Written by: Jyska Kuan Ken
Continuing the dream for a better education system
Holding on to the dream of better education for our
The past year
and a half was a test of trust, resilience, and gratitude. AHEAD, the review
and tutorial center I started, almost closed down because of the K-12 shift
mandated by the Department of Education. It was every entrepreneur’s fear
realized. We found ourselves at survival mode— from 4,000 students usually
enrolling in our summer program down to only 300 students. There were a lot of
heartbreaks, wasted opportunities, and sacrifices.
The closure of
the Greenhills branch was probably the hardest. We opened that branch in 1999,
the same year my daughter Darla was born. I always associated the Greenhills
branch with her. Both past and present students also had good memories within
its walls. They would hang out there in their free time, talking and laughing
with whoever is attending the reviews. We tried holding on to the branch but eventually
we had to let it go. It felt like a wave crashing upon us, the boat was
I poured my
savings in the company while selling properties to keep us afloat. I did my
best to hold on to keep my dream and the dreams of countless people alive.
We were more
affected than other tutorial and review centers because AHEAD has a dedicated
training and research team. The department had substantial financial
implications but quality is in our brand promise and I will never compromise on
bringing research-based and systems-backed education services.
The stress and
anxiety also made me sick, adding to the burden. I was diagnosed with
hyperthyroidism which slowed down my body and made me prone to develop other
sicknesses such as diabetes. Sometimes I couldn’t lift my feet despite shouting
orders at them in my head. It was a literal systems slowdown. How would I be
able to run AHEAD now?
Gratefully, it is truly during hard times that show how kind and supportive people can be. When I told the remaining staff to start looking for other opportunities, they stayed and continued to work together in bringing quality services to the few students who enrolled. Franchisees and landlords lent their support to help us weather the challenges. They patiently waited for us to get back on our feet. I am forever grateful for their kindness and friendship. I would like to mention Robinsons Galleria, the owner of the FBR Building, Xanland’s owner, and the franchisees. We were saved through their help.
But the most
crucial person during those trying times was my son Nicolo. He stepped up and
took over some of the operations of Ahead while I was recovering from
hyperthyroidism. He was fresh out of college and dealing with his own physical
condition. It didn’t stop him from quickly learning the ropes and making the
right decisions for the company. He later told me he learned valuable insights
from my stories about Ahead in the past years that guided him to understand
what needed to be done. I readied him for the position without even me knowing.
I was proud of him.
Now we are back, stronger than ever because of the challenges we faced. We are rebuilding what we have lost and working hard to achieve bigger milestones. AHEAD is rebranding and opening back branches. Students are returning to a better AHEAD. I am also finishing writing a book on women entrepreneurship called, “What’s the best business for me? And other common questions entrepreneurs ask.” It is the first book from my book series, SMART SUPERWOMEN.
I am also
reviving this blog to continue to share my story especially to the moms who are
experiencing the same things. I hope that this will inspire you to keep going
and fight for your dreams.
By Rossana L. Llenado
I’m a believer in making schedules and lists. It’s one of the best ways to stay organized. If I didn’t have a schedule mapped out, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of all my appointments and obligations. That’s why I need my planner and why I write out the day, week, month, and year.
Every day, I wake up then head off to work within an hour. I spend the day in meetings, making business decisions, troubleshooting, making plans, and networking. By 6 p.m., I am wrapping up my day and I’m at home by 7 p.m. to spend time with my kids. When they’re off to bed, I’m back catching up on what I was unable to do during the day such as checking my e-mails and so forth. I’m asleep after midnight to be ready for the daily grind the following day. Weekends aren’t spared from a structured schedule. As much as I try to set aside time to spend with my kids, there are days when I still need to go to seminars or other events that require my presence.
Even as a young child, I’ve already set a schedule for myself, not only for my day to day activities, but for my life in general. Early on, I knew that I wanted to be successful and I dreamed up all the things that I wanted to achieve and the time it would take for me to get there.
In school, I set my classes in such a way that I would be able to work in the afternoon so I could make extra money. I had so many things going on, the only way I could keep my head above the water was to schedule and prioritize things. If I were any less organized, I would have turned cross-eyed by now.
For example, I determined that after graduating from college, I would have my own business. Back then, I really thought I would have my own restaurant! By the time I was 25, I planned that I would be married. Then I would have kids spaced two to three years apart.
Things didn’t necessarily turn out that way. I was off by a year getting married. I certainly wasn’t able to put up that restaurant. Instead, I ended up establishing an entirely different type of business. When I put up my business, I never thought it would grow into what it is today.
As much as you organize things, life still manages to wreck havoc on the best laid plans. There are just some things you can’t plan for such as death, accidents, surprises, and other tragedies. I never guessed that I would have four children, with twins to boot! And I certainly never imagined myself in the field of education. Having a tutorial and review business is certainly a big difference from having a restaurant to call my own.
There is only so much that I can schedule in my life. I can’t account for the weather, nor can I be responsible for other people’s reactions. I can try to prepare for things as much as I can, but in the end, you can’t always stick to a schedule.
I have found that sometimes, it is the unscheduled things in life that are the most rewarding. Surprises such as a sudden hug from my oldest child after a long day, or when my youngest turns to me to tell me she loves me, are things that cannot be written in. Getting a call or e-mail from a long lost friend, or having to clear my afternoon so I can attend my son’s awarding ceremony at school are other unexpected and unscheduled turns, although pleasant ones. Other major milestones such as getting your first kiss, falling in love or even out of it are events that you can’t plan for or chart.
Setting goals and realistic time lines are ways to keep track of endeavors and to make sure that a proper course is set. I may not always meet it but at least I know it’s something that I am working on. I have several projects that are already delayed, but I don’t let that stress me. I know that some things take longer than others, and there are just some things beyond my control.
By Jing Lejano
The other week, I attended a mind mapping workshop with my friends from AHEAD Tutorial & Review Center. I’ve always been fascinated with this thinking tool, which challenges the user to think in a more free form manner.
I’m a writer and when I think, I do so in a linear fashion: one line after the next. In my planner, you’d see all sorts of lists, written neatly one bullet after another. Whenever I’d get one task done, I’d just put a little check beside the bullet and feel all good.
Whenever I’d see these mind maps that go every which way, I get a little intimidated. I ask myself, could I possibly think every which way like that as well?
But as Teacher Y explained mind mapping more clearly, I calmed down. Draw pictures. Use colors. Make the map that makes sense to you, she told us. It’s your map, she says, and you’re free wherever you want to go.
After the lecture, she asked each of us to make a mind map of who we are. At first, I didn’t know what to do but once I started drawing and doodling, there was no stopping me. It was like a whole new world opened up in that blank piece of paper. And it was liberating.
My map, which showed all the different roles that I play in my everyday life, looked a little cluttered and crazy, but it also seemed like a lot of fun. But more importantly, I realized that it was I who drew the map of my own life, and I am happy to be living it.
By Rossana Llenado
The other week, we had an orientation talk for potential franchisees of AHEAD Tutorial & Review Center. When we started offering review programs in 1995, we immediately got franchise inquiries. Even then, a lot of people saw the viability of our business concept. However, we didn’t want to get into franchising until we were ready for it. We wanted to make sure that all our operating systems were working perfectly and that we were giving our students the best possible service before we even opened up ourselves to the idea of franchising.
Besides, I never thought of AHEAD as merely a business concept. I see AHEAD as a vehicle for young people to achieve personal and academic success. By helping our students do better in school, I had hoped that it would make them feel good about themselves and give them the confidence to go after their dreams.
When we meet with potential franchisees, we are not actually looking for investors per se. We are looking for partners who share the same vision as we do: to give young people the opportunity to reach their full potential. By franchising, we hope to reach out to even more students across the country.
I’ve always believed that your work must follow your passion. And so, for potential franchisees, I always look at whether they would take pleasure in the same kind of things that I enjoy while running AHEAD.
For me, managing AHEAD fulfills many of my needs.
Physically, the hours are less taxing. This is very important for a mother of four like me. Most review classes run during the summer vacation, and so on weekdays, I am home by the time my children arrive from school. Besides, there is something absolutely energizing about working with young people. Being around them keeps me young.
Mentally, AHEAD gives me the opportunity to exchange concepts and ideas with the smartest teachers in the country. And because we deal with bright and competitive students, I am encouraged to learn more myself. That’s why I make it a point to attend seminars and workshops regularly. The process of educating one’s self must never stop.
Socially, I am constantly in touch with a pool of students, parents, teachers, and school administrators—some of whom have become my friends. And so, on social engagements, I sometimes get to mix business with pleasure.
Psychologically, I am always thrilled when a student tells me about doing well in his Algebra class or when a parent says thank you for helping his child become number one in his class. Nothing beats the kind of fulfillment that comes from helping others.
In the same manner, it warms my heart that in some way, I am helping shape the lives of our future leaders and consequently, the future of our country.
These, I tell our potential franchisees, are the kinds of benefits that they would get when they sign up for an AHEAD Tutorial & Review Center franchise.
To top all that, an AHEAD Tutorial & Review Center is a business with minimum risk. AHEAD’s proven approach to supplementary educational services guarantees financial dividends for intelligent investors. Besides, we want our franchisees to succeed. That’s why we’ll be there to guide them every step of the way.
At the orientation, there was an applicant for a center in one of the cities in Metro Manila. Immediately, I discouraged her. I communicated to her my doubts about the viability of putting up a Center in that area. I didn’t think there was a big enough market for one. I didn’t want to put up a franchise just for the sake of putting up a Center. I want every Center to succeed. I want every partner to succeed.
But she was very persistent and proceeded to explain to us why it can be done. While she was talking, I saw her passion, her zeal, and her wisdom. I realized as well the other reason why we needed partners: to discover new and untapped markets, share our vision with even more students, and share the joy of working with a purpose.
We are fortunate to have found franchisees who share this same vision and who are as passionate as we are about our work. Why else would they give me and my staff gifts every so often? And it is not a one way thing, because I love our franchisees with all my heart. We are a family working happily together because we know that we are doing something good every day.
By Rossana Llenado
Women work for all sorts of reasons. For some, it is to pursue a lifelong passion. For others, it is to have that sense of self-fulfillment inherent in a job well done.
One of the reasons that I started Ahead Tutorial and Review Center 16 years ago was because I wanted to be able to manage my own time. I was a mother of twins, and leaving them in the hands of strangers was not acceptable. Going into the tutorial business seemed like a very good idea. Not only could I pursue my passion for teaching and molding young minds, I also get to keep an eye on my children.
Today, I have four children of my own, but thousands more that I could very well call my own. Yes, one of the great joys of being in the business of education is that you get the chance to meet all these wonderful children and see them grow up into young adults with purpose. You could see it in their eyes—that burning desire to learn and improve.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing a student shine—and I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed this many times over. A child would come to us, defeated because of failing grades, and then several months later, he has grown confident in his skills—and has improved his grades immensely.
And so, whenever faced with the everyday problems of raising four children and managing a company, I just picture that child who could now walk with his head held high.