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The first thing anyone notices about Sam Dunlop, at the age of 33 already an award-winning director of two high-flying companies and busy mum of two little girls, Lilly-Grace 8 and Ivy, 2, is her huge smile.
Reading her credentials – how she built her stratospheric accountancy and recruitment businesses from scratch, one might expect Alexis Carrington, yet Sam, although certainly glamorous, is approachable and warm as she welcomes me into her Folkestone home.
Sam did well at school, but she left at 16, a victim of bullying over her pale skin and auburn hair. This led to an apprenticeship at a hairdressers and dying her hair every colour to bury her shame at being ‘ginger’.
Despite her crushed confidence, Sam’s ambition burned as brightly as her red hair and she passed her AAT (accountancy) qualification with the OU. ‘I was determined not to let the bullies win’ she says.
Subsequently, Sam set up her own accountancy business – Prestigious Finance Services, a few years ago.
The schoolgirl who was relentlessly tormented has certainly become the mouse that roared, winning the KWIB Women in Business ‘Entrepreneur of the Year in 2021 when she reverted to being a redhead. She says: ‘Success gave me the confidence to love my hair.’
For an ‘entrepreneur accountant’, such high-profile triumph might be affirmation enough, but Sam founded a second company, Mastermind Recruitment, two years ago, explaining: ‘I could easily have let my experience at school make me into a damaged person who just wants to grab the world by the throat but in the long run that wouldn’t help me and more importantly, it wouldn’t help anybody else. My way of turning this around is to make the world a little better, starting here in Folkestone!’
Mastermind Recruitment focuses on securing a future for those living on the breadline. At the height of the pandemic, Sam spotted an opportunity to support an economy devastated by covid. Spending hours every day speaking to local job centres, she launched a service to match jobseekers to her huge list of existing clients. She sums up, saying ‘This has been going very well and I have expanded to local councils and started advertising to see who else we can help. With such a high response coming in for Mastermind I have now recruited my brother Michael to run the business alongside me.’
One spin-off from the initiative has been Sam’s setting up of the Prestigious Financial Services apprenticeship enterprise https://www.pfslimited.co.uk/
So, what’s next for the serial entrepreneur accountant? Even though she is constantly learning and taking further qualifications, Sam wants to ramp up the personal touch: ‘I am exploring options for charity work. I have enquired about reading stories in children’s wards, and I am also interested in co-ordinating a Christmas gift scheme for children in hospital. I am very driven, I have two beautiful girls and they are the reason I keep going. I’m determined to show them that you really can have anything you work hard at. My parents always showed us that hard work pays off. I would like my children to also see that’.
There is every reason to expect that whatever Sam puts her mind to will swiftly turn to gold.
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