Interview with Larry Appell President of International Operations for Mathnasium

Date: MAR 25th, 2010

Topic: Interview with a CEO

Mr. Appell is the President of International Operations for Mathnasium, one of the fastest growing supplemental education companies in the world. Prior to his assignment with Mathnasium, Mr. Appell was President of Ivy West (a wholly owned subsidiary of Educate/Sylvan Learning Centers), California’s leading provider of one-to-one, premium priced college test preparation. Before joining Ivy West, Mr. Appell served as Division Vice President of La Petite Academy, the 2nd largest for-profit operator of preschool educational centers in the world, where he operated 164 schools in 13 states and grew revenue by 47% to $115MM and profit by 70% over four years. Previously he was President of the International Division of Futurekids, Inc, the world’s largest provider of technology education for children, where among other accomplishments, he managed the introduction of the franchised concept to the People’s Republic of China while also building a company-owned operation in Europe and Latin America. Earlier in his career Mr. Appell held various senior management positions with Weight Watchers (a division of The H.J. Heinz Company). Among the positions he held were Vice President of North American Company Operations, where he doubled revenue to $100MM and increased profits by almost 50%; Vice President of Program Development, where he made program revisions that led to system-wide brand revenue increases of +$300MM and International Director of Training, where he trained 35,000 group leaders around the world.

BeTheBoss - Tell us about the Mathnasium concept.

Larry Appell - Mathnasium is a franchised chain of math only learning centers that uses the Mathnasium Method to teach children math in a way that makes sense to them. The Mathnasium Method was created by Larry Martinek, a Los Angeles based math teacher who has been teaching math for almost 35 years. Mathnasium operates over 250 centers in 23 countries.

BTB - How and when did you become involved with Mathnasium?

LA - I have spent my entire career of 35 years in the for-profit education business. I have managed franchised and company-owned operations of businesses both big and small. The businesses I have run have served the learning needs of adults, college-bound high school students, K-12 students and even pre-schoolers. I have known the founder of Mathnasium for over 20 years and when I saw the opportunity to work with such a principled visionary to bring this exciting concept to children around the world I immediately said “yes”.

BTB - What was your background prior to joining Mathnasium?

LA - Prior to my assignment with Mathnasium, I was President of Ivy West (a wholly owned subsidiary of Educate/Sylvan Learning Centers), California’s leading provider of one-to-one, premium priced college test preparation. Before joining Ivy West, I served as Division Vice President of La Petite Academy, the 2nd largest for-profit operator of preschool educational centers in the world, where I operated 164 schools in 13 states and grew revenue by 47% to $115MM and profit by 70% over four years. Previously I was President of the International Division of Futurekids, Inc, the world’s largest provider of technology education for children, where among other achievements, I managed the introduction of the franchised concept to the People’s Republic of China while also building a company-owned operation in Europe and Latin America. Earlier in my career I held various senior management positions with Weight Watchers (a division of The H.J. Heinz Company). Among the positions I held were Vice President of North American Company Operations, where we doubled revenue to $100MM and increased profits by almost 50%; Vice President of Program Development, where we made program revisions that led to system-wide brand revenue increases of +$300MM and International Director of Training, where we trained 35,000 group leaders around the world.

BTB - What are some of the advantages in being a Mathnasium franchisee?

LA - A Mathnasium franchise enables you to own your own Mathnasium Learning Center in your community to help children from Pre-K to Pre-Calculus boost their math skills. We teach franchisees the business and grant you a license to use the Mathnasium name and Mathnasium Business System. We require you to implement the Mathnasium Business System according to our standard of excellence. The System includes:
1. An Education System – so you know what to teach and how to teach.
2. A Marketing System – to help you attract students to your center.
3. A Financial System – for collecting fees, paying bills, financial reports etc.
4. An Operations System – for daily management and administration.

BTB - Who is your ideal franchisee?

LA - The ideal candidate has considered and dreamed of owning their own successful business, of being their own boss, and has sought to make a substantial difference in the lives of the children in their community.

BTB - Tell us a little about the supplemental education Market?

LA - Supplemental education services in the U.S. is a $12 billion industry consisting of approximately 8,000 learning centers, an estimated two million private tutors, an immature on line tutoring business and the provision of supplemental tutoring services paid for by Title 1 funds as mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001. The market is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11% over the next five years.

BTB - What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?

LA - Success comes to the franchisee who recognizes that supplemental education is a business that grows by being the best service provider at the best price in the community. The business is not driven by advertising dollars as much as by reputation. Advertising is important but great instructors and great curriculum are more important. You can’t fool the public for very long if you don’t have these two essential ingredients and Mathnasium prides itself on its instructors and its world renown curriculum.

BTB - Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?

LA - Yes, I had the great honor to work with and for great leaders and managers when I was with Weight Watchers International, when it was a division of the H.J. Heinz Company. Under the direction of Anthony O’Reilly, CEO of Heinz, Chuck M. Berger, President and CEO of Weight Watchers and Andrew L. Barrett, Chief Operating Officer of Weight Watchers I learned how to focus on what the customer wants and to then deploy the resources of the company to meet those needs. It’s easier said than done and in a service business one must always meet the needs of the customer or “word-of-mouth” advertising will work in the wrong direction. At Mathnasium we are committed to the customer and in supporting the people who actually serve the customer.

BTB - What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?

LA - Do your homework! Looking for a franchise to buy is a job in itself. Don’t skip any steps. Make sure you build a business plan that has been reviewed by others and make sure your assumptions are validated for actual performance and adapted for the local conditions you expect to be operating in.

BTB - In your opinion, why do you think that Mathnasium would be a great opportunity for someone?

LA - Here is why Mathnasium is a great opportunity:

  • Large market
  • Proven learning system
  • Proprietary methods
  • Targeted, computer generated learning plans to identify what the child needs
  • Learning methods developed by “the best teacher” anyone ever had
  • The price is reasonable and the instruction is great; that adds up to extremely high parental perceptions of value for money.
  • The management team at Mathnasium has hundreds of years of experience in operating supplemental education businesses and they know how to help you succeed.
  • The initial fee and the royalty rates are fair and market based
  • The build-out costs of the learning centre are not exorbitant
  • You can make money while providing an important service to the community- what can be better than that?