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Samantha Rutter-Bryant: Being a Female Founder

145 - Business ExpressIntroduction

I am CEO of Open Study College, one of the UK’s leading distance learning providers. In 2007 and at the age of 19, I launched Open Study College with my father, Mark, and other family members, after we identified a gap in the market for fully supported distance learning.

As a young child, I was fortunate in being able to join my family in travelling the world, which really opened my eyes as to how big the world is and how many opportunities there are. When I was younger, my parents didn’t have a lot, but they worked hard and showed me that anything is possible.

My father has been my mentor from day one. Growing up and watching him work his way up the career ladder showed me what was possible, and I am honoured to have been able to work with him so closely over the years that we have been running Open Study College. I owe a lot to my father, both on a personal level but in regard to business too; his expertise and experience has helped shape Open Study College into what it is today. We are incredibly close outside of work, along with the rest of the family, and we love nothing more than spending time together.

Obstacles in my career

With many obstacles in my way, I was faced with adversity due in part to being a young female growing and leading a successful business from the ground up. My young age caused people to question if I could help run the company effectively, but I wanted to make a real difference and have proved that no matter what gender or age you are, you can do anything you put your mind to. My mantra in life is ‘nothing worth having comes easy’, and it’s something I live by.

I am passionate about championing women in the workplace and supporting them in achieving their full potential. At Open Study College, women make up 60% of the workforce, with 50% of the senior management team being female, as well as over 70% of our learners. As part of my long-term business strategy, I hope to provide more opportunities for women to progress, especially in senior roles.

Being a female founder

My experience as a female founder has been very interesting. As Open Study College grew and developed, my role began to encompass more external events and activities. It became increasingly clear at the time that, in many professional situations, it felt like a man’s world. Whether sitting on judging panels for industry awards, or attending important meetings, I often found myself the only woman in the room feeling like I had “something to prove”.

I personally love the fact that there is the balance of me as a female and Mark, my co-founder, being male. We could often talk through decisions or situations and thoughts with each other, to make sure we had a balanced view. I find it really helpful to see things from his perspective. This extends to our leadership team too, which we’re proud to say consists of an equal number of men and women, often making for some interesting conversations around the table!

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Biggest challenges

The biggest challenge that I have faced during my career so far are some of the preconceptions people may have about me due to my age and gender. People would often assume they were meeting a man when they would hear my name is Sam, so that could sometimes be tough.

Walking into a meeting with men a lot older than me and often more experience also used to be intimidating. However, after repeatedly going into the meetings and having confidence in myself, I no longer feel intimidated in those situations. I have worked hard to prove myself as a businesswoman and CEO in my own right.

Running a family-owned business

Many learners come to us because they aren’t fulfilled in their current job, or have personal reasons which impact how they can study. We feel fortunate to have helped a lot of people through some really dark times in their lives by giving them something else to focus on. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

I’m still relatively young with plenty of ambition, and Open Study College still has lots more opportunities for growth. We have some very exciting plans for 2022, and there is plenty more that we can achieve to truly help people become empowered to move forward with their goals. We love seeing our learners progress into new roles, achieve the promotion they’ve had their eyes on for a while, or learn new skills because they wanted to do something for themselves. Being part of that keeps us striving for more.

As a family-owned and run business, I ensure that family values are at the core of everything we do. I am a great believer in a business being the sum of its parts and I wouldn’t be where I am today without each one of my team members; it’s important to me that each member of my team feel valued.

With many Open Study College learners choosing to study online or remotely for personal reasons, it’s important to me that learners are at the heart of all decisions.

Next challenges and future plans

My next challenge is to double the size of the business in the next three to five years, which we are on track to achieve. We have plans to expand internationally, as well as looking to diversify and expand our course offering, which I believe will be key to achieving our future growth. I think this is a great target for everyone to get onboard with and will definitely motivate the team because the more successful the business is, the more opportunities for development there will be and the more rewarding it will be for staff to work with us.

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