O’Leary Language Systems, the 22nd Year

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-Kevin G. O’Leary
EVP, Kebunsha-O’Leary Gaigo Systems

We operate our family business on good old-fashioned black principles. We are not black ourselves but since our founding in 1992, we have never had our business in the red. The company itself has never been in debt of any kind. We owe no one any money.

That said, the past 12 years have been very challenging. In 1999, we had 150 students and were supplemented by numerous outside English training contracts for local institutions and companies. The serious downsizing beginning in 1999 was painful to say the least. Family status changes and personal difficulties caused the school to head for an unclear future.

In 2002, I as the founder of O’Leary Language Systems moved outside the urban area of Kurume City and attempted to re-establish a quality language school in Tanushimaru. The results of many years of effort were dismal to say the least. We maintained a small office in Kurume until 2005 until it was no longer feasiable to do so. During this time, I personally refocused on making myself more employable. I returned to school for my Masters via distance learning through University of Leicester and earned most of my income working at universities and for other people. We kept our kindergarten contracts and a much smaller enrollment and survived by combining income from nearly a dozen sources.

In 2007, I officially gave up my title of president and managing director of O’Leary Language Systems. I stepped aside when my son came of age to let the organization be led by a new generation. Several years prior, I established Kebunsha Educational Institute. It was kind of funny how that turned out. Kebunsha is formed from my son’s Japanese name. I wanted to establish a business name for him that he could lead without my overbearing influence. But as it turned out over the years, I became the face of Kebunsha and he became the face of O’Leary Gaigo. Today, Kebunsha is my project and O’Leary Gaigo is under his control. I wished to become more flexiable and mobile and that was not compatible with being in charge of anything. In April 2007, I returned to the United States to work in the real estate business an also work for the Lowe’s Distribution Center in Rockford. It was a refreshing change from being locked in Japan for many years.

In 2008, I returned. Enrollments were still dismal, so I had to accept work as one of those underpaid, undervalued dispatch assistant language teachers at the local public schools. I really cherished the time I spent with the students and some of the teachers I met. But, as job it was very demeaning to my experience as a skilled teacher to be taking marching orders from unqualified staffing agency workers and very young inexperienced teachers.

In 2010, without the restrictions of being tied to running a company, I quit my job and took an interesting opportunity to be the project director of an English speaking village being created in a theme park. I took exactly one year and moved myself to Nagasaki alone. I wrote in other articles about the ups and downs there. Many years prior, clearly seeing the decline in teaching wages and my increasing age, I told my family the only future was through O’Leary Gaigo. Japanese certainly do respect age, seniority and experience, however those characteristics seem to apply to fellow Japanese. As male foreign teachers age, the likability and the hireability factors really go down. Female teachers get a little more mileage than crusty old fellers as I have learned.

So, since 2007 my personal income has declined significantly. At age 47, I was earning one-sixth of what I was earning when I was 33. If that doesn’t suck, I don’t know what does. We weren’t starving because my wife was working as a nurse-midwife and her income is quite good. In 2011, I returned and decided all focus should be on the family business run by my son. I am the EVP or known as the senmu in Japanese. I like being number two instead of number one. I think the future of O’Leary Gaigo is with the younger generation.

Finally, in 2012, the school recovered. For the first time in over 10 years, the school itself supports itself without us infusing money for operating expenses from out part-time jobs. The school did well enough, that we decided to open an office downtown and compete with the big boys. The Kebunsha-O’Leary Gaigo office is only 3 minutes walk from the major train station, Nishitetu Kurume Station.

The profile of the school has changed a lot from the school of the 1990s. We are a little perplexed by it but have ended up catering to what’s up in English now. We have extensive experience in teaching elementary school age children, but strangely enough, we don’t have good enrollments in that area. We teach mostly adults and business English now. Fortunately for me, I had just left a job which was based on travel and resort English and have a huge inventory of bilingual material which our customers really like. I have been teaching intensive business English courses for many years and now that is what is popular now. My preparation time planning both of these types of courses is minimal. It’s basically already done. One of the most difficult obstacles is my poor Japanese writing ability. But thanks to working in jobs recently that had bilingual Japanese, I have almost all of my concepts already translated ready for presentation to clients with just a little editing.

I found out that one of the best things I did to get the O’Leary Gaigo successful again was to leave for that year in Nagasaki. I was able to test most of my ideas when large groups came. The biggest problem I was having was I had lots of ideas but my enrollments were so low that I could not try anything out so I never knew what was good and what was not. I learned a lot while I was away and now we are earning a whole lot more income using the same activities I saw tested several years ago. We made an attempt when I working in Nagasaki to hold a teaching seminar for elementary school teachers. No one enrolled, but that basic structure was there. This past summer, for the first time ever I had an Empowering English Teaching Seminar sponsored by Kebunsha. Imagine that! People actually willing to listen to my ideas again.

We are back. We are in the black. 2013 is going to be the best year in a decade!

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