A local small business owner’s transition from working in finance to being her own boss

3 min read

An Austin small business owner decided to quit her corporate job and open up learning centers to honor her late sister who was a teacher.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Sylvan Learning Center has been in the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center for more than 30 years. But in December 2020, Susan Fairbairn took over the franchise.

“I’ve had some great successes with this. I’ve also had some lows,” said Fairbairn, executive director, Sylvan Learning. “But the program works. It makes a difference in a child’s life.”

The small business owner acquired the four Austin locations three years ago and currently has two in New Mexico and one in South Carolina. But owning a small business wasn’t always her career path.

“I stepped in and left my corporate career and became a franchise owner,” Fairbairn said.

Fairbairn worked in finance at GE Capital before she decided to be her own boss.

“Going from working on a half-a-billion-dollar portfolio to a $500,000 business is a big, you know, change in responsibility,” Fairbairn said.

In 1991, everything changed when her sister passed away. Fairbairn and her brothers bought a Sylvan Learning Center to honor her sister’s legacy because she was a teacher for more than 20 years in Dallas. More than 30 years later, she’s still a small business owner in Austin.

“This was not a career path I envisioned. But I see the difference that we can make for kids,” she said.

In Austin, she faces new challenges while trying to adapt her business to a growing city.

“Looking at, you know, where is the growth coming from in our market?” Fairbairn said. “Where are the schools? So, you got to really do your research and try and understand too.”

She said with Austin’s growth, there is a need for more learning centers, and the city is ready.

“This Austin market has a lot of potential to have many more locations,” Fairbairn said.

Even though things are looking good for her business now, she said there have been difficulties along the journey of becoming her own boss.

“You still get up and you go to work, and you try hard and, you know, sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t,” Fairbairn said. “But just being, you know, tenacious and working hard at it.”

She said overall she’s proud her kids have seen she can be successful by making it on her own.

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