- Age: 57 years.
- US citizenship
- Business milestone: Your company is a leader in teaching English to company managers and employees in Spain.
- Staff: 400 teachers.
Little did he know when he first came to Spain in 1972 that almost 40 years later he would still be here, running one of the most important English training companies in our country. “I came through the University of Texas for an academic year. After graduating in the US, I wanted to do a PhD in Spanish Literature and Language, so I came back with the intention of spending a few more years perfecting my Spanish and doing my PhD again. To finance my stay, I started teaching English. It was the easiest. I loved teaching and learned very quickly, apparently teaching well because people appreciated my teaching.”
So Richard Vaughan extended his stay in Spain for another year. “I started making commitments to professors and clients, and as time went on it became harder and harder to break ties. In 1977 I was in a position where I would either go back or do this. So I started Vaughan Systems with 13 professors under my direction and a single customer, John Deere, where we taught 15 managers and technicians. We went two years without more customers. I’ve tried everything I’ve tried and learned what works and what doesn’t. As early as 1979 I was looking for other clients. Now there are 400 companies, 400 teachers and 40,000 hours of training per month,” he explains.
ENTREPRENEUR. What is the key that differentiates you from the competition?
Richard Vaughn. It’s in the quality of the teacher. You have to be so good that people actually love it in class. They must be teachers that make people say, “What planet is this teacher from? I love it!”.
EMP. But this excellence is not easy to achieve…
VR yes it is easy There is nothing difficult in life…once you learn how to do it. I had to learn to streamline and scientifically conduct the recruitment, search and training of teachers. This policy, which was gradually developed and is now well established, knows where to look for teachers. We usually look outside of the teaching profession. We are looking for people of a certain age, from 27 years old, who already know what it means to work, what it means to be on time, to be on time… We also prefer people from banking, sports, theater, music, etc. .
EMP. Can you give us an example?
VR One of the best teachers in this house was a concert pianist. He achieved a quality of 9.5 as a pianist, but not a 10. To achieve this quality of 9.5 you have to work like a blank. This person knows the value of effort and likes the feeling of recognition for a job well done. The other case is a New Zealander who has retired from professional rugby. He was a substitute for the national team, but to be on the All Blacks bench you have to be in the top 100 in the world. The two had something in common: they knew the value of effort and the joy and happiness that comes with achieving goals. I wanted that spirit and that talent. I am interested in people who are used to setting goals, pursuing them and who like their work to be done well. It is a moral attitude towards work and effort.
EMP. How do you get people outside of teaching to become teachers?
VR We train very hard. Half of those selected do not reach the end. It’s only two weeks, but with 12 or 13 hours a day: four hours of theory, which are actually exercises in class; four more real exercises with students; and four of personal work in preparation for classes the next day. We are radical in our selection and training. It’s like the Marines or the Geos. We create commands. Last year we had 4,000 contacts with potential and interested teachers and 800 personal or telephone conversations. Of these, 250 people were hired for training and 140 left as teachers. From 4,000 contacts up to 140 selected. And out of those 140 teachers, about 40 didn’t finish the first year because they failed at something: they weren’t on time, they got arrogant… We’re relentless and even “heartless”, but when the teacher shows that he’s a 10, medium or long term.
EMP. And how do you keep this talent?
VR Teachers don’t leave much, and when they leave, they do so for a different type of work. We pay better than the competition. Someone may pay teachers more per hour, but it is difficult for them to give them 35 hours per week and that the teacher can earn 2,500 or 3,000 euros a month all year round. We pay a teacher long term to raise a child and pay a mortgage. Here we have 6,000 students, 400 client companies, summer or weekend camps, etc. that they can use to supplement their salary if they want to earn a bonus at some point. We generate so many lessons that if a teacher is good, he can do many things with us.
EMP. How did Vaughan Systems manage to expand without “dying of failure”?
VR The biggest challenge for this company from 2004 to 2008 was to organize and sustain growth in order to make it profitable or without losing too much money. For this new phase we had to make a transition. Interestingly, not because of skinny cows, but because of fat cows, so as not to be the richest in the cemetery. It was an interesting but very tricky time, in which it was necessary to learn how to streamline processes, manage customer service…
EMP. And what does broadcasting on radio and television do for the company?
VR They are brutally effective marketing weapons. The approach is to use these platforms to promote the products and services we offer, rather than to serve third party advertisements. So far we have imagined it this way. It is a potential source of income, very interesting for the future.
EMP. Have you thought about teaching English in other countries or in other languages?
VR First we want to bring it to Latin America. We are already in Colombia. Practically all products are transferrable to the rest of the countries, but first let’s do it in Spanish. In our case it is about a spirit, a way of being and an attitude towards teaching and the student in front of you. This is transferable to Russia, China… the most important thing is to make the student love the lesson.