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Zenna Hopson Atkins


Zenna has already had, in her own words, "the most amazing career". She has started 6 organisations (the first when she was just 16); she has been a full time executive and a consultant; she has taken on board roles, and worked in the charity, public and private sectors; she has had positions that have ranged from the high profile and public facing - like being the Chairman of Ofsted - to the back office and invisible. Having entered the world of work after failing her A Levels and parking the idea of university, she has become a recognised expert in driving profitable social change.

Right now Zenna is thinking and strategising for the next phase of her employment. 

Why do you do what you do?

I am motivated by making a difference, being part of the solution, having fun and mostly by working with brilliant people. Young people have been my life long passion, working alongside them to change their lives, so they can be the solution, both in my professional life and in my personal life. I have motivated and inspired great people and have had my mind blown by brilliant individuals.

What do you think helps make you good at what you do?

I am good at what I do because I do it. I get out of my own way and I just get on with it. I have failed at as much as I have succeeded at, I have made huge mistakes, small mistakes, great decisions and howling gaffs.I have resilience and I bounce back: I try not to dwell on those howling gaffs and I focus on the art of the possible. 

What piece of advice has most assisted you recently?

Sand down before you gloss: the paint will stick better. Whilst this has been very useful in my current home decoration project, it is also a good metaphor for preparing for your next step. However, my best and ensuring advice is just say yes.


COVID 19 might just be the opportunity to reimagine the offer we are making to our young people. Our education system is a busted flush, the knowledge-based system is failing young people and employers, it's putting people through an exams-based race whose currency is no longer of any real world value. Whilst affluent and well connected young people can survive and even thrive in this broken system, our most vulnerable and disadvantaged are being left high, dry and unemployed.

Can we take the opportunity to level the playing field, to move to a skills- and capabilities-based education that recognises talent, resilience and creativity? Let’s use The Hot Breakfast to help reimagine our offering to young people.

What's your breakfast of choice?

Whenever I have the time its poached eggs on toast.

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