MB: That goes back a very long way – I grew up in a language school. My father had schools all over the Middle East, Polyglot Language Centres they were called, offering English, French and German for Arabs and Arabic for other nationalities. As a four year old, I was already folding language school brochures at the school. My father made his kids work!
Later on, he offered Arabic tuition for German, Japanese, Australian and Canadian diplomats in London and Beirut. So I grew up in language schools. Then in my teens I was an agent, we would send people to England and to Malta for English plus sports which was the new idea that was around then. I accompanied groups and picked students up at London airport before putting them on trains to various parts of the UK… I did that all through my teenage years.
Then when I was around 20, we started publishing language school guidebooks, the Where and How guides, then we moved into events, including Expolingua which is still going strong, in its 25th year. We also started the EAIE conference exhibition..
“As a four year old, I was already folding language school brochures at the school”
The PIE: Did you start the EAIE Exhibition (now a big event in the sector)?:
MB: Yes, I organised the first one in Montpelier and then in Berlin, it was my own project, and then I stopped, that’s when I left the industry. I went off to do my own thing and worked for Cisco Systems in marketing. I spent eight years in high-tech, then I “retired”.
The PIE: What did you do when you retired?
MB: I travelled the world, went to Australia, attended a mate’s wedding in Mexico, did some yoga retreats, I basically took a year off. I had worked hard and needed a rest. Then I received a phone call, my dad was very ill, so I went back to Germany to look after him. For 8 months I was his coach, driver and psychologist, among other things.
When he died I asked myself what was important. I could continue to travel or look for another job in the high-tech industry, or I could develop the business my father had started. I knew this industry and thought I could make something out of it. I learned a lot at Cisco, which had grown thirtyfold in size during the eight years I was there. I think I brought lots of knowledge with me from that fast-moving world, and I was able to apply my skills and ideas quickly at ICEF.
I’m not ashamed to say I think I have influenced this industry too. I brought fresh air from the corporate world into the world of international education.
“There are impressive numbers now but there is still a lack of professionalism and standards”
The PIE: Can you explain ICEF in a nutshell?
MB: As I said, when I came back it was just tables in a room and a seminar programme. Now I see us as kind of in the middle between agents and educators, a networking company – we have grown and have added on other things such as agent training, the ICEF Education Fund – helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds to get educated – the ICEF Monitor, and the ICEF Agent Barometer together with i-graduate, everything helping to make this industry grow and evolve. I think the industry is still in its infant years.
The PIE: Do you really think so?
MB: Not compared to 10 years ago, the industry is about 30 or 40 years old and we’ve come a long way. But I think in the future, this era will still be considered the early years. There are impressive numbers now, making billions contributing to countries’ export sectors. But there is still a lack of professionalism and standards, concerning agencies in some student source countries. Of course there are a growing number of associations and national initiatives to raise industry standards, but a lot of work remains to be done. So going back to your question about what is ICEF – we try to professionalise the industry.
The PIE: You are half-German, half Australian, yes? How many languages do you speak?
MB: I Speak eight – English, French, and German as “mother tongues”. My French is completely fluent because I was married to a French woman for 14 years and lived in Paris and Brussels for 20 years. Spanish I speak without having to think about it, Italian pretty well, Arabic because I lived in the Middle East; Dutch because of my time in Belgium, and some Portuguese.
“Having a multicultural outlook helps tremendously…the company is totally multicultural”
The PIE: How has this influenced ICEF?
MB: Having a multicultural outlook helps tremendously. We had a meeting today of 25 ICEF salespeople from all over world – I looked around the room and not a single person was German! Only two Austrians. I’m totally proud of that, that was just the sales team – the company is totally multicultural. That approach really helps a lot.
The PIE: How many staff and clients do you have?
MB: We have 60 staff worldwide of which 23 are in Bonn. Clients – I think it is around 3,000 in a given year.
The PIE: How do you see the industry developing – ICEF is moving into higher education [building their agent relations] a lot more [as well as working with the language sector].. [more>>]