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Jean-Marc Alberola, Founder, Bridge, USA

For our printed publication, The PIE Review, we interviewed some of the industry’s most interesting entrepreneurs. Jean-Marc Alberola is the founder of USA-based Bridge, which runs six divisions focused on various sectors of international education.

The PIE: How did you get involved in the industry?

The industry is becoming less fragmented and it now has a better defined identity than before

JMA: I had an early introduction to the language industry, and an excellent mentor. My father was an executive for Berlitz International Inc., eventually working his way up the corporate ladder to become President and CEO.

“This provided an introduction to distance learning before the advent of the internet”

After university I began my career in the Washington, DC offices of Telelangue Systems, a French company that pioneered the concept of teaching language by phone. This was a great learning experience and provided an introduction to all aspects of the language industry; translation and interpretation, government contracts, distance learning before the advent of the internet as well as the challenges of a start-up business in a new market.

The PIE: How has Bridge evolved – how/where did you start, how large is your organisation now? 

JMA: After three years in Washington, DC I moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil to start my own language venture, which I named Linguatec. We concentrated on the corporate English language training market. I built the business in the decade of the 90s, eventually opening offices in Rio de Janeiro and expanding across the Andes to Santiago, Chile and eventually Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In 2000, Linguatec acquired Bridge International School an ESL center in Denver, Colorado. The merged companies became Bridge-Linguatec and Denver became our world headquarters. The next decade, our strategy was characterised by diversification and the creation of new divisions of Bridge:   BridgeTEFL – teacher certification, BridgeAbroad – language and university study abroad, BridgeEnglish – English language training, BridgeLanguages – Translation and interpretation, BridgeVirtual – language e-learning and most recently BridgePathways – University international recruitment and placement.

The PIE: That does seem like a big operation. 

JMA: Last year we reached US$ 10 million in annual revenue and we now have just over 80 employees and more than 350 teachers and trainers worldwide. We’re very optimistic about the growth opportunities for all our divisions – most of which are growing over 20% annually  – and are doing a great job of leveraging the incredible synergies between them. Today we’ve shortened our name to Bridge.

“We’re very optimistic about the growth opportunities for all our divisions”

The PIE: So where next for Bridge?

JMA: This year we plan to open four new university campus-based intensive English Programs in the US. In foreign markets, our expansion will focus on new BridgePathways centers in China and Korea and continued growth of our newest Pathways center in Doha, Qatar a joint venture with Faisal Holdings.

On the e-learning front we’re excited to expand BridgeVirtual from a B2B solution to consumer markets in Latin America.

BridgeTEFL, our teacher training division certifies over 4,000 teachers a year with growth being driven by the NNEST market (Non-native English Speaking Teachers) in China and Brazil.

The PIE: What is the biggest mistake you have made along the way?

JMA: I suppose the biggest mistake I ever made was not entering the retail-consumer market for English training in the Brazilian market in the 90s.  Bridge would probably be 10 times our current size in revenue if I had seen that opportunity. Instead we focused on the harder to scale corporate segment.

BridgeTEFL certifies over 4,000 teachers a year with growth being driven by Non-native English Speaking Teachers”

During the last decade, Bridge has invested a lot of time and resources in building a diverse portfolio of language services.  Most business gurus will talk about the need to “focus”.  I have often anguished over the decision to create so many different divisions and to a degree the dilution of resources has stunted our growth in some areas.

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