With unemployment a huge worry to people in the Tees region and beyond, Jo Davies – managing director Middlesbrough-based HR specialists HR Alchemy – is proof that there can be a silver lining following the sadness of redundancy.
“If I hadn’t lost my job I don’t know whether I’d have been brave enough to set up my own company,” Jo admits.
“I spent 20 years in the steel industry and really loved it. I was very happy. Steel is in my blood, it’s something you feel is your right as a Teessider.
“I was passionate about it and when you lose that passion it’s hard to find elsewhere. Setting up my own business was about rediscovering that drive, that excitement.”
Jo was in discussion with Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan on Talking Business, which shows just how far Jo has come in the intervening years.
Billingham-born and raised, Jo had been lucky enough to be sponsored by British Steel after leaving university.
“When I was growing up you either went into the steel works or the chemical works,” she recalls.
“I came into the steel industry after graduating and worked my way up to hr manager at Hartlepool Pipe Mills.”
Switching to manufacturing for five years and then taking maternity leave after the birth of her son, Jo came back to steel just as SSI bought the Redcar and Lackenby works.
“They were looking to restart so they approached me and asked if I would like to join them as HR director,” she recalls.
“I was the first new employee and spent five years there before the works sadly closed for good. Even then I stayed on for a time, working for the liquidator.”
Dealing with redundancies was hard, and then Jo herself was back on job market.
“I took a few roles, but couldn’t find any job satisfaction,” she says.
“The only way I knew I’d find fulfilment was to set up my own business, even though I found the idea hugely daunting.
“I knew I may not earn for a while and asked myself if I’d be any good as a consultant rather than an employee and how on earth was I going to sell myself and find clients.”
Luckily for Jo, her reputation preceded her and after the first year HR Alchemy started to fly.
“I had enough clients to justify taking on an employee and to finally move out of my dining room,” she laughs.
Today Jo can’t imagine being anything other than her own boss and loves the freedom it gives her.
“It’s a terrifying journey but once you crack it that passion comes back. For me it was one hundred per cent the right thing to do. As a working mam the flexibility has been a godsend.”
For others contemplating opening their own business, Jo is encouraging.
“If you’ve got the resilience to get through the first few months, networking doesn’t faze you and you have a good product then there’s nothing to beat it,” she says.