Modern Monterssori International on fast-track expansion path

MODERN Montessori International Group (MMI) is starting to reap the rewards of the groundwork they laid out in the last few years. On Monday, the preschool education provider marked a significant milestone with the official opening of its first preschool in Myanmar.

Fast forward to September this year and MMI expects its first school in Binh Duong, Vietnam – near Ho Chi Minh City – to be operational, with a second school in Haiphong, near Hanoi, slated to open in 2017.

In preparation for its expansion in Indonesia, it has already set up its first teacher-training college. MMI aims to set up between five and 10 new preschools in Indonesia once they have established a sufficient supply of Montessori trained teachers to support the schools, says MMI chairman and chief executive officer, T Chandroo.

“Getting well-trained preschool teaching staff has always been an inherent problem in the region, even in Singapore. Which is why in our expansion plans, we are not only looking at just opening schools, but we also look into developing the manpower supply pipeline to support these schools as part of the strategy. “By 2017, we intend to set up 50 new preschools and teacher-training centres in Asia.”

Dr Chandroo used to do door-to-door sales for Encyclopaedia Britannica after his National Service before working his way up to regional sales manager at a leading publishing company. It was there that he noticed there was a huge demand for quality preschool education material.

He then approached MMI London and set up the first centre in Singapore in 1989. MMI, which holds the master franchise right in the Asia-Pacific region, celebrates its Silver Jubilee this year.
It has, to date, 32 centres in Singapore, out of which eight are franchisees and the rest are owned and managed directly by MMI Group.

MMI’s accelerated expansion plans are in response to positive developments in South-east Asian markets, particularly in countries with young and upwardly mobile population where there is an increasing demand for high quality preschool education, says Dr Chandroo.

In Myanmar, the preschool, which is located in the affluent Bahan township in the city of Yangon, sits on a quarter-acre plot with extensive area for outdoor activities. The school is expected to commence operations in April, with an initial intake of 100 students.

Says Dr Chandroo: “The opening of our first preschool in Myanmar is certainly an auspicious start to MMI’s 25th anniversary. It underscores our overall aim to accelerate our expansion especially in emerging markets overseas where we will target 20 new preschools and teacher-training centres in Asia by 2017.”

MMI’s preschool in Myanmar will be managed by MMI’s local franchisee, Singapore Education Training Academy Co Ltd (SETA), a 50-50 joint venture between Singapore and Myanmar partners, headed by CEO, Kalimuthu s/o Ponnusamy, a Singaporean with extensive experience in preschool operation.

With an initial investment of US$500,000, the preschool is expected to achieve revenues exceeding US$200,000 in the first year of operations. Revenue is projected to double in the second year.
“We have been keeping an eye on the Myanmar market for the last couple of years waiting for the right opportunity. However, concrete plans and active discussions began about one and a half years ago,” says Dr Chandroo.

“We are looking to double the intake of students a year after launching this first school in Myanmar. In the next five years, we intend to expand MMI into other major cities and townships in the country – opening at least two more schools in Yangon, and two more in Mandalay.”

MMI already has its eye set on Cambodia.

“The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has certainly created a more conducive climate for business expansion opportunities across the region from joint venture to franchising channels,” notes Dr Chandroo.
“We are definitely keeping a close eye on SE Asia. We already have established our presence in many countries including Malaysia and Thailand – but there are many more which we have not gone into. Next in line in our expansion plans will be Cambodia.”

Not that operating in the region is without its challenges.

For the childhood education sector specifically, uneven standards of practice continues to be an issue.
“While it is definitely not in its infancy, the childhood education sector in Asia is still growing rapidly. Naturally, the infrastructure and practices supporting the sector is also evolving,” says Dr Chandroo.

“The highly heterogeneous population in Asia presents its own unique set of challenges to school operators here. The diversified cultural landscape and varying parents’ expectations call for a greatly customised approach for every new market we enter. What works in one market may not work well in another, and operators who do not sufficiently factor in such nuances in their expansion plans might end up learning things the hard way.”

Not that this is keeping MMI from its expansion plans. Or, its listing plans for that matter.
The group has since engaged a professional financial institution to audit and streamline their corporate structure as they take steps to prepare themselves for a listing.

“We should be looking at an IPO in the near future,” says Dr Chandroo.

Source: Asia One

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