Globalisation and the inexorable spread of English as a lingua franca has boosted the need for language schools throughout the world and particularly in Switzerland. One of those is the ASC International House. Swiss Style caught up with its Director General and owner, Douglas S. Crawford.
Swiss Style — The thought of mixing business and education may appear striking for those of us who received a solid education in public schools. How do you feel about that?
Douglas S. Crawford — Quite differently! Our business is living proof that, if done properly, business and education can come together successfully.
Our mission statement says it all: the ASC-IH is where “business and education come together in harmony in order to deliver the best of both worlds to our students and clients”. I have come across many companies and indeed schools where mission statements appear on the wall of the boss’ office or in the brochure but are nowhere to be seen in what the client experiences. This is not the case at ASC-IH where we have a solid team of managers and teachers working together to deliver our mission statement every day and to every client. There are plenty of examples in our region where you can find fantastic education but delivered in a way that almost ignores the need for client care. It is just as true that there are schools out there – language schools in particular – which operate a pure business model with focus on volumes sales, high margins, low staff pay, but almost no attention to educational quality. They might as well be selling baked beans and they are certainly not worthy of the title “school”! As a general rule, if you get the education side of things right, the business side of things will fall nicely into place provided you focus on the needs of your clients.
S.S. — Given that most of your businesses are schools can you give us a concrete example of how business and education can come together?
D.C. — Let’s look at one of our most recent projects – The British School of Geneva. From an educational standpoint we offer a highly respected curriculum, taught by experienced and qualified teachers and managed by a team of educational managers who know what they are doing. The school is well-resourced, has wonderful premises, is centrally located and has class sizes of 16 maximum in primary and secondary and ten in the upper school. If we only concentrated on that aspect, the school would be successful. However, with just a little bit of care and attention on the business side we can make the experience even better.
S.S. — Speaking of business: How about fees? Having such small classes must be quite an expensive proposition. Don’t you fear that the student body will be somewhat uniform?
D.C. — Other private schools in the region have fees that are more than 50 percent higher than ours. Their class sizes are also 50 percent bigger. We offered a price guarantee to parents who joined us in the early years – the price you pay in year one is the price you will pay going forward – so none of the yearly price increases that leave parents confused and frustrated because the cost of living is actually falling! We operate a small school with no ambitions to grow beyond 200 students. This leads to effective communication among parents and staff. We view parents as valued clients whose opinions and evaluation of what we do matters to us – they are not seen as unwelcome and interfering nuisances.
Let me switch to “business-speak” for a moment: We offer high quality products at very competitive prices and focus strongly on the needs of our current and future clients. For the record, our clients are the parents not the children. Opening private education up to a much wider public is exactly how we guarantee a diverse and varied student body.
S.S. — How do you manage to keep fees low and class-size restricted?
D.C. — First of all we don’t do “normal” – we challenge “normal” and seek to redefine what clients should expect from us and others. In answer to this question there is no secret formula just common sense and competent budgeting. As a small school in one single building/location we are not required to spend a fraction of the money that some schools have to spend on non-core services. As part of ASC International House, the British School of Geneva is able to benefit from the financial security provided by the group – in simple terms we do not pay millions of francs every year in interest payments to the banks. Our projects are all financed from our own money and if we cannot afford to do a project then we don’t do it. I would much rather operate like this than see millions of francs of the money paid by parents for tuition fees being spent every year on bank interest! If you don’t waste money and if you channel all of the money you receive into the classroom it is not difficult to offer small classes and reasonable fees. The British School of Geneva is living, breathing proof of this.
S.S. — What has been the most important factor in your growth?
D.C. — Our people! We only recruit the very best teachers and we try to retain them by being good employers. I can dream up the most exciting projects on the planet but without our teachers, managers and directors, who were also once teachers, to actually execute these projects, they will never become reality.
S.S. — Any more plans for the months ahead?
D.C. — Together with a partner we have just opened a new company called TutorsPlus, which offers qualified and vetted tutors for all subjects and for all ages. The private tutor market has always been a bit of a minefield here in this region and it is difficult for parents to know where to turn. TutorsPlus basically does the searching and checking on behalf of the parents to ensure that expectations are met. Within this framework we also offer some special needs tutoring which is another domain that can be difficult to fathom in the Geneva region. The company was founded in December and is already receiving lots of calls from parents. We are also looking to emulate our British School by creating the British School of Lausanne in the near future. In terms of the language schools we are also looking at some further acquisitions both here in Switzerland and abroad. Certainly enough to keep me out of trouble for a while to come!
A British education
The British School of Geneva, located on Avenue de la Châtelaine, teaches students in the British system. It is a full-fledged school that begins in primary school (5 to 10 year-olds), goes on to secondary school (11 to 16 year olds) and concludes with a two-year A-Level college. The latter is mandatory for those wishing to go to university. Classes at the primary and secondary levels are limited to 16 students. The A-Level classes are limited to 10 students, making for intense studies and a good chance of success. Students applying for the A-Level classes must be proficient in English and have spent 11 years in school beforehand.
Article by Jane Tenorio Demaurex