Vicki Prout Served in the Royal Australian Navy for 12 years before leaving in 1997 and starting a career as a businesswoman. She currently runs an international childcare franchise, Sherpa Kids.
Can we talk about the decisions you made during resettlement? Childcare is a world away from the Armed Forces.
I joined in 1984 and left in 1997. I left as a Petty Officer Writer; the Navy was very good to me but it reached a stage where I’d Served for around 12 years and I needed a change. I knew I could have stayed in for the next eight and leave at the age of 37 with a pension, or alternatively, get out now and try something different. I choose the later, and bought a pet food delivery round with some of my leaving money. I thought I’d been institutionalised for so long that buying a going concern I’d see if I could work as a business owner without experience.
I found success by following key principles the Navy had taught me: treat everyone with respect, have set disciplines and be motivated in everything you do and ultimately be that team player – my business grew from strength-to-strength just by following those basic principles – that’s what the Forces is all about.
I came across this childcare brand and I basically liked it so much that I bought the business and here we are today in 17 countries in three and a half years.
What other types of franchising did you consider?
I believe you’re quite safe in childcare because there always seems to be a need and there’s a demand from parents because unfortunately, we all have to work longer. And also pets… People spend money on their pets and their kids.
Your Naval experiences still seem front-of-mind. Do you miss it?
I miss the camaraderie. To me it’s very special. I’m a very people-oriented person and that’s what franchising is about too but sometimes I miss the Navy.
There must be good things about being away from the Services as well…
Oh, for sure. I don’t miss being on duty every fourth day! And working in some extreme conditions and some days the food! Everyone says that… It’s a very small point; Overall, I loved my time Serving and now my son’s in the Army.
I outgrew it and I’ve served my country but now I think I can serve the people better with the skills I’ve learned and I do that by offering franchises and giving people the opportunity to grow through business. I have coined this ‘Human Agriculture’.
Can you tell me about Sherpa Kids?
We’re a brand that operates an afterschool service within school premises. School finishes at 3.30pm and our team will come in and offer a structured programme to children of primary school age – around the world. At the moment we’re looking after around 5,400 children per day in afterschool care, with about 100 franchisees, globally.
As I don’t want to be running the service from my office in Bournemouth, we seek local business partners, who live in the area, to employ more locals to run the service and buy from local suppliers – really supporting local with global support. Our owners can have their twist on it – to be a little bit creative and have fun with an engaging service delivered by them.