From the Pathify Magazine
Pathify’s journey is reflective of the platform itself — a collection of unique pieces coming together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
With that in mind as we continue on our journey to create better student experiences for institutions all over the world, I took some time to chat with our Board Chairman, Roy McKelvie. I spoke with Roy to help us reflect on our progress and understand more about what brought him to Pathify.
Roy joined the Pathify Board of Directors in 2021 and has a rich background in the investment and private equity world. He’s involved in the boards of several different organizations from all over the world, so I enjoyed hearing his perspective on Pathify and what makes it special. Roy also shared his thoughts on how relationships are core to effective partnerships especially in education.
My chat with Roy spanned a lot of different topics, and the full discussion aired on the Connected Campus podcast.
This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
I don’t think I’ve really ever had the chance to talk to a board chairman. I’ve talked with a lot of CEOs and presidents of institutions, so really excited for this conversation to bring in that perspective and how it relates to the Pathify story. To start, could you introduce yourself and your professional background?
I’m originally an engineer. I worked for a couple of industrial companies on either side of my MBA and then spent 25 years or so in private equity in the UK, continental Europe, Asia and Australia. For the last 9 years I’ve been doing my own thing. I’m chairman for several types of software companies: education, banking software, safety and wellness, security software and wealth management software.
Since you have so many different organizations you are a part of, how do you evaluate which ones you want to get involved with?
Lots of people have different views about how they decide who to work with. I’m really lucky I don’t have to work with anybody I don’t want to, which is an enormous luxury — and a privilege. For me it always comes down to the people. The relationship between a chairman and the CEO is absolutely pivotal, and my relationship with Chase (Williams, CEO and Co-founder) is outstanding. You need to trust one another and have a relationship where you are a confidant, a father confessor, a problem solver… all that sort of stuff rolled into one. Trust is hard to build and easy to lose and so for me I try to make a judgment call on individuals. I will say one thing to all the CEOs I’ve worked with: never lie to me. Tell me the worst thing that’s going on, I’ll work with you to fix it.
That’s refreshing and it’s kind of like being a parent where you have that love for your kids. Just be honest with me if something’s going on. Just let me know, I’ll help you.
With certain individuals or organizations, I’d imagine there’s a distance where it’s all just sort of numbers in a spreadsheet.
Businesses are people. Numbers are a way of measuring performance, allocating resources, prioritizing what you want to do…but fundamentally businesses are just people, right? You’ve got to be able to work together.
It’s a breath of fresh air to hear you’re very people-centered. It allows for a malleability or a diversity where there’s always going to be somebody else who works well with other people. It’s not so prescriptive where you have to be only one way but every pot finds its lid.
What made you decide to get involved in the education space? And what made you decide to get involved with Pathify specifically?
I got introduced to the business through a chap I know here in Sydney. Chase wasn’t the first person I met, it was actually Cameron Reynolds, the chairman before me. We met the Pathify team in London just before the start of the pandemic about four years ago and had a really interesting chat. The business at the time had half a dozen US colleges as clients and less than 20 employees.
The thing making me really interested was when I went to university on the day of matriculation, you went into a huge hall to take a picture and you walked around all these desks and you got various things…your reading list, your map of the campus, and you came away with this bag with all these bits of paper…up until four years ago I quite naturally assumed all this was online now…that there’d be an app for all that.
I couldn’t believe it once I looked into it. How clunky a lot of universities were in terms of how they managed what is fundamentally just about communication. I was really surprised and excited by it at the same time and as I met the Pathify team, I discovered I liked the way they thought about things. I liked their attitude and how relentless they are about trying to disrupt the status quo. Chase and James (Co-founders) were fighting the good fight to try and get the word out about Pathify. And they seemed to have some traction, which was the thing attracting me to the business, and why eventually after many months of discussions, I formed the investment group to put the deal together.
It was really funny, not long after I got introduced to Pathify, Chase and James spoke about this institutional inertia thing, which I understand, but surely it can’t be that bad. I called up a friend of mine who was a professor at a big university in the UK. I asked, “Is this true? Is this how universities operate?” He said “oh it’s way worse than that,” and he started describing two universities he spent 20 years of his postdoctoral career at, and how they operated while explaining the petty jealousies and how decisions were made (but usually not made), including the lack of incentives to do things. It kind of horrified me but it also made me recognize it was an opportunity to make a difference…and I think it’s what Pathify fixes because it’s all about communication in the end.
Everything being people-centered and then taking it back to what you said about being a chairman or investor being relationship driven. Education is the same thing. We’re all humans trying to help each other…trying to help inform strategy or how to go about things.
Let’s look ahead towards the future. What are you excited about when you think about Pathify’s future?
We’ve still barely scratched the surface in terms of the size of the market — even just within the continental U.S. The opportunity for continued growth is really exciting and I’m also really excited about some of the other things that we bring into our platform in terms of its UX. It is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, which I think is a great solution for universities.
We’ve got a middleware solution giving us greater flexibility about how we link in with all of the other systems out there. There’s a number of areas where we might bring new products and feature sets to augment the fundamental communication layer we deliver for universities and colleges.
It excites me because it’s not just about us saying here’s the product we’ve developed and let’s go and sell. We’re actually continually improving the product based on feedback from our users. Chase and I talk about it every week and there’s some really interesting and cool ideas being worked on…hopefully we will be announcing them in the next few months!