This month we talk to Hauke Tallon, Managing Director of The London School of English. Although the school offers a wide range of courses, it is probably best known for its range of business and professional courses: these courses are available for experienced professionals, or for young professionals aged 20-30, who have less working experience.
Q. When did you join IALC and why?
We were invited to join IALC in 2004 and attended our first – and very memorable – workshop in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg. We joined IALC because it really does ensure that only committed and highly professional schools and agents attend the workshops, so we can be reasonably confident that the contacts that we make are going to be worthwhile. It also gives us a fantastic opportunity to network within the industry and share ideas with like-minded people who share our passion.
Q. You are taking up you new role as Chair of the Best Practice Committee. What does the IALC Best Practice Committee do?
The appeal of this role was the broad scope of the ‘Best Practice’ remit. We can get really creative with and engage members in coming up with ideas that can help us to do what we do well even better! Although not unique, IALC is certainly unusual in that it brings together competitors who believe that by sharing ideas we gain more than we lose and that benefits the schools, agents and, most importantly, the course participants.
Q. What are your plans for the coming year?
There are a few ideas floating around for next year’s Best Practice committee focus. Nothing has been decided yet, so I would very much welcome ideas from all members. When we have decided, we will pull together as much background information as possible, so that the discussion at the workshop is as productive as possible. The more people attending the workshop Best Practice discussion the better, as we are then able to share some great ideas at the AGM.
Q. How is 2014 going for you at The London School of English, and how does it compare to last year?
The year is OK, but no better than ‘OK’. We may still do better than last year, but that was also a tough year, so perhaps not the best comparison. The market is tough for many schools, but I’m confident that we are on the right path, so I am cautiously optimistic about the future. One thing is certainly true: the market is much less predictable than in the past, so anything can happen and we need to be nimble enough to deal with the reality as it unfolds.
Q. Anything new this year?
We operate at the premium end of the market where margins are tighter, but our recent focus has been on adding value rather than cutting prices. We offer a fantastic restaurant service with outstanding food prepared daily by our chefs which is now included free of charge on all courses. We have also been developing our online learning platform which offers a range of tools to enhance our clients’ experience with us – again, we include that without extra charge. We have also invested in our new residence, which offers very high standard accommodation in a fantastic location within walking distance of both our London centres. We hope that introducing these innovations, alongside a course experience that continues to delight our clients every day, will help to ensure that we remain a key player in the industry.
Q. What developments do you expect in the UK in 2014? How will they impact the language travel industry?
Political issues continue to be uppermost in many peoples’ minds. Visas can be a headache, and though the situation generally is improving, challenging political relations with key markets such as Russia inevitably have a negative impact on our business. But we recognise that our agent and corporate partners are often as powerless to influence the situation as we are, so we simply do our best to support each other and look forward to a more positive future.
Thinking more broadly, I’m sure that we will see learning technologies develop rapidly. Some ‘innovations’ can, in reality, end up being distractions, but judicious use of hardware and software that enhances the learning experience for our clients has to be a positive development. There is some scepticism in the industry about the value of some of these new tools, but the pace of technological innovation is increasing and we ignore it at our peril!
Q. Where do the majority of your students come from?
Around half of our clients come from western Europe (we tend to refer to them as clients, rather than students). However, the other 50% come from a very wide range of countries. Typically we can expect over 70 nationalities in a year, so we end up with a fascinating and diverse cultural and linguistic mix.
Q. What are your most popular student activities?
Outside of the classroom, we actively encourage participation in our varied social programme. Walking tours are very popular as they give our participants an opportunity to discover fascinating parts of London that are off the traditional tourist trail and they get language input at the same time. We also keep a regular eye on special events running in London, so that our clients have a chance to experience our incredibly diverse city in ways that they might not otherwise manage.
Q. What makes your school special for students learning English in London?
It’s probably the clients themselves that make it a very special place. They come with high expectations and are justifiably demanding, so that makes them highly motivated to learn – from us and from each other. Very often our clients leave us having built strong, lasting friendships with like-minded people from around the world, so the networking opportunities should not be underestimated.
Q. How did get started in the industry? How did you reach your current role?
My first post-graduate job was as an English language teacher in Japan. I enjoyed the experience very much, but returned to the UK and spent my first decade working in the retail and manufacturing sectors. When I saw an opportunity to apply my sales and marketing experience to an industry I had previously enjoyed working in, it seemed too good to miss. I spent 9 years as Director of Sales & Marketing at The London School of English before taking on the role of Managing Director in our centenary year. It’s challenging, of course, but hugely enjoyable and I am very fortunate to work alongside a team who share my passion for what we do here!
Q. Languages you speak or would like to speak?
I’m a reasonably fluent German speaker. My Japanese used to be conversational, but a quarter of a century has passed since I returned to the UK from Japan. As the saying goes “Use it or lose it and, with regret, I lost it!”. I’d like to have an opportunity to pick it up again someday. In the meantime, I have decided to learn some Spanish. I’m a complete beginner, so it will be tough, but at least I will be able to empathise with our clients!
Q. Favourite travel destination?
I love to discover new places, but those that have a special place in my heart include: Sevilla in Spain, the island of Redang in Malaysia and the very beautiful Yorkshire Dales in northern England.
Q. Favourite pastime?
Spending time with my children, who put a smile on my face every day. After that, an evening with good food, drink and friends is always a pleasure wherever I am in the world.
Q. Favourite meal?
A very fresh but simply cooked fish is always a pleasure. Oh, and great sushi!
Q. Dream dinner guest(s)?
The very talented photographer Yousuf Karsh would have been a fascinating dinner guest as he met and photographed an incredible number of very famous people over much of the 20th century. (He’d be a less than engaging dinner guest now, though, as he sadly died in 2002.)
Hauke Tallon, Managing Director, The London School of English