What inspired you to start your own business?
ACET is a family-run language centre. My mother, Odile Migieu, founded Cork Language Centre International (CLCI) in 1975. As we expanded, my father Pat Coade, who had been working as a quality consultant, joined the centre in 1989. I started working in ACET in 2000 after my graduation. Today ACET is the oldest remaining school of its type in Ireland.
How did you come up with a name for your company?
In 2012, we decided to re-brand from CLCI to Active Centre of English Training (ACET) to reflect our modern, proactive and innovative philosophy. We have also expanded our line of courses and programmes.
While our core activity is English Language Training, we offer a range of services including a choice of accommodation, a social programme and students social welfare. The full Irish Learning Experience.
What do you do when you are not at work?
I like to exercise, walking and reading. I also have 2 young sons who keep me busy!!
Try to describe yourself in three words only?
Conscientious, organised, hardworking
How do you generate innovative ideas?
In order to be creative and innovative, it is important to look at what is happening around you and get inspiration from a number of sources. I look to my family, as this is a family business, and they can be a source of great business ideas. I keep up to date with our agents and clients in order to be able to accommodate their demands. I also reflect on what we have done in the past and if it can be improved or enhanced to suit the needs of today. I also know that it is vital to build a good network in order to connect with other professionals in my business who can share experiences and pool ideas.
If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
The Bronte Sisters:
There is something almost mythical about the Brontë creation story, the idea of these three isolated young women writing so desperately that the words were almost flung on to the page
One of the things I most love about the Brontës is that they give the lie to the notion that to be a great writer you have to have epic life experiences – but Emily never left her home, and she wrote Wuthering Heights. To be a great writer you just have to be a great observer. The book Jane Eyre is a great lesson in authenticity and being true to yourself which still resonates in an era when women are still told so much how they should dress and act.
When did you realise that as a business you would need to pivot?
As our business was forced to close mid-March due to the COVID crisis, it was not immediately evident that we would need to pivot, in the sense of significantly changing our business model. With the travel restrictions and government directives it soon became clear that we would remain closed for the foreseeable future and therefore a new business model was required. At ACET we recognised that in order to survive this difficult time, we would need to stand out from our competitors and offer an adapted service
What did that pivot look like?
The ELT industry was severely impacted by the pandemic and our high season of summer programmes had to be cancelled. However, we had a large number of international students whose immigration permission is dependent on their attendance at language schools. To be able to continue with classes for these students, we had to adapt our face-to-face classes to online lessons, which required a substantial investment in technology, staff training and resources. This also posed a major challenge in terms of how to implement technology solutions, motivate students and retrain skilled teachers, but it was fuelled by the clear need to adapt our teaching approach and methodology to keep the students learning though these challenging times.
As soon as we could re-open we returned to face-to-face classes, but with safety measures in place to combat the spread of COVID 19. These mean fewer students in classrooms, limited contact and avoiding shared contact of materials and equipment, while at the same time, delivering high quality lessons and competitive pricing.
We also invested more time and effort into raising our social media presence in order to keep in contact with our clients and ensure they were regularly informed of any developments.
How did you home in on new goals?
Setting and reassessing goals is a constant in business and key to knowing where to allocate resources to keep your business thriving in these difficult times. Thinking of ways to deliver new, better and competitive services to our clients are our main goals. At ACET, we believe goals keep you focused on where you want to be and help you create a plan for how to get there. We set long term goals and create action plans in order to monitor progress. Our CEO and MD set the goals for ACET, with input from the administrative, marketing and academic teams.
With the changes caused by the pandemic, we see the importance of re-evaluating our relationship with our clients and looking at ways to improve our product and their overall experience. We also are looking at how to get more traffic on our website and refine our social media marketing in order to raise awareness of ACET and provide the latest information.
Did the change come from within your business or did external things help?
I would say it has been a combination of the two. We are an innovative company and are constantly updating our programmes and looking to expand our scope. However, due to the pandemic, we were required to make substantial changes and developments in a very short space of time and with little notice.
Did your core mission change?
Our core mission is to provide English Language Training to a level above International Standards in a positive and inclusive client-centred environment, with a range of support services to enable clients to improve the English and enjoy their stay in Ireland. We are happy to state that this core mission has not changed and we will continue to work towards that goal.