candidates also met with some of our Senior Management Group.

After meeting with the candidates, the panel of Trustees met separately with the panel of autistic people and Senior Management Group members to get their feedback and advice. There was a unanimous view that Caroline would be a great Chief Executive.

Caroline’s professional achievements, her personal experience of battling for support for her son, and her style tell me that she is going to make a wonderful Chief Executive for us. Leading the National Autistic Society has clearly been something of a ‘dream job’ in her mind for a while, so she is passionate about the opportunity!

I’m very pleased that autistic people, including me, formed a key part of this process. We can only help to create a society that works for autistic people if our charity continues to involve autistic people in making key decisions on our future work and our future leaders. I would like to thank all the people who have played a role in helping us to find our new Chief Executive.

Welcome Caroline – we look forward to working together with you for the benefit of autistic people and their families.


Have a question about our future Chief Executive? Visit our frequently asked questions page here or email nas@nas.org.uk.