Women in Business: Teresa Scott, Founder, Kennedy Scott

In 1989 Teresa Scott launched Kennedy Scott Training & Development, as a subsidiary of the Principals marketing and Design group, acquiring the company outright in 1991, where she remains as sole-owner manager. Teresa has grown Kennedy Scott from a single-office outfit to a nationally renowned training specialist with fifteen centres throughout south east England. Despite the national reach, Teresa has maintained her personal leadership of the company, with her life experience as a single mother and former teacher giving her personal insights into the barriers faced by her clients. Now in its 25th year, Kennedy Scott supports the 'hardest to help' and works on the basis that no 'barrier to employment is insurmountable'. They have one multiple awards and accolades over the years including National Best Practice recognition from OFSTED as well as the a National Training Award for their incredible results helping BAME background people into the Metropolitan Police's Community Support Officer programme. Teresa gives people the tools to be the best that they can be. She is passionate about changing the all-too-negative perceptions of those who find themselves in the position of long-term unemployment and has dedicated her working life to helping people back into work, no matter their history or background. This gives her a unique voice and an exceptional understanding of the issues currently facing the unemployed as well as employers, whilst her own experiences as a single parent and social entrepreneur make her a great example of a successful woman in business.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in a tight knit working class family unit with a strong emphasis oneducation as a means to get on. Both my parents had a strong work ethic and my mother went back to work part-time to supplement the family income, which with three young children was no mean feat. My father was a late starter as an entrepreneur but was an inspiration as he was always willing to give someone a chance and his mantra was always "make sure you treat people as you would want to be treated" and I hope the team at Kennedy Scott feel this too.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Kennedy Scott?
As the eldest in my family, I felt it was up to me to take the lead, securing my first Saturday job when I was fourteen. It made me feel incredibly proud ofmyself - a feeling that everyone longs for and which I think really emphasises why Kennedy Scott's ability to help people into work means so much. It's a similar story to when I was a teacher, because I feel passionately that youneed to respect the children and enjoy the job - just like I do now with those who come through the Work Programme. Moving into a Training manager's role, then youth training, apprenticeships and subsequently starting my own business, it is vital to me that our staff respect each other and that they all have a voice within the company whichever level they are working at. Respect for our unemployed customers is paramount and is probably the single most important quality we look for in our own staff.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Kennedy Scott?
Watching individuals within the company grow and blossom is always hugely fulfilling and I particularly remember Jane, a very quiet and meek character working in our head office about 8 years ago. We had recently won a new contract to offer employment support to people with disabilities in Brighton, and Jane came to me one day and asked if she could relocate 100 miles to become a CBT counsellor supporting this new contract. Jane had trained for the previous few years under her own steam, in her own time, to become a qualified counsellor whilst still working and managing two teenage sons as a single parent. Over the subsequent three years she completely blossomed into a confident and highly effective CBT counsellor supporting customers with multiple barriers back into worthwhile and sustainable jobs. The primary challenge is in helping the people who come to Kennedy Scott to overcome their individual barriers. For many in long-term unemployment can lead to depression and a lack of self-confidence. This can be so well embedded into their psyche that overcoming them can take an extensive amount of time, in trying to understand their unique situation as well as proving that they can change their lives for the better. Of course, this means that it is incredible rewarding to see them grow, gain experience and confidence, and thrive through the Work Programme. It is these success stories that really bring a lump to the throat; I recall that I was waiting to cross the road at Paddington station a few years ago and a Black Taxi crossed in front of me driven by an ex-customer whom Kennedy Scott had trained to attain the much-coveted Green Badge after joining the Kennedy Scott fast track London Knowledge programme. We had turned his life around. We had given him a solid well-paid career for the rest of his life.Whenever that happens, it's incredibly special and rewarding.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Do your research and speak to as many people who may be able to help you as possible, without giving too much of your unique selling point (USP) away. Pursue something you have a passion for because you cannot dedicate the hours you need to build a business on something you do not believe in or enjoy. If you are a working Mum or a Carer, make sure you address the practical logistics of your existing commitments to allow you to concentrate and focus on your business. Look at flexible ways of working, such as part-time or from home but try to keep your workspace away from the hub of the house as you will neverswitch off. Do not give up. Be determined. Especially in the financial world, you need to be well preparedwith a good business plan and forecasts for Banks or Financiers. Stick to your guns.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
People work for People not Organisations. It is people that make a company successful. If you recruit the right people, train them well and treat them with respect and compassion they will give you 110% which will get you through the challenging times. Kennedy Scott is still a fairly small business in the Employment Support Field but we consistently achieve the best results in the country and we can only do this with a committed team.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The biggest challenge any working mother will tell you is maintaining the work/life balance but I was determined to see my daughter grow up and support her, which I managed to do with the help of friends and family. I was very lucky to have my parents help and support with childcare, but I did vow to myself that I would always take her to school and pick her up, even if this meant workinglate into the evening. For me personally being a single mother during my MBA was a challenge and it was sheer determination that got me through, meaning that I completed the course on time, despite several of my male classmates not doing so. Those challenges continued as I resolved to maintain a real work-life balance, to never miss the milestones in my daughter's life. At the end of the day you have to live with yourself and I could not have enjoyed my business if I thought I had sacrificed my time with her growing up.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Juggling childcare and family commitments, which invariably in the main still fall on the woman, can be a real struggle for women in the workplace although this is due in part to the lack of affordable, effective and professional childcarewhen children are smaller. This can deter women who want to go back to workafter having a child or mean that they have to change to a less demanding role in order to compensate for time. The lack of available part-time career opportunities, however, are ironically often a catalyst to women starting their own business as they can juggle more effectively something they are in control of.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Starting and running your own business is often a solitary challenge and you need someone to discuss things with even if only to crystallise your own thoughts and ideas. Incredible women who forge a path are always inspirational and my colleague and friend, Jill Mc'Ardle, was a huge inspiration and support to me in the early days of my business. I learned so much from her in terms of how to promote my company, Kennedy Scott, and myself.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I am a huge fan of Karen Brady; she has such a hugely professional yet feminine air and has achieved so much in the male dominated world of football and business. She has also successfully juggled family life and dealt with adversity whilst remaining a high achieving woman. Her recent elevation to the House of Lords, as Baroness Brady CBE just shows what a woman in business can achieve. I also hugely admire Baroness Scotland, who, from a humble background, made history by becoming the first black women to be appointed as a QC.

What do you want Kennedy Scott to accomplish in the next year?
I would like the company to continue to grow and raise awareness of the issues surrounding unemployment in the UK and the wider global economy. Kennedy Scott are committed to championing the cause of unemployed people, highlighting their strengths and skills whatever stage they may be in their life, as well as promoting the benefits of employing someone who has had a career break or struggled to find work. I would also personally like to see more focus on Graduate employment support. After all we have invested in these young people, it is a complete waste not to equip them with the skills to attain a worthwhile career opportunity.