10% annual growth at Wall Street English

Published 04/04/2024

Wall Street English has recovered from the lows of the Covid-19 pandemic and year-on-year growth in excess of 10% has allowed the company to return to pre-2019 levels, according to its CEO.

Speaking with The PIE News in an in-depth interview, James McGowan, detailed that in the previous few years Wall Street English has grown from operating in 26 territories to 35.

Additionally, it is looking to the corporate training segment as well as online offerings for teen learners to continue to grow from its current 120,000 students.

“In 2019, we were a physical location-based business where everything was done in centre and we had students in 26 territories,” he said.

The initial concern in Q2 2020 was how to cater to the 110,000-120,000 students who were expecting a kind of service that was no longer possible.

“That could have put us out of business,” McGowan continued. “We didn’t face a cancellation issue… and within three weeks, we had all the 120,000 students on a digital classroom platform [we had already developed in 2018].”

The digital classroom, initially created for its B2B and corporate training channel, has allowed Wall Street English to shift to a hybrid-based model as well as accelerate into new developing markets, McGowan stated.

The offer benefits both students and Wall Street English franchisees, he suggested.

“We’ve gone from say opening a physical centre in Paris where the training area is within 20 minutes of that centre… to delivering courses online and selling them online.

“From a business perspective, we were able to reduce the initial investment needed in terms of building out a centre and operating it… The wider commercial catchment area makes the whole model more attractive.”

Wall Street English has used its franchise model in the 10 new territories with 10 new partners, he said, with around 90% of territories operating with a hybrid model. Uruguay is one of the few markets operating online only.

“But two thirds of our students, given the choice, are choosing to go and be with their local teacher,” he added.

“Two thirds of our students, given the choice, are choosing to go and be with their local teacher”

However, he acknowledged that Wall Street English’s Chinese entity – which was forced to close during the pandemic – had been hit by both Covid-19 and the government’s double reduction policy.

“They were just unable to sustain the business, which is very difficult and very sad.

“The only thing we could do, because we don’t have a business license to operate within China… was to provide access to all students to continue studying for free on the online part of the course.

“The good news for teachers, in inverted commas, is that they were able to find, employment locally within China.

James McGowan joined Wall Street English in 1992 as a teacher in Madrid, Spain. Photo: Wall Street English

“Looking back on it now with hindsight, I don’t know how many of those educational organisations survived the kind of authoritarian clampdown combined with Covid.”

And as the education sector begins to grapple with what Artificial Intelligence means for students and training, McGowan said integration of new technology has been a historic part of the Wall Street English business.

The company is using AI in its speech recognition to give feedback on pronunciation as well as utilising data collected during the digital and online studies to personalise the learning experience.

“We fundamentally have changed who we are and what we do and how we do it [in recent years]. But in terms of the digitalisation of the company and the progressive incorporation of AI into how we go about running our business, what we haven’t changed is a flipped learning methodology nor the importance of our teachers and coaches and those 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 engagements.

“We firmly believe in making those touch points as personal as possible to students and then the technology allows us to scale that across the 120,000 students. So that’s the unique combination.

“What’s worked well for more than 50 years, we haven’t touched. But we’ve upgraded the underlying technology to make it easier to do.”

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