By Kristy Dorsey

A Highlands-based business that provides teaching services around the world has chosen employee ownership to protect its “hard-won reputation” and local employment at its Scottish headquarters.

Launched from a garden shed in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis, TEFL Org claims to be the world’s leading provider of TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) accreditations, with more qualifications secured than any other provider. It employs 30 people from five different countries including 17 core staff, 11 of whom are local to its Inverness office.

Headed by founders Joe Hallwood and Jennifer Mackenzie, the firm provides in-person and online courses. During 2020, revenues doubled to £4.8 million as demand for its virtual classroom courses and on-demand online courses surged by more than 250 per cent.

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“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,” Ms Mackenzie said. “We wanted to provide job security for our core team who are local to our headquarters.”

She and Mr Hallwood were introduced to the employee ownership by accountants Azets and Scottish law firm Ledingham Chalmers, which helped to advise on the move. The founders, aged 50 and 51 respectively, were looking at options for an eventual exit upon their retirement.

Ms Mackenzie has no immediate plans to leave the business, though may stand back from her duties as managing director to give more time to other interests such as her role as an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland. Mr Hallwood hopes to sail around the world in a few years’ time, though through Zoom and remote working plans to remain on the board for a number of years.

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

With help from specialist consultancy Ownership Associates, TEFL Org has set up an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) that will allow the buyout to take place over time, ensuring a smooth transition to full employee ownership. Carole Leslie, founder of Ownership Associates, has been appointed as independent trustee for the EOT.