Caroline Esterson (55) is a co-director of innovative learning and development company Genius Learning providing dynamic and inspirational training to companies looking to empower and develop their teams.
Working with business partner Wendy Gannaway and associates, Genius Learning also works with C-suite executives on a one-to-one basis to help them upskill and improve their own performance.
Caroline started her early career in retail with companies including Debenhams and Habitat and soon showed her initiative in offering excellent customer service – and also being a bit of a maverick, she was unafraid to speak up when she felt incorrect decisions were being made. It was during this period she met her first real mentor, David Hood, who allowed her free rein for her creativity. One example was personally making curtains instore for customers who could not wait for suppliers to fulfil orders.
However, during this early stage in her 20s, Caroline’s dominant personality came to the fore when she went for promotion against another candidate – and the other woman was chosen. Her manager explained while she was a great sales professional, she was not a team player and this was a skill she needed to learn. Caroline believes not getting this job was the greatest lesson she learned in her professional career.
She went on to become a store manager for Habitat before moving into learning and development where she was a Regional Training Officer for Debenhams, London Electricity and then Training Manager for Colonial Mutual (where she first met her now business partner Wendy Gannaway). Her time at Colonial Mutual was also a time when she experienced overt and clear sexism as a woman in a corporation. This eventually led to her deciding to set up her own business.
Initially, she set up a company making curtains and cushions however her professional contacts were now frequently approaching her for ideas about how to develop their teams.
She was soon being offered payment for those ideas and it was far more profitable than making soft furnishings. She decided to set up her own training company Leaps & Bounds which thrived until Caroline found herself managing 22 staff and turning over more than £1.2m.
This continued until the late 1990s when a perfect storm came. The recession hit at the same time as Caroline had adopted two small children with her husband Bill and the business started to flatline. Then a few years later, there came a huge life change when Bill was elected as a member of Parliament for the constituency of Sefton, a role he still holds today. The family moved from Kent to Liverpool and Leaps & Bounds was dissolved as her new family life began.
Once life had settled, Caroline decided to start again and together with Wendy, Genius Learning was established with a shared understanding of the importance of nurturing and cherishing people in any business – from the top-down and from the bottom up. For both, the key to success in business is healthy relationships.
In 2011, the pair set up Genius Learning and since then they have provided training to thousands of people, 100s of teams from companies including Ralph Lauren, Boden, Specsavers, EE, SSE, E.ON, Fenwick, Colorcon and more. They have also written two books around ‘genius ideas’ based on their combined experience of more than 50 years of best practice in L&D. For more information visit https://www.inspireyourgenius.com
leadership, hybrid working, adoption, communication skills