Success Against The Odds

5 Lessons in How to Achieve the Impossible: The Story of Teach First

by Brett Wigdortz

Ten years ago, when American management consultant Brett Wigdortz told his employers at McKinsey that he was leaving to “found an organisation designed to address educational disadvantage in Britain”, they laughed. 

He was 28 years, with no experience of either public policy or teaching; he’d never led anything before, never managed anyone. And he thought he could put right the class-ridden injustices of the British education system.

This is the story of how a tiny independent charity has succeeded against all odds. Having met with constant resistance in its early years, Teach First is today Britain’s largest graduate recuiter. It now places 1250 new teachers each year in the most challenging schools in the country.

In this searingly honest account Brett shows how, through a combination of his McKinsey training and personal passion, he has turned a simple idea into a cultural revolution. He offers tips and advice based on everything he has learned along the way – How to write a business plan, How to hire the right team through to How to become a CEO with zero qualifications.

This is a book about turning no into yes – inspiration for anyone else out there with a vision for change to go out and make it happen.

“One of the great untold stories of our generation is how our most talented young people are inspiring our most disadvantaged children. This book shows us how a simple idea has the power to change lives right across the globe. It is also a great and very exciting narrative.” – Walter Isaacson, author, Biographer of Steve Jobs and former Time magazine managing editor

“Teach First has been a transformational force in schools, and a major lever in raising achievement by pupils. This is the extraordinary story of how one man’s belief that change is possible helped change the education landscape in Britain.” – Sally Coates, Head Teacher, Burlington Danes, London

“The story of Teach First is of an improbable dream that has become a remarkable reality; a thousand graduates making a vast impact on some of the most needy schools in Britain” – Jon Snow, Channel 4 News

“Teach First is an inspiration to  everyone concerned with social change; that it really is possible to build a movement of people who want to help every child reach their potential.” – Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founder of Kids Company

“Teach First is changing the face of English education – and English society.  It has made teaching in challenging state schools not only a job, but a mission, for many of the highest achieving graduates, the sort who would never have dreamed of going into teaching a decade ago. Brett Wigdortz’s story is passionate, honest, inspiring and very moving. It is a testament to vision and leadership, full of optimism and faith in the power of the human spirit to create the world anew.” – Lord Adonis, Former Education Minister

“Brett’s insight is that strong leadership can change lives. He brought a business approach to the world of British education that has the potential to change it forever. Every business leader and entrepreneur can learn from his experience.” – Joseph W Saunders, Chairman and Chief Executive Visa Inc

“The remarkable, gripping and often funny story of a young American on a personal crusade; to succeed at mission impossible, to break down Britain’s chronic educational divide.” – Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College and Blair Biographer

“Read this book and learn how to become a successful CEO without any qualifications or experience. It is a rollercoaster ride packed with invaluable lessons for all aspiring leaders. This is inspiring and insightful… a gripping read” – Jo Owen, Leadership Guru and best-selling business author

 “Teach First is one of those rare things – a big idea that changes society… This book is a must-read for those who want to learn how they too can lead real change in the world.” – Jim O’Neil, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management

“I found this account of the inception of Teach First an enjoyable easy read. Having been around in the early days of the launch it was interesting to read about the background trials and tribulations and to understand how many people were involved and committed to making this a reality. The Teach First graduates who worked in both my schools made a huge difference to the progress of the schools and the life chances of the young people in them. This has been and continues to be a brilliant initiative.” – From the country’s leading headteacher – Joan McVittie, President of the Association of School and College Leaders and Head of Woodside High

About Brett Wigdortz

Brett Wigdortz has led Teach First as its CEO since its launch in July 2002. Before coming to London, he worked for McKinsey in Indonesia, Singapore, and Manila. He was recently named the 2007 UK Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year and the 2010 CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) European Leadership Award. Brett is married with two small children.