Caroline has sat in every seat in the building, in her time at Re:Work – and given their line of work, that’s a lot of seats! She talks about life at the helm of a social enterprise.
What is it the company does?
As our company slogan suggests, we help people to ‘love where they work’ by providing a range of office products and interior design services. We sell used office furniture, which we acquire from businesses looking to update their office space, as well as new equipment sourced mainly from UK manufacturers. We also offer commercial fit outs and refurbishments.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
Chief cook and bottlewasher! I suppose I have occupied all the roles within my business at some point, and now my focus is on the strategic direction and vision of the company – I have a great team, so I can work on keeping the business moving forward. But, I still get pulled away on the occasional printer fix job or hoovering up, just to keep it ‘real’.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After completing my degree in Sociology at The University of Leicester I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I moved back to my hometown of Wakefield and volunteered in victim support. I was then encouraged to apply for a paid position in their Leeds office, where I worked for three years.
Working with social enterprises was my next career path, and this sparked my love for not only running a business, but also being able to do some good at the same time. One day I walked past a skip full of office furniture in the centre of Leeds and wondered why someone would throw it away – then Re:Work came to life. So, now we recycle and re-use office furniture, whilst helping people get into work.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think fairness and charisma. I’ve have worked for some really inspirational leaders, and the thing I remember the most about their characters is this. Getting the job done is really important, but it doesn’t need to be all work and no play – let others enjoy the journey too.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Like many business owners I have had my fair share of challenges, but my biggest was the decision to move premises. A few peers suggested it would be too risky as we weren’t quite financially ready for it, but I was worried the organisation would become stagnant if we stayed where we were, so we took the plunge and found a way to make it work.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
There are three things I try to maintain in my life to deal with stressful situations – exercise, eating and sleeping. I think it’s easy to skip food, eat too much, not exercise or not tire yourself out enough to be able to sleep. We all have to deal with stressful situations, but I think this keeps me sane!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a racehorse jockey. I absolutely loved riding, so I wanted to be the first woman to race and win the derby. I was and still am really passionate about horses, but it just never worked out for me. However, it’s still on my bucket list to ride a racehorse, even if it’s just down the gallops.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Randomly I can’t stand coats on the back of chairs! It really irritates me – I think it looks so untidy. So, I just make sure there are coat hooks or stands around the office.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Realistically I see us creeping up to around the £1m turnover bracket, with some steady and sustainable growth through my second business Desk Office Interiors. I envision us creating some amazing workspaces for people, continuing to re-use office furniture, and I hope the team will develop to around 15 strong. Finally, I’d like to think we can establish ourselves as the go-to place for office furniture in Yorkshire.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Take calculated risks, listen to your gut, be passionate, and surround yourself with good people who can both challenge and support you.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Good question – my honest answer is that I can’t think of anything and without it being clichéd, I probably wouldn’t have listened if they had told me. I think you can only learn from your own experiences, and you probably need that naivety when you start a business.
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