We would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Monica Szwarc, the new Country Director of Bridge in Brazil. Monica is an exceptional addition to our team and offers a unique perspective as a result of her previous work experience. She began her career in international business in Foreign Trade working in companies such as Embraer and Cotia Trading and as a Capital Markets/Foreign Investment Supervisor at Citibank where she split her time between the United States and Brazil. Fourteen years ago, she left Citibank and transitioned to a career in education, first as a faculty in undergraduate and graduate courses and then in consulting, a long-time passion and personal interest (she speaks French, Spanish, Portuguese and English). Before to joining Bridge, Monica owned and operated a highly successful consulting agency, specializing in the needs of corporate clients in Latin America. In this interview, she was kind enough to share her experience and insight into the corporate language market.
Monica, in 1999 you made a big decision and started a second career in language consulting. How did you get started?
Well, I was invited to participate in a recruitment process by the British Council for The London Chamber of Commerce Examinations Board. They were looking for a representative in Brazil to manage what they called qualification products, which were essentially language and vocational exams in English. It was a three-month program and I was selected as the representative of the LCCI Quals in Brazil. I started working with educational certificates, used to both certify people’s level of proficiency in English but also for study abroad purposes. I said, whoa, this is something that I like very much. I had always enjoyed foreign languages and working in an international setting, so it was a great fit.
How did things develop from there?
Well, in 2006 LCCI decided that they did not want to stay in the country. The repercussions of the Asian crises could be felt and Brazil was volatile because of the elections. So, they offered me to take care of the whole business. I said, I’m far too deep into this to go back. Also, it was going to be my business so that I could make the changes that I wanted to make. That is also when I expanded our services to include other certificates and Study Abroad as an option.
How did you get started?
To start, I got referrals from people. That was back in 2006 and people told me about a variety of schools abroad. I started with that. What I found is that referrals can be tricky because one person can have a great experience, and the other person can have a horrible experience at the same place. The problem is that I would send a Director or Vice President of a company to a school and the guy would have the most awful experience. As a result, I would lose the client in Brazil because of a $200 commission from the language school. So I said: “I cannot risk the business I have in Brazil with these companies because of that kind of experience.” That’s when I decided that I was using the wrong approach, that this was not the way to do it.
What approach did you adopt?
Starting 2007 and for the next 3 years, I invested in visiting schools in person. That is when I visited BridgeChile, BridgeArgentina, and BridgeBrazil. I visited around 40 institutions. I went to England, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico to meet schools that I wanted to work with.
Why was visiting schools important to you?
I had to know where I would be sending my executive clients. It was important because you can write anything on paper. Schools can have amazing sites and brochures, but this can be misleading. I wanted to make decisions based on firsthand impressions. I wanted to walk around the neighborhood to see how it was, the infrastructure, and if there were nearby hotels so that my clients would not have to rent a car.
I also wanted to visit host families because I always make a point of recommending this option to my clients, even if they are Presidents or Vice Presidents. I wanted to make sure that they were the type of host families where I would feel comfortable sending this type of client. When I advise them, I want them to know that I’ve been there and that I’ve met the teachers, the directors, host families, etc. After visiting the schools, I made a short list and I started to promote the ones that really fell in love with.
What, in your mind, distinguishes Bridge from other schools?
When I met the President of Bridge, and this was crucial for our relationship, he said “Monica, I don’t want to lose business to any other school. You tell me what I’m not doing right, and I will fix it.” Because of this approach, I felt that I could really trust him with my clients. That made us solid partners.
Secondly, the teachers at Bridge are excellent. Because I am a certified EFL teacher myself, I can immediately recognize when someone is properly trained.
The other thing that stands out to me, and I think that everyone knows this, is Richard Brown (Director). Richard does an amazing job as a Director to participate in the lives of the students, meeting the students every week, getting to know them. He knows the students by name, and if anything happens, he gets in touch with you so you know that you can really trust him. Richard also provides very good reporting on student progress. He takes the time to document every stage of the student’s experience beginning with a placement test upon arrival. This is followed by student advising sessions. So, he provides a way for my clients to measure their return on investment, which is an important consideration when sending executive students abroad.
With those results, my clients can see that they have spent their money wisely. When students return from Bridge, I always receive positive feedback; they tell me that the school was great and very professional, that they felt welcomed and that the level of their performance in the English Language has greatly improved. I’m not saying that Bridge is the only school that provides that kind of service. As I mentioned before, the partners that I chose were very reliable schools, and the features that I just mentioned are precisely those that, in my mind, define a top-tier school. I have no doubt Bridge is ranked as one of the best and I am proud to be a part of the company.