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From call centre worker to chief executive

Learning doesn’t end when you enter the workplace. On the contrary, supporting employment with skills development is crucial to career progression. Here, James Craft, chief executive at South Shields-based regional enterprise agency TEDCO, explains how he has benefited from a University of Sunderland apprenticeship, and why others should consider a route honing future leaders’ abilities.


When the spark of a business idea erupts, and you’re in need of critical enterprise advice to get started, then you may have been fortunate enough to come across the path of James Craft.

For more than 20 years, Seaham-born James has helped hundreds of start-ups flourish across the North East through roles with Barclays Bank, Santander, Business Link, RTC and, for the last five years, regional enterprise agency TEDCO.

His practical approach, coupled with his ability to absorb business knowledge and grow from interactions with clients, has seen some of those start-ups expand from one-person operations to multi-million-pound companies.

James’ steady progression, from call centre sales to becoming a chief executive, is also a remarkable achievement, having left school with just a handful of GCSEs and deciding university wasn’t right for him.

However, in preparing for his latest role as TEDCO chief executive, the 41-year-old knew it was time to develop himself academically which, in turn, would inspire the team of advisors he manages. 

He is now more than halfway through a senior leader apprenticeship at the University of Sunderland, which incorporates a masters of business administration (MBA) qualification, and everyone from his team to its clients are reaping the benefits.

He says: “I’ve always had an appetite for learning but was always a practical learner, rather than the textbook academic side. 

“But I’m pleased how it’s worked out; my appetite for learning is much better than 20 years ago. 

“It was the right time to learn about leadership as I moved into the chief executive role, discovering what gaps there were in my knowledge and putting me in a more rounded position to do the job.”

The senior leader apprenticeship is a 22-month programme encompassing the strategic skills required of a senior leader. 

It explores leadership and leader identity, and what that means to each individual in the context of their organisation.

James says: “The programme fits around my family and work life. 

“It’s massively fulfilled my expectations. 

“Learning from my peers on the course and their shared experiences has been invaluable. 

“It challenges you in the right way, and makes you question your own beliefs and practices as you approach challenges within your own organisation. 

“Everything we learn is relevant and timely, and we can apply it in our own business practices. 

“This approach allowed me, in real-time, to work on areas at TEDCO where we needed to be more innovative and move the business forward. 

“For example, we’ve implemented a new CRM and HR system while I’ve been on the course, making staff feel more motivated and giving them a voice and a seat at the table.”

James adds: “I want everyone at TEDCO to buy into what I’m learning through their own self-development, which leads to even better support for clients we work with. 

“We can give them better knowledge and cutting-edge information, which allows them a greater chance to grow in a competitive market.”