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Employee takeover will safeguard jobs in the Highlands as TEFL Org announces deal

By Calum MacLeod

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TEFL Org founders Jennifer Mackenzie and Joe Hallwood.
TEFL Org founders Jennifer Mackenzie and Joe Hallwood.

A language school that started out in Ross-shire and has students across the globe has now become employee owned, helping ensure jobs stay in the Highlands.

Launched from a garden shed in the middle of the 2008 financial crash by founders Joe Hallwood and Jennifer MacKenzie, the TEFL Org is established as a market leader, with more qualifications secured than any other provider.

Since its inception, TEFL Org, which provides in-person and online courses, has grown year on year. In the last financial year alone, the company witnessed an 81 per cent growth, increasing revenue from £2.4 million in 2019 to £4.8 million in 2020.

It now employs more than 30 employees in five different countries, including 17 core staff, 11 of whom are local to the Inverness office.

Mr Hallwood said the move will ensure both job security and that the business's high standards will be maintained.

“Jennifer and I have built the brand from the ground up. We’re very proud of it and want to ensure it continues thriving as we look towards retirement," he said.

“We are the highest calibre TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) provider in the world, both in terms of operations and the way we treat our staff. If we were to sell to a competitor, we risk losing our hard-won reputation.

“Some of our employees have been with us since the first few months and know the company inside out. We trust them to do right by the firm and have no doubt it will continue to thrive under their care.”

While the pandemic resulted in a cessation of in-person learning, the TEFL Org’s virtual classroom courses and on-demand online courses have grown in popularity, by more than 250 per cent over the last year.

Mrs Mackenzie added that the business would continue to pursue remote learning as much as possible as it offered much greater flexibility than in person teaching.

“However, as much as we wish to pursue more remote options – we would never want the company to become entirely online," she continued.

“Due to the relative remoteness of our head office, if we sold the TEFL Org, we recognised there would be a high chance the buyer would move the company elsewhere. We wanted to provide job security for our core team who are local to our headquarters.”

The Employee Ownership Trust allows for a buyout over time, giving everyone time to adjust before the company becomes fully employee owned.

The owners were introduced to the employee ownership model by Azets UK accountants and law firm Ledingham Chalmers, which helped advise on the move.

Graham Cunning, head of corporate finance with Azets, said: "Employee Ownership Trusts are rising in popularity at the expense of the more traditional trade sale as they offer owners more privacy and greater control of the sale process.

"We are currently advising clients on a much greater number of prospective EOT deals and wish the employee owners of TEFL Org every success as they continue to build their business.”

Andrew Stott, senior associate with Ledingham Chalmers, said: “This deal is a great example of why employee ownership models are something of a win-win for sellers and buyers.

“I expect we’ll see deals of this kind grow in popularity not least for the reasons I’ve mentioned but also because they’re less likely to involve the adversity you sometimes find in trade sales so can often be a smoother and more collaborative deal.”

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