From dinner lady to CEO: TB interviews Barbara Scandrett, the entrepreneur behind Select Living Options, which provides supported housing for people with complex disabilities
How did you come up with the idea for your company?
As a Social Worker working on a Spinal Injuries Unit in Oswestry I met people whose lives had fallen apart. I remember the first client I worked with, a jockey who fell, was paralysed from his neck; his wife had twins one month after this and we needed to make him slings to hold his babies. Re-organising his life at home helped me develop my passion, to offer 24 hour care at home. Many care companies provided care but I developed a system where we also help people with disabilities source and structure their welfare benefits to pay for their care. The idea was to organise funding, design the care to fit individuals and then train and provide a package.
How did you get your start up cash?
I worked for nothing, providing services outside my social work hours. I agreed a deal with two colleagues (both spinal injured) and each added £5,000. We linked to a further colleague who helped us get a small firm loan with Lloyds Bank for £25,000. We were off.
When I started Assisted Living Solutions, my second business, we secured funding from VC, Sovereign Capital. The Sovereign approach appeals to me because they really want their management teams to succeed. I think I would have found it very pressurised in another private equity environment, but their Managing Partner, Andrew Hayden, and his team, have believed in me and supported me continuously, often acting as a mentor. In the early days, Andrew and I had weekly calls and he gave me all the time I needed.
What were the biggest struggles and challenges you faced as a new business?
When you first start working in a business environment it can come as a shock and the demands can be higher than you first expect. As a CEO, you have to be accountable and responsible for everything, so it is vital to have a strong team to provide the necessary support. Leadership skills are paramount.
Did you ever think about giving up?
I never thought of giving up. I love it, it gives you a buzz. You help people, you help and change staff members’ lives. You don’t give up, you solve problems and alter your practice accordingly.
How did you overcome your challenges?
I have always been ready to take on a challenge. I have the capacity to analyse out a problem and plan actions to solve the issue. This continues today.
You need a team around you and I have learnt that delegation is an art, something I’m not ultimately good at. I do surround myself however with like minded managers – this helps as the philosophy within the organisation is fundamental.
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
It’s exciting, you never know what you’re doing next, it challenges you and as I’m nearing 60 it keeps you young. It seems a little normal to say it’s a worthwhile activity; this has applied to me because my business fundamentally changed our client’s lives.
It’s all a buzz, new business, new challenges, to say ‘yes we can do that’ when I’m asked, thinking: ‘I’m not sure how’ then doing it – it’s exciting.
And the worst?
I’d love to fall asleep at night and not dream. I sleep well, but ideas come all the time. Sometimes I’d love to keep my mouth shut – but I never do.
There is a question to ask which is how do you turn it off? Haven’t got an answer yet.
What would your advice be to first-time businesses who are experiencing difficulties in the current economic climate?
Initially you need to have an idea that is different. Is there a market place? Can you provide something different from your competitors? The idea must be sensible, and you do need to make money so cost it out, what can you make on the margins?
If you have this sorted then do it.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an entrepreneur?
I always wanted to teach. I’d have been a head teacher and/or a wedding planner. I sew and bake and do flowers…indeed I still may do this when I retire.
What’s the future for your company?
I am amalgamating a group of companies at present. They need co-ordinating and making effective as well as growing in size. The group will become a leader in complex care for many people who have disabilitating conditions. We help clients obtain housing. We are ready to grow substantially this year – just finished budgets!! We will add acquisitions, we have already completed two and we intend to grow organically until we all agree to sell on.
Date the company was founded? 2008.
Start up capital? 25K
Current turnover? Assisted Living Solutions is part of the Select Group – turnover £10m
Current Net profit? £2m
Growth rate? 30%
Number of employees when the company started? 80
Current workforce number? 520
Biggest achievement? Completing two acquisitions within two months and augmenting into the existing business
I’m watching: Love hospital programmes – Holby City, Casualty
I’m reading: Love Katie Fforde, Kate Mosse and I love Mill on the Floss
I’m listening to: Adele (doesn’t everyone)
I’m surfing: Don’t do much surfing – I still love to go to the shops