Rossana Llenado, President – AHEAD Learning Systems, Philippines

Rossana always wanted to be an entrepreneur in the education industry because when she was growing up, being underprivileged she realized the value of education at a young age. However, it’s the circumstances that gave her the hard push to actually start. Her journey in education began when she gave birth to twins in 1995 and she wanted to be using her time effectively, alongside being home to take care of the babies. She started conducting tutorials at home when she was 25 and the rest is history.

AHEAD Learning Systems is committed to making a real difference in the lives of students, parents, professionals, and its partner organizations and franchisees through its various service brands, namely AHEAD Tutorial & Review Center, AHEAD Professional Network, AHEAD Online, and LESSM.

Aside from education, Rossana is interested in social issues concerning empowerment of women. She is also working on a book series called Smart Super Women and one of the books lined up for this project is titled “Strategies of Smart Superwomen.” This book would contain a collection of inspiring stories of women who excel in their respective fields. Another book called “What is the right business for me? Would be a guide to entrepreneurial ventures, says Rossana.

Here are some more details shared with team ABT.

What is your greatest inspiration and Why?
I draw inspiration from my dream to contribute to the Philippines’ educational development. When I was 18, I was asked to draft a speech for a senator about education. Then I started to dream big. I really want to train all school principals in the country so they can lead their schools better. I believe that training school managers will result in a domino effect. Good principals will lead to good teachers; good teachers will produce good students, and good students will become productive members of society. I envy Singapore which has a very good educational system. I hope one day the Philippines can match that system.

What is “AHEAD Learning Systems” all about? How is it unique?
AHEAD is the leading and most awarded tutorial and review center in the Philippines. As our name suggests, we try to be ahead of our game all the time. We are one of the pioneers of the tutorial and review industry in the country with 21 years of experience. It is also one of the most respected and awarded SMEs in the Philippines with 31 awards from respected organizations.

AHEAD caters to practically everyone. We have provided services to more than 100,000 students, parents, professionals, school administrators and foreign learners.

Throughout the years, AHEAD has diversified through other corporate units such as AHEAD Professional Network, AHEAD Online, AHEAD Books & Things, LESSM and YuXin. I am proud to say that all companies under AHEAD are research-based, systems-backed, and highly expandable.

Tell us about some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them.
The implementation of the K-12 educational system in the Philippines in 2013 was a big challenge for us. This change in the system forced many students to spend their spare time going to school instead of enrolling in our programs. Even though it caused us to lose some clients momentarily, I still support K-12. I think it’s a great way to make Filipinos globally competitive, and as an advocate of education, I don’t mind losing some business for a good cause. We were able to at least minimize the damage brought about by K-12 by offering services specifically tailored to the new system. We came up with the Senior High School (SHS) review and tutorial programs to cater to the new SHS students and help them with the transition.

Another challenge is the general inability of Filipinos to pay for high quality services. For most Filipino parents, the education of their children is a priority. But they think if they put their kids to top schools, the support system doesn’t matter. Parents are just beginning to realize that tutorial and test preparation are necessary and worth their money.

At AHEAD, we make sure that clients are given their money’s worth by providing services that are proven and tested. Our latest program is AHEAD’s Premium Review which has a money-back guarantee. With this, parents are assured that they are putting their money in a good place because if we failed to help the student be admitted to his/her choice of university, we will give the full payment back.

In other countries in Asia especially Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand, tutorial or tuition centers are very popular and a thriving industry. Singapore is a very small country and with a population of less than 6 million; yet it has a $1B tuition industry. Principals in Singapore to whom I talked to said that 90 percent of the student population in Singapore take tutorials after school. Here in the Philippines, we have more than 100 million people but the number of students who avail of tutorial services is less than 100,000.

Tell us about your most cherished milestone.
So far, our biggest milestone as a company is surviving the transition to the K-12 system. We were more affected than others because unlike most tutorial and review centers in the country, AHEAD employs a back end support department that works on training and research. We did not want to abolish this department even though it cost us money because as I’ve mentioned earlier, we never compromise on quality. Now that the transition phase of K-12 is over, we are more than ready to achieve more and bigger milestones.

Other unforgettable memories I will never forget are: when foreign embassies endorsed us to their nationals who are seeking connections in the business education industry in the Philippines; when I stood beside Tony Tan Caktiong, owner of the Jollibee brand and one of the most accomplished Filipino entrepreneurs, while waiting to receive our business leadership award from the Philippine president; and when I spoke about women empowerment and SMEs in the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) conferences in Malaysia and Hong Kong respectively.

What would be your advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs?
My advice for women entrepreneurs would be: Do not limit yourself. You can do everything a man can in business and more. Given that more and more men are becoming aware of women’s capabilities, I am positive that more and more women will rise to the top as well.

Fortunately at Philippines, women do not face much legal hurdles to advance in the corporate world or in business. In 2010, for instance, based on statistics from the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry, more than half of newly registered businesses were owned by women. We are number 1 in Asia and number 5 in the world when it comes to gender equality. At AHEAD, for instance, all my managers are women.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
I want AHEAD to be the leading online tutorial center in Asia. I want to prove that a Filipino company can also offer world-class educational services to other countries. I think that would open up a lot of opportunities for the Philippines and for me, that’s really important. Eventually, I would like to get out of Asia and go global. It may seem far-fetched right now, but we live in a borderless world and considering where I started, I’ve come to realize that we can never be too ambitious in life.

We also want to teach businessmen and company officers Business English so they can take advantage of the ASEAN Integration. We also want to grow our YuXin brand, which is an enrichment center that teaches Singapore math, mindmapping and speed reading by franchising the business in Asia. We are currently entertaining franchise applicants who share the same vision and love for quality education like we do.

We also want to build a strong board of directors since several companies in the Philippines have been wanting to invest in the company. Aside from Filipino investors, AHEAD is also very much willing to accept foreign — specifically Singaporean — investors to allow us to move closer to our dream to set up a company in Singapore.

Published by AsiaBiz Today, Singapore