Our Judges

Rebecca Simkiss

Rebecca Simkiss


Rebecca Simkiss is co-founder and joint managing director of multi-award winning SimkissGuy Recruitment and has spent the last 14 years working in the city as an office support and graduate recruitment specialist.

With offices in central Birmingham’s thriving Colmore Business District, and at Blythe Valley Business Park, Solihull, since launching in January 2013 SimkissGuy has quickly developed an excellent reputation across the midlands as a consultancy with a commitment to truly personal service for both clients and candidates alike.

Rebecca is incredibly passionate about promoting Birmingham as a fantastic place to live and work. She is a Former Chair of BPS Birmingham Future, a Trustee of local charity “LoveBrum”, Chair of the Regional Advisory Board for The Access Project, part of the organising committee for West Midlands Womens Voice, mentor to a number of students and young professionals across the city, a trained Thomas International Personality Profiler and UK Corporate Governance practitioner.
Keen to retain talented up and coming professionals in the region, Rebecca regularly hosts sessions on CV presentation, effective applications and interview skills for 6th Form, College and University students, to give them the very best chance of successfully securing a role in their chosen career.

Rebecca was a finalist in 2013’s Birmingham Young Professional of the Year Awards and in 2014 was recognised as a “rising star in business” by an independent board. In November 2016, she was awarded a Fellowship from Birmingham Metropolitan College in recognition of her contribution to mentoring, one of only two that are awarded annually. October 2017 saw Rebecca recognised as Birmingham Businesswoman of the Year at the annual Birmingham Awards, an achievement she is extremely proud of and honoured to have received.
A big believer in the value that can be gained from creating positive business connections, Rebecca is the founder of seven successful networking events in the region; including the incredibly popular Colmore Curry Club.

Oli Hills


Oli Hills is CEO of Updates Media, a collection of online local content platforms. Their flagship site, Birmingham Updates, has 575,000 followers across social media and keep their audience engaged with local news, weather, travel and lifestyle content. The team at BU are constantly seeking out and writing about the great things happening in Birmingham. They work with their brand partners to create engaging content such as live streams, videos, articles and more to connect their partner’s key messages with the Birmingham Updates audience. Oli is a multi-award winning entrepreneur and now sits on the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Future Faces committee and also supports local government with their communications strategy in the new age of media.
Samantha Rutter

Samantha Rutter


Samantha is the Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer at the leading distance learning organisation; Open Study College.
Having been nominated for and various awards and accolades, the past 12 months have been particularly notable for Open Study College. In 2017, it celebrated its 10th year anniversary, and has since grown from strength to strength, showing promise and potential in the upcoming future. They were also named Further Education College of the Year 2017 at the Education Awards.

Established in 2007 by CEO Mark Rutter and co-founding COO Samantha Rutter, the family-run business was founded on the belief that education should be available to everyone at their own convenience. The intent was to provide high-quality courses throughout a wide range of subjects, to be studied at the students’ own pace in their own time. Up to this day, this remains the ethos of the college.
Their success can be accredited to their dedication and commitment to their students. Frequent evaluation of student feedback is collated, listened to and acted upon to influence their next steps forward. The feedback helps to create an unbiased perspective of what is working well and what needs improvement.

Samantha has a wealth of experience within the private education sector and running businesses, so much so that she is a multi-award winning businesswoman, most recently being name Businessperson of the Year at the Solihull Chamber of Commerce Awards 2017. Alongside her role at Open Study College, Samantha is also Co-Owner and Director at Wiggles & Giggles Day Nursery.

She’s “absolutely thrilled” to be on the judging panel at this years’ Education Awards.

Julian Beer

Julian Beer


Julian leads on the University’s Research, Enterprise and Business Engagement strategy, forging links between business and higher education.

He was previously Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Plymouth University with responsibility for Regional Enterprise and Professor of Knowledge Transfer.

Julian has extensive experience of the private sector, as well as transferring higher education knowledge into commercial or public policy outcomes.

As leader of its strategy on business and employer engagement, Julian strengthens Birmingham City University’s connection with the City and region. He leads on research, innovation and knowledge exchange development, together with expanding commercial activities.

Julian has significant experience of both higher education and the private sector, as well as successfully transferring research and learning from one to the other.

Tony Elvin


Now head honcho at Touchwood Shopping Centre in Solihull, Tony has a rich and varied hospitality/leisure background working in and operating hotels, bars, restaurants and health clubs for the likes of De Vere, Esporta, First Leisure and most recently Hotel du Vin, during which time he and the hotel won various awards and accolades including Hotel of the Year, Boutique Hotel of the Year, Bar of the Year and General Manager of the Year.

An active ambassador for the region, Tony is a trustee for the Birmingham Civic Society, sits on the Board for the Solihull BID (having recently relinquished his position as Board Director for the Colmore BID), is a patron for Cure Leukaemia, a Judge for the Midlands Food, Drink and Hospitality Awards and at last year’s Birmingham Awards. Tony is a qualified Sommelier and self-proclaimed wine geek, hosting wine events around the city. He was also recently named in the Birmingham Post Power 250 as one of the region’s top influencers.

Tony regularly provides talks, tours and lectures to schools and colleges regarding employment in the hospitality industry and general employability, he has previously worked with Solihull 6th Form College on their Career Academy Local Advisory Board and is an active advocate of Work Inspiration over Work Experience; challenging fellow employers to provide meaningful work experience to students and give them a true taste of work within their industry that will inspire a future career.

A supporter of the Birmingham Education Awards since their inception, Tony is quoted as saying how excited and honoured he is to be asked to Judge once again in 2018 after being so impressed by, not only by the initiative itself but also, the incredible quality of applications received and the wonderful good news stories behind them.

Mark Smith


Nominations are now open

Shortlisting has now begun for the award categories.

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