Fleur Sexton, the managing director and co-founder of PET-Xi Training in Coventry, West Midlands, risked everything from her own health to the family home in her quest to build one of the UK’s most successful training and education operations.
The idea to set-up a training and education company started when I was working as a teacher at a special school with blind students who were struggling to learn a language and I wanted to change that.
I devised a course and it was so well received, I decided to launch PET-Xi Training from a spare bedroom in our house in 1995.
Over the next five years, I continued to work as a teacher so that we could afford to pay our bills as well as fund the business and then when we were established, I left teaching to concentrate on the business full-time.
We now run programmes for schools, courses for businesses and individuals and vocational programmes throughout the UK from our offices in Coventry and Sheffield.
We work with youngsters heading for a failed grade at GCSEs by running a week of intensive coaching to ensure students achieve a pass and we have helped over 100,000 youngsters from Northumberland to Cornwall reach their academic potential.
Achieving grade C or above particularly in Maths and English improves the choices for students whether that is in higher education, an apprenticeship or traineeship.
An expanding area is training and upskilling for people at work (business courses). Our research showed many women who were returning to work after raising their children had the personal skills but needed to update their IT skills.
We are one of only three centres in Europe chosen to run Microsoft Office Specialist programmes to teach and accredit highly-employable IT skills in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
My eldest daughter, Kate, was very ill when she was born and was in intensive care for six weeks.
Two weeks after giving birth, the government changed their policy on vocational programmes which meant our staff could have lost their jobs.
I would look at Kate in the hospital and think, if you can keep on fighting, then I can keep fighting too.
I wrote a range of revision products for GCSEs to coincide with the new September term and we risked our family house to fund them.
It proved that you should never give up even when the going gets tough because these High 5 revision courses in subjects from Maths to Spanish account for the majority of our business – and Kate is now a lively 12-year-old.
What are your best qualities?
I am hard-working, loyal, tenacious and optimistic. I have always loved breaking down barriers and that is one of our aims at PET-Xi Training – to never give up on any young person or adult.
I think it is important to keep focused on the big picture to help your business become a success but it is also important to me to create a family atmosphere among our 500 full and part-time staff.
I launched the PET-Xi Foundation in 2014 to give support to young people, to break down barriers and help their progression – that has involved everything from buying clothes for job interviews to funding a prosthetic leg for a young girl.
We want to double the size of the company by working with companies to improve the skills of their employees and with adults who are not currently working to improve their employability.
As Businesswoman of the Year 2017, I want to encourage other women to celebrate their achievements because it is important to show other women they are capable of achieving more than perhaps they might think.