Sitting with Mo in her glass-fronted office, in her round chairs is something! I’m usually in there to discuss the next campaign or a personal reason of my own but not this time, this time I was in the driving seat, armed ready with my questions!
Mo looked comfortable, to say she had no idea what questions graced my sheet, or what secrets I was about to discover….
How long have you worked at Academic Appointments?
Since 2004, it will be 13 years in August
Is it right that you built the business?
It is indeed, yes from a tiny little seat [for those of you who know Mo, you can imagine how she smiled the proudest yet coy smile as she answered this question]
What made you build Academic Appointments? Why this business?
[Stuttering slightly with a humbling tone] well when I think about Academic… [pauses] I was quite a brave lady, really [pauses and looks up as if thinking back] I had worked for some really huge companies and little boutique ones and I thought do you know what there has got to be a better way, a combination of both, if I can take what’s great in each and bring that together.
What do you love most about working here?
I just love seeing all the people get on, I love when we get a referral from a candidate or a customer because that means we’re doing what we do really well... [pause] so you could say I’m a good news bunny [grins], I like…, I live for the good news!
Are there parts of the job that you dislike?
[Laughing] What you mean, you’re asking me what I’m rubbish at really? [Giggles] Other people might tell you what I’m rubbish at! [There were discussions of putting the question out as a poll, which Mo agreed would be fine so who knows, maybe the next Twitter poll we hold] I would say where I feel not stressed but out of my comfort zone is reading immense documents that I need to read so I’ve got to keep doing it in small chunks [talking with her hands and leaning forward in her chair] reading it, absorbing it, breaking, going back to it or [sits back in chair] get myself falsely excited about it so I will achieve it then!
You know a lot about education, what did you do in the past? Before Academic Appointments?
Well actually I started out as a Teacher I went to uni and went teaching firstly, instrumentally teaching Piano then class teaching but I’d never really intended to do that but it was absolutely a brilliant experience so I did that for 2 years and then I thought actually I can never really step out of that if I don’t know how a business works. I had no office skills. I was a Musician so I actually booked myself on a 6 months’ course run by the manpower services commission, which taught you all about what goes on in an office. It was called word processing then, about computers. I took my exams in all of those at the end of 6 months and then I went temping as I thought I just don't know what goes on in the whole business world so I worked as a PA for an HR Director in a stainless steel company, I worked in a solicitors, [pauses] I just worked wherever they had work and wherever the temping company sent me and I used to go in there with my timesheet every Friday afternoon and think ‘do you know what’ the manager who looked after me had her feet up on the table with a glass of wine because that’s what recruiters did at that point, I thought that looks to be quite a nice job. [laughs] And then I got my first job in Manpower [pauses looking nostalgic] back in the day and I didn’t really know what I’d subscribed for [grins nervously] I honestly had no idea what a recruitment consultant did. Because in the interview they’d mentioned field workers, and I knew it was about getting employment for the field workers and going out to see clients in order to get jobs but honestly my biggest concern, I’m quite a cold person [mimics warming her hands as she speaks] as in I feel the cold really badly and I thought I would be out in the field, managing the field workers and that was my chief concern – [talking with heightened gestures as if remembering the concerns] what do I wear? I wondered if we would get special overcoats? Do I have to wear a hat? Would that be unprofessional? The lightbulb went on, and it’s like – no – their candidates! [laughing in disbelief at herself]
So do you think you went for Education recruitment because of your background in teaching?
Absolutely… [smiles and sits forward] In recruitment I did commercial first and then I did skilled and technical, then I did industrial [pause] but I was thoroughly in the groove then and suddenly in the 90s Education recruitment became a thing so after working at my previous job for like 6 years, I’d had a child and I thought actually, now’s a good time to be looking for something completely new. So, when my child was just a year old I went and set up on behalf of one of the big national companies an Education office in Hull. So I travelled from York to Hull every day. Then I opened Lincoln, turned around Newcastle and then Leeds [relaxes back in chair as if she was exhausted just telling me]
Here you are, with the plans to go further?
Yes, take over the world [laughs]
So you mentioned about your son, Elliot? Is Elliott your only child?
Yes, he is
Are you married?
I am [smiles intently]
Yep, and would you say Rich has been supportive of the business?
[Leans forward] I thought you were going to ask me if I was happily married, I was going to say oh well you know I can always window shop, I mean after 20 odd years there’s no harm in window shopping. [grins cheekily]
He has, and in fact we were at a real crossroads, he’d been not very happy in his job around the time Elliott was born but we needed the income and [pauses] we just had a really grown up conversation, because money has never really been a driver, it's about you know how happy we are and we know we need money to pay the bills and all that and I said really, if I want to go into Education recruitment I can only go in at a level where I’ve got some control because I just know, I can do it, I can feel it, even though it’s a new market I said but this jobs over in Hull and that’s like an hour travel every day, each end, not much flexibility so I tell you what then, you do that and I’ll start my own business. [sits back] So with our hands in our mouths in January 1997 that’s exactly what we did. And here we are now, still together, still arguing [laughs]
Where would you say is the most exotic place you’ve visited?
Well you know Rich isn’t in for long haul flights but the most [paused] delightful place faraway place we’ve ever been was New Zealand and that’s actually [grins] where he proposed to me, on top of a mountain [recalling the moment, Mo smiles and looks off into the distance] which was a little bit of a surprise because we’d gone there for his brother’s wedding. So, that taught me one thing, don’t go on a family honeymoon, [smiling] as his brother was fortunate enough to have all his family on his honeymoon so we learnt from that. But yes, I thought, I was very taken with New Zealand as it was like the UK but everything’s a bit lusher [pauses, clearly imagining the view] the colours, the greens the blues, the sun shines a bit stronger, the snows a bit deeper – I was really very taken with New Zealand.
Do you have family there then?
We do yes, now actually some of them have moved to Australia [pause], we haven’t been out there yet but that’s got to be a project in the next 2 years [smiled] I would take the Academic Appointments bag and take photos of it of course, [she’s alluding to my venture to Oz adventure last year, with Academic Appointments bag in hand all the way] and my plan Danni is to cruise back over 30 days, so whether that can happen in 2 years I don’t know.
What is the one thing that you are most proud of?
Ooh [a look of difficulty crossed Mo’s face] oh I think [pauses as she is thinking] I’m proud of quite a few things. On the family front, it’s definitely got to be our son he’s absolutely the bee's knees [corrected herself] the shizzle, he’s absolutely the shizzle. My proudest moment with him, if I can just talk family for a second? [looking eagerly at me, as I nod], was at the moment, he’s doing a degree in music and [pause] as part of that he’s doing an internship at a recording studio and on Christmas morning he passed me a little envelope and said your Christmas present is here mum, and it was an invitation to the recording studio to record some music and he was going to do the recording [smiles] and when I think about it I get quite a little lump in my throat [pauses for an intake of breath as if steadying herself] in fact and in my chest and legs because I just thought how many mothers would have this experience? On all fronts. So [pauses] and that, [composes herself and sits back up] another proud moment [long pause] I’m really proud [pause, looking emotional again] of everybody out there [points out to the office floor] that you know, that they believed in it all, and they worked really hard and you know, it’s kind of come together. [raises voice passionately] I’ll be most proud when this business lives on without me, in the nicest possible way and that’s kind of what I am working towards
Setting the legacy?
It really is, thing is, it’s got to be all about legacy [she smiles as if imaging that day]
Moving away from the emotional stuff, let’s get to know you more… What would you say is your biggest pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve? [pauses] Hmm [sits up] The government getting at teachers all the time. That is my pet peeve. Do you know we meet so many fantastic people, and it is a life changing job [pause] and it’s a hard job and I just think they have such a lot to contend with professionally and the schools getting their budgets cut, it’s just like you know, stop it [tenses and sits upright with slight hint of passion], let these people get on with their vocation, it’s not a job it’s a vocation! And to do it well, we all remember who’s taught us well, we wouldn’t do what we do if we hadn’t been taught well
Do you remember a teacher that influenced you the most?
I do remember a few teachers actually [pausing with a grin] I remember a guy when I was 13, that taught me [pauses] ‘The power of the apostrophe' [said with a bit of an accent, almost like an announcement on a superhero movie]. Because at primary school it seemed to have gone over my head how you used apostrophes and in fact, it was a really sunny day so we were all sat under this tree in English and he actually came around and said Mo I’m going to teach you all about the apostrophe. I’ll always remember him, Mr Seymour. Mr Seymour [positively smiles, clearly visualising that day and him] and another influential teacher, because she was so strict, was an English Teacher at secondary school. To get praise from her was like getting blood out of a stone and I probably did the best at English because she was, she was not. My husband always says I’m a crowd pleaser [mimics Rich] essentially Mo you are a crowd pleaser [pause] and I could never please her so when you got an A-minus from Miss Grey – well you were on fire. Massive achievement? Absolutely [laughs]
That probably links to my next question - Have you ever won anything, and what was it?
An A-minus in English from Miss Grey [laughing] let me think what have I won [long pause] I have been quite lucky at raffles actually, hmm [pauses] just trying to think what I’ve won [pauses, looking puzzled] I won scholarships, I knew I was competitive, but I never thought I was really competitive until I reflected on it, probably only 10 years ago and I thought, who wanted free piano lessons and that’s what you got if you won the music competition at school every year and that was double edge because I wouldn’t be able to do that really, at that school, unless it was paid for so it was double edged but yeah I knew that’s where my competitive edge came from.
Ok if you could be on any TV game show, which one and why?
[long pause, smiles] I’d like to be on.. well it’s not a game show really but I’d like to be on [sits forward as if about to confess something really bad] ‘Through the Key Hole’ because I’m basically really nosey and if I didn’t work in recruitment I’d definitely be an Estate Agent
Would you? Yes, my guilty pleasure is just before I go to bed, most nights, having 5 minutes on Right Move, absolutely I am a Property Sniffer [announcer style again], and that’s as far as it goes but I absolutely love it. I just look at what’s around, and if there’s a house down the street I’ll definitely have a look in that because it’d definitely be of interest. See what colour their walls are [starts talking with her hands again] ooh I wouldn’t go for that swirly carpet [says as though seeing the carpet in her thoughts]
What’s a fear that you are most proud to have overcome?
A fear? [long pause] I think a fear of spiders …[said with real pride] that I used to, [pauses] it’s all about your upbringing, but at home my parents used to squish on spiders like they were the enemy and when I met Rich and we got a house together and all that [pauses] he’s an absolute animal lover and he taught me that spiders are actually the reason you don’t get poorly so much because they eat all the bugs so now even if a spider was like 6 inches across I would guide him out into a pint glass and open the front door and let him go rather than squishing it and leaving a mark on the wall [laughs] so it serves 2 purposes really
Which superhuman power do you wish you had?
Oh, the power of foresight, I’d be sat here as a lottery winner, I’d prevent all disease. Yes the power of foresight [pause] we often say in this business if we had a crystal ball it would be really helpful, and in life in general, sometimes you wouldn’t really want to know what’s quite coming, but you could plan and you could also buy the winning lottery ticket which would then.. it’s not about just winning money it’s actually, do you know what, you could help quite a lot of people out if you win the lottery
If you could have your life played out in a movie, a movie? Yes, a movie oh my [straight voiced] what genre would you have it and who would play you?
Well… I’d have it played out as a musical, [smiling] absolutely as we like a bit of a sing and dance, bit of an orchestra in the pit, and [asking herself] who would most be like me, who would play me? I’d like to think somebody like Meryl Streep would play me because she got a little bit of an edge but she basically a nice person [pause] the other actress I used to like was [puts her hand to her head as she tries to recall her name] Jamie lee Curtis
What is your favourite movie?
[chuckles loudly] ah my favourite movie is a black and white movie and it’s called Brief Encounter it's really poignant, it’s a love story and it’s a bit like that sliding door moment where things nearly happen but don’t happen… I love that movie. [smiles]
What’s one piece of advice you would give to readers
Always go with your heart [said with a sincere tone]
Could you tell me a quirky or unique habit of yours?
Quirky? Habit? [pauses struggling] I’m sure Rich could tell me one? [laughs] I’m sure he can. Richards pet name for me is Captain Obvious, I even sign off emails to him CO because he always says I state the obvious I look out and go do you know it’s raining? Yes Captain Obvious [mimics him again] but that’s not a habit really … a little quirky habit? A quirky talent I have is I can write backwards, fluently Can you? Yes [looks very pleased]
Well, I think you are going to have to show me? Really, Ok, I’ll write you a little note [see picture]
Where did you learn to do that?
Well when I was at primary school I actually [pauses], when I first learnt to write, my mum, and dad used to put writing up to a mirror when I brought it home
Could you describe yourself in 3 words?
[Takes a huge inhale] ooh [pauses whilst looking intent, leans forward] I describe myself as Committed, Fair & Fun
And Pete’s asked a question. [interrupts] If it's rude I’m not answering
How has it been working with the legend that is Pete Riley changed your life, he is after the all the number one operator in the UK if not the world?
I’ll give Pete his due, he’s actually a worthy opponent [both laughing] but seriously I have a real affirmation of his commitment to the business and all of its people.