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A world of learning

Establishing a professional training business at the dawn of a global economic crisis may have seemed risky but, says Knowledge Academy Founder Barinder Hothi, understanding international markets continues to be the secret to its success.

Knowledge is power, so the saying goes, especially when you’re setting up a new business venture. And in 2009, just as a worldwide recession was rearing its head, Barinder Hothi and her husband Dilshad announced to astonished friends and family that they were leaving well-paid jobs to do just that. But they had a clear vision, had spotted a vacuum in the marketplace and, adds Barinder, were armed with an intimate knowledge of the industry. “We had expertise in both marketing and training requirements in both the corporate and public sector,” she explains. The timing proved to be perfect. The recession greatly increased the need for back-to-employment training, including government initiatives, and fuelled the business’s early success. “It has never been a static market, but we had an advantage. Our offering placed us in a perfect position to expand overseas – it meant we had immediate international reach,” Barinder continues.

Live and breathe knowledge

As the business has matured, understanding the marketplace continues to be paramount in staying one step ahead in a hugely competitive sector. Intrinsic to this was a decision two years ago to form the dedicated Knowledge Academy research team and send them into key international markets to study demographics, education trends, logistics and infrastructure, not only in training but in the overall business scene. “The business started out with hubs in the UK, but we have since moved into other English-speaking countries. They represent markets which are considerably larger than the UK,” Barinder says. Knowledge Academy’s remarkable growth has been driven by its focus on qualifications which have been developed for the government and government sectors, making them recognisable globally. “This means they have international credibility and translate well into other markets,” Barinder explains. “Knowledge Academy now has 200 centres around the world, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The next step is to move into providing training in local languages.”

A network of local expertise

Doing business across borders brings its own unique challenges, from distinct training needs to diverse cultures, regulations and tax regimes. “Since we began working with the company in 2010, our relationship with Haines Watts has blossomed because it has been able to support us both in the UK and in finding suitable partners overseas,” she continues. “As we have grown from a small organisation and moved into overseas markets, Haines Watts has been there to make sure we remain compliant.” In a country like the US, where there is a vast number of competitors in the training arena, opening for business can be a daunting process. “There are so many questions. What kind of entity do you establish, how do you register in each state and what’s the Federal perspective?” Barinder points out.

Foundation for global expansion

An introduction to local accountancy firms with real ‘on the ground’ expertise was invaluable, she says. “And being able to source partners who have already been vetted through the GGI Network, of which Haines Watts is a member, meant we didn’t feel as blind, whether we were trying to answer customer or supplier questions or prove our certification.” Reporting requirements for financial results vary greatly from country to country – even where there may seem to be similar cultures, such as Australia and the US. “Establishing a business in India is very different to what you’d do in the UAE. It is not just about creating a legal entity, but making sure all the components you need are in place before you start to trade, from the mechanics of currency – where we were referred to currency experts at HiFX – to a bank account, and tax. Haines Watts has supported us in all these areas. “This has been important because if you get it wrong the repercussions are immense for a private business owner; it could potentially lead to a custodial sentence,” Barinder warns.

Technology-led future

Knowledge Academy continues to invest in the future, which includes spending more than £2 million in developing technology that will allow it to work with large corporations to collect data, identify training requirements and create bespoke programmes to meet their needs. “This ‘training needs analysis’ looks at the skills present in an organisation today and what is needed tomorrow to best serve that business in the future,” says Barinder. “This technology will also allow them to benchmark spend compared to the competition.” And, she adds, with a lack of workers in the UK with skills in software development, building capability in this area offers exciting potential for further growth.

Award-winning business strategies

Dilshad and Barinder Hothi have been recognised for their entrepreneurial successes with a raft of awards, from RBS Management Team of the Year 2014 and ‘One to watch’ in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 2015 to entering the 2016 Sunday Times Fast Track – SME Export Track 100 at number 29 and, finally, Barinder winning Woman Business Owner of the Year 2016. “I believe we have stood out because we have founded a business in a challenging environment which has since seen exponential growth – and we are completely self-funded. We’ve always had a ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it’ philosophy.”

As we have grown and moved into overseas markets, Haines Watts has been there to make sure we remain compliant.

Barinder Hothi Knowledge Academy

Haines Watts Partner view

Barinder and Dilshad are great to work with. Barinder’s business savvy is balanced by her husband’s entrepreneurial streak – it’s the perfect mix that has led to their business expanding rapidly.

But they are very focused on growth, and where Haines Watts has been able to offer value is in making sure the accounting systems and processes are in place and that the company has the right people with the skills and experience to take it to the next phase.

We highlighted that their financial team was under-resourced, for instance, and within two years they had expanded this from two to over ten people, including a Head of Group Services and financial controller.

It means they now have access to timely management information which allows them to make responsive, well-informed decisions about any business challenges.

As they have expanded rapidly to other markets, the GGI Network has also been of particular importance. Thanks to clients like the Knowledge Academy, Haines Watts is now one of the global professional alliance’s top firms for referring work to other partners around the world.

Michael DavidsonRegional Managing Partner

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