In February 2022, the professional services training specialist Monarch Institute acquired BROWNS.
While leading the English language school as CEO, Blake has also continued as director of strategic projects at the Monarch Institute.
With BROWNS having such a significant history – having been highly accoladed over the years – Blake is keen to reassure stakeholders that under new ownership, it can continue to deliver the “brilliant legacy and quality education” that the provider has become known for.
“There was no intent when we purchased BROWNS to change the business model. [It] was fantastic as it was and it was the reason why we specifically we looked into purchasing BROWNS. It had a natural alignment with our values,” Blake tells The PIE.
The point of buying BROWNS was not to revolutionise it, but to enhance it, Blake says. His is not the only anniversary to celebrate, as 2023 also marks two decades of BROWNS.
“It has 19 years of extraordinary history,” he says.
However, Blake is forthcoming about the difficulties BROWNS, and the wider sector, faced during the pandemic and what it took, and will continue to take, to rebuild.
“The whole staffing got laid off. When I started… we had to get two brand new leases, do multi-million dollar fit outs and two brand new campuses,” he explains.
“It was a difficult time for the industry… we had to restart the schools entirely.”
One year on, the English language provider has around 70 members of staff and Blake describes the new campuses as “some of the highest quality you can see in Australia”.
It signals an extraordinary pace of change.
BROWNS caters for up to 4,000 students every year, and is currently home to around 43 nationalities. With both campuses almost at capacity, Blake is delighted with this “running start”; which he partly puts down to the strong university and government partnerships the provider has developed, especially in terms of high school preparation.
“Our high school preparation program is something that I’m really interested in expanding”
“Our high school preparation program is something that I’m really interested in expanding and growing. It’s often an Asian market but I think we can we can make our mark in those markets.
“There is definitely an eagerness from myself and from anyone else involved in the company to really showcase what we do so well.”
Blake’s lengthy career in education spans Asia and Australia and his accumulation of experiences across ELICOS, TNE, vocational and higher education has led him to his current role – and given the team additional scope to think about expansion.
“I have a good understanding of what it means to work in foreign jurisdictions and the complexities and the joys that those bring. There is some thought towards potentially looking at TNE opportunities and leveraging of some of that experience,” he says.
“We are very interested in significant growth strategies but ensuring that we do that in alignment with our core values of quality and great student experience.”
“It’s really rewarding to see that brand loyalty”
Like many in the Australian ELICOS sector, Blake is concerned about teacher shortages and is eagerly looking to recruit in countries such as the UK, where the age limit for the working holiday visa is imminently to be increased to 35.
With campuses in Brisbane and Queensland, Blake believes that BROWNS teachers can benefit from a “beautiful lifestyle” in Australia.
However, part of the mission to enhance BROWNS was also to bring back as many of its original teachers as possible, which was “very successful”, Blake tells The PIE.
“It’s really rewarding to see that brand loyalty and not just from a student perspective or an agent perspective but also from a teacher perspective, that they are invested in the brand and how much they care.”