After 20 years in her career Suzanne Withrington decided that her ambition was to become a lecturer. Today she is principal lecturer of enterprise and business engagement at Teesside University.
Where do you call home?
For me, home is Teesside.
Tell us about your role?
My role is principal lecturer of enterprise and business engagement at Teesside University Business school.
I am also trustee of a local charity called Recovery Connections. As well as being regional ambassador for education and skills for the institute of directors North East, Yorkshire and Humberside.
How did you get to where you are today?
I left school at 16 with very few qualifications and studied catering, training to be a chef. After college I left home & secured a job in Harrogate at a Trust House Forte hotel as a waitress. Within a year or so I was promoted to Head Waitress and also competed as a finalist for the title of Young Waiter of the Year.
I joined the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough, at 21, as a telephone sales canvasser. Progressing through the ranks of publishing was to be my career for the next 20 years or so. By the time I left the Gazette I was the New Product Development Manager, leading a team of commercial sales reps. Working at the Gazette was a huge influence in my life and gave me the work ethic I have today, which is work hard, take the knocks when you must and have the belief that it will all come right in the end.
I joined Teesside University in 2008 as a Business Development Manager and very quickly realised that I would love to teach and become a lecturer. So, at almost 40 years of age I began studying again in addition to working full time and looking after my family. I achieved the qualifications I needed to teach within 2 years; I already had loads of work experience from previous roles and I did everything I could to enhance my CV to apply for a role as a lecturer. This took a further 3 years, but I got there in 2011. Since then I have had the opportunity to fulfil several roles, travel and teach internationally and take care of some of our clients and partner colleges. I am currently studying towards my PhD (7 years as a part time student) – something I would never have dreamed of achieving in my younger life. A significant part of my current role is to help Teesside University Business School students to fulfil their potential and achieve the graduate role of their dreams. There’s nothing better than hearing from previous students who have left us with the passion, skills and experience to succeed.
What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?
Loads of struggles. The biggest one was probably caused solely by me and that was a lack of belief in my ability to achieve much…Imposter syndrome! None of my family had been to university and I came from a background whereby the expectation was to finish school, get a job and raise a family. A fulfilling career was never part of the plan.
A further struggle (when I was older) was that of juggling home life, family and work. Whilst I am not unique in this regard, it was hard on occasion.
Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?
Probably when I was working at the Gazette. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of local successful businesspeople, many of whom had come from a similar background with a similar narrative. They were from Teesside, had limited academic qualifications, but a determination to succeed and achieve what they set out. They made me realise that with hard work, motivation and a strong work ethic you can do it and get where you want to be. I wanted to make my family proud.
Do you have any advice to aspiring young females?
Be courageous in your approach – what’s the worst that can happen? Be kind to those you meet because you never know when they might be able to help. Always act truthfully and protect your own integrity. Your values create the person you are, and you shouldn’t compromise them to suit others. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you; their positivity is infectious.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I now recognise that I lacked confidence as a teenager and thought others were better than me. I’d tell my younger self to be true to them self and have faith in your ability to succeed. If things don’t work out, it often doesn’t matter. Don’t listen to those who try to put you down…its more about them than it is about you.
What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?
You can do this! (4 words I know…)
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