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Meet Michael from Marketing

jeudi 21 janvier 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Michael Kewley
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Michael Kewley became Ecolint’s first Director of Marketing & Stakeholder Relations last summer, with the Alumni Office falling under his remit. Some members of the community, including alumni, were surprised to hear about this new role, so we invited him to introduce himself and the role.

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Michael KewleyRecently, over a very pleasant lunch with Robin Dormer (LGB ’69), he asked me the question which has in many ways become the leitmotif of my first half year at Ecolint: “So, what exactly does your job entail?”. Underlying the question – and depending who asks it – there appear to be a number of other questions or concerns, most notable of which seems to be the strongly held opinion that “Ecolint is not a business” (and therefore, by extension, doesn’t need marketing). The suspicions of those asking are no doubt heightened by the fact that, prior to coming to Ecolint, I spent the best part of 17 years working for Procter & Gamble, a company whose name has become synonymous with feverish consumerism!

You will, I hope, be reassured to read that not only does Ecolint remain committed to its humanitarian founding values, to its pedagogical mission, and to its not-for-profit status, but that these were some of the key reasons that I applied for the job when it was posted back in the winter of 2015! Whilst I have never regretted joining Procter & Gamble as a fresh-faced graduate (of Modern Languages, incidentally) back in the late 1990s, and learnt a great deal there professionally speaking, I always sought personal fulfilment outside of my work, for example as a volunteer fire & rescue officer and as an elected local councillor in my adopted village in “France voisine”. When Ecolint’s Governing Board and Director General decided to restructure the Development Office and create a post of Director of Marketing & Stakeholder Relations at the school my two sons attend, it felt like fate was propelling me to take my career in a new direction.

“But why do they need marketing?” was a question I therefore posed myself in preparation for an eventual interview. Ecolint was enjoying record enrolment, long waiting lists, uncontested pre-eminence in the local area, and could boast a number of achievements – both academic and humanitarian – in addition to being the oldest and largest school of its kind. It didn’t take long, however, before conversations with friends working at Ecolint, a perusal of local media and a look at the websites and brochures of other schools in the Geneva area all began to point to a number of potential reasons why Ecolint not only needed marketing, but possibly needed it quite urgently.

Causes for concern

Firstly, the external environment has changed in a number of ways in recent years. The major employers who bring international families to Geneva – both the multinational companies and governmental and non-governmental organizations – are mostly reducing the size of their workforces in Geneva in response to the ongoing global economic crisis. The same economic imperatives have also driven many of them to reduce the level of financial support they provide for employees’ schooling needs, leaving families picking up more and more of the cost themselves.

The local Geneva authorities are forecasting a decline of the active workforce in Geneva of around 15% in the next 15 years, and the Federal law passed in February 2014 limiting the free movement of people into Switzerland will make it harder for companies to get work permits for incoming foreign nationals. The upshot of all this is most likely declining demand for international school places.

Secondly, there has been a significant increase in the number of school places available and the size and strength of our competitors. GEMS World Academy (the world’s largest private education company) opened a school in Etoy (around 15 mins from La Chât) in September ‘13, with room for 1600 students, and enrolment of around 200. Nord Anglia Education (the second largest player in private education) acquired the Collège du Léman to add to a portfolio which already included Champittet, Beau Soleil and La Côte, all in the Canton de Vaud. Both companies have significant financial resources.

A new Lycée International is in construction in St. Genis-Pouilly (just over the border from CERN’s HQ) which will offer instruction in several different languages, and the Geneva English School will open an English secondary school in Genthod as of this autumn. The Etat de Genève has also finally made meaningful increases in the number of crèche places available, with 1000 new spots being created in the coming few years, which will increase the pressure on our pre-reception and reception enrolment. So alongside decreasing demand, it is likely we face over-supply.

Now, it doesn’t take a degree in economics (luckily, since mine was mostly in poetry and drama!) to realize that these counter-opposing forces pose a risk which needs to be managed as well as, I believe, an opportunity, provided we are equipped to take advantage of the situation. And whether one chooses to view Ecolint as a business or not, what remains is that in order to continue being able to deliver on our pedagogical mission, we also need to deliver against our financial objectives. As my colleague Laurent Falvert, the Director of Finance, likes to remind people, “Just because we are ‘not-for-profit’ does not mean that we are not ‘not-for-loss’”.

A delicate balance

In fact, the precision with which one needs to manage budgets and forecast both revenues and outgoings in order to deliver a balanced budget in many ways makes it even harder for us. Against a volatile market-place backdrop, and with a mobile student population, we need to deliver break-even on a CHF145 million annual operating budget. Our ‘for-profit’ competitors have the flexibility to accept a lower margin temporarily – even lose money in some years – or to overshoot their earnings forecasts.

They also have the flexibility to adapt their offering significantly to reflect the whims of the market, whereas we are committed to preserving the Esprit Ecolint and being masters of our own destiny pedagogically speaking. We must, however, ensure that we truly understand what prospective – and current – parents are looking for, and know that when they visit our schools, browse our website, or flick through our brochures they are left in no doubt about what we offer and they understand how that corresponds with the aspirations they have for their children.

Students' League of Nations 2014
The Students' League of Nations, a great example of the Esprit Ecolint in action.

So that, largely, is what has been occupying my time over the first few months: getting a good grasp of the market-place and our competitors; understanding what Ecolint offers in all its diversity across the different campuses in terms of programmes and opportunities; and trying to distil the Esprit Ecolint down into a workable strategy which can inform our communication going forward. (Of course our alumni are all a step ahead of me here, having benefited from attending the school.)

It’s about getting to know our parents, to understand what unites them in their choice of Ecolint, and also what drives them apart (and in some cases, drives them crazy!); working out what we need to do, what we need to say, and where and how we need to say it, to make sure that we authentically portray who and what we are to all stakeholders. If parents choose to entrust their children to us for their education, or employers choose to give us their endorsement via their educational grants policy, or if benefactors choose to donate money to us, none of them should be disappointed.

The remit of my role also extends to internal (employee) communication and the alumni office. I very much look forward to being able to spend more time getting to know many more alumni in the months and years to come.

Every time I meet a former student I am struck by the depth of affection most have for Ecolint, by the strong impact the school has had on their lives and outlook, and by the consistent themes that pervade their memories. As one alumna – and now staff member – Amanda Weber (née Waxman, La Chât ‘84) summed it up for me, “Ecolint is where human beings learn about being human”. I hope that I shall be up to the task of trying to get that message across to prospective families, such that the memories, values and traditions of this wonderful institution may continue to be transmitted to future generations of Ecolintiens.


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Feel free to get in touch with Michael – en anglais ou en français – with any thoughts you have about his mission or about the school in general: michael.kewley@ecolint.ch.

 


 

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