Worker protection

Language firm TEFL becomes employee owned

Jennifer Mackenzie and Joe Hallwood

Co-founders: Jennifer MacKenzie and Joe Hallwood

A language teaching company which has risen to global prominence since being launched in a Highlands garden shed in 2008 has become employee-owned.

Founders of TEFL Org Joe Hallwood and Jennifer MacKenzie now employ 30 staff in five countries and posted an 81% growth in revenue from £2.4m in 2019 to £4.8m in 2020.

Mr Hallwood says the transition of the Inverness-based company to employee ownership will provide job security for staff.

“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.

“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.”

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

The couple worked with Ownership Associates, a specialist consultancy that guides firms into employee ownership. Carole Leslie, its founder, was appointed by both as the independent Trustee for the Trust.

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% over the last year.

Ms Mackenzie said: “As much as possible, we will be pursuing the remote learning route. It has proven to be much more efficient than in-person teaching and provides flexibility for our staff and our learners.

“For example, someone from Thailand can be in the same virtual classroom as someone from Shetland, both being taught by a teacher from Madrid.

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

“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.” 

Joe and Jennifer were introduced to the employee ownership model by Azets UK accountants and also Scottish law firm Ledingham Chalmers, which helped advise on the move.

Graham Cunning, partner and head of corporate finance with Azets, said: “Employee ownership rrusts 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.”

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