From zero to £23 million turnover in seven years; finalist in the Women Business Owner of the Year category at the 2016 Women in Business Awards; and an imminent charity walk with Richard Branson – it’s a busy time for Barinder Hothi, co-founder of The Knowledge Academy.
It feels like I’m looking out onto a City trading floor … only in Bracknell. From her modest office next to a busy open plan area, the air humming with the noise of over 200 conversations, Barinder Hothi proudly surveys what she has built from scratch along with her husband Dilshad.
It has not always been like this though – back in 2009, the Hothis and their two nephews fresh from university, crammed into a room half the size of her current office, and set about creating The Knowledge Academy (TKA).
“I’d just been made redundant by Microsoft, but the subsequent job interviews all felt a bit ‘samey’. I wanted a fresh challenge and luckily Dilshad had always wanted to run his own company,” said Hothi.
With their respective backgrounds in IT sales and training, the Hothis began by specialising in IT-related training. Thanks to a hands-on approach and an investment in youth, TKA grew quickly and soon began diversifying into other areas, both domestically and internationally. In 2015, with over 300 staff, TKA moved to its current offices in Bracknell, having already invested substantially in its training centres. such as a state-of-the-art £10 million development in St Katherine’s Dock, London.
About 80% of TKA’s business is classroom-based training, supporting Hothi’s view that “if it’s practical logistically, people will always want to learn face to face”. This is why training centres such as St Katherine’s Dock are so important; they look and feel consistent with the professional environment expected by today’s employees and so encourage learning. In the modern-day workplace, where jobs for life are a thing of the past, the need for training and retraining has never been more critical.
“When we started in 2009, there was a lot of unemployment,” said Hothi. “We saw at first-hand that people needed to reskill to get back into work.” For example, a project manager with 30 years’ experience made redundant in the recession would find that he lacked the required formal qualifications when tendering for work. These mature students helped to fuel TKA’s early success, and even though recent growth has been driven by the corporate sector training, TKA still has a team dedicated to individual training needs.
For the corporate sector, TKA continues to grow its portfolio, offering a broad range of learning solutions, both in the UK and internationally, with the US an increasingly-important market.
“We love having young staff and seeing them develop,” said Hothi. “It creates a vibrant, can-do atmosphere, and espouses the ethos of the company, to embrace change.”
Youth is an important part of TKA’s offering and its vision. There is a commitment to developing young talent, both internally and externally, via:
Apprenticeships – in spring 2017, the way the Government funds apprenticeships will be changing, giving employers more choice over the training providers they use.
Community-based projects – work placements are becoming increasingly important in schools; TKA takes a great deal of time to help out in this respect, and a number of school leavers subsequently join the company.
Charity – Virgin Strive 2016 supports and funds early-stage projects and ideas which have the potential to drive change for UK youngsters. Barinder and Dilshad Hothi will be joining Richard Branson on a five-day trek through the Alps to raise money.
“What is our USP? Quality, quality, and quality,” answered Hothi.
TKA’s focus is upon long-term relationships and customer satisfaction. It takes this concept extremely seriously, seeking to measure the quality of relationships via tools such as ‘Net Promoter Scores’ to ensure it becomes the supplier of choice for learning.
What is Hothi’s mantra for TKA? “It’s the three D’s – dedication, determination, discipline – that’s what will continue to drive this company forward.”