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Lil Bremermann-Richard, CEO, Oxford International Education Group

Lil Bremermann-Richard was promoted from group commercial director to group CEO at UK-based Oxford International Education Group in January. She spoke to The PIE about her own professional development and how she approaches the top job at multi-dimensional Oxford International.

The PIE: Lil, what made you excited about taking the CEO role? 

"There isn't anyone who is so junior that they don't get an interaction with me"

LBR: I think I’ve been preparing for this role for 39 years! My mother is in education. My grandparents were in education. I’ve always worked in the education sector. And I am very passionate about Oxford International. I think it’s brilliant.

We deliver what is a complete ecosystem for kids from the age of eight/nine  until their mid to late 20’s – in a global environment. I was ready. I’ve gone through the whole career journey from a very junior position sending information facts to kids in Japan from a post room in a small college in London.

The PIE: Where did you first work?

LBR: I worked at Cavendish College, part of a David Game College group. Since my first role I have held many positions. I’ve been an admissions and recruitment officer, an international recruitment director, an operations director, commercial director, so the next logical step was CEO, it was time.

“He would not allow me to stay in the background because of my accent”

The PIE: That’s pretty impressive career ascendancy. Did you always think you’d end up being CEO?

LBR: I always wanted to be a CEO and I have had great leaders that have supported me on achieving that goal. I owe a lot of my progress to the outstanding leadership and mentorship of Carl Lygo and the culture that he and the senior executives then drove at BPP.

Carl would not allow me to stay in the background because of my accent or because of where I came from. He taught me to stand tall for my talents.

I was given opportunities. But I have also been eager to seize my own opportunities. So I haven’t left it to others to open it up for me throughout my career. And that’s what I would encourage people to do.

The PIE: Tell me more about Oxford International. I was reading your bio – a 70% increase in recruitment to your university pathways division is amazing. How did you achieve that?

LBR: First, it wasn’t about: Is the market growing? It was: what is it that students need? Do we have what they need? So we did our portfolio review and we did a market needs analysis.

“Look at what the market needs and what you have and see where you match it rather than try and do everything”

And I think that sounds very strategic and it is –  I think it’s something that everybody needs to look at. Look at what the market needs and what you have and see where you match it rather than try and do everything.

Second, [we looked at] our next set of stakeholders, that’s our agent partners. We’ve put quite a lot of investment in our processes to ensure that the right information gets to the agent quickly, effectively, and as a result, they were and still are very keen to work with us.

The PIE: The pathway market in general, do you think it is growing or not? Because I’m hearing varying reports. 

LBR: In general, I think it is growing. Is it growing just for the UK and UK universities, I think is debatable.

I think what is definitely growing significantly is the overseas delivery of pathways.

The PIE: Do you have plans in that area then?

LBR: We have plans! [laughs]. We have a lot of them.

The PIE: Oxford International is fairly unique in that it has this huge experience and longevity in summer seasonal operations. And now it’s becoming a name in university pathways. You obviously have d’Overbroecks, you have sixth form colleges. What are the challenges around managing all these different brands and making sure they all have their own identities?

LBR: Now, 18 months into my role(s) at Oxford International, we are clear that whilst they are separate divisions they are somehow interconnected. We understand the ecosystem that we have built and we’ve positioned each of our products accordingly. 

There is no overlap. For example, we have students who can progress on from one of our academic spring or summer courses and go to one of our independent schools. Or, we can have one of our English language school students progress onto of our pathways programmes. We have different people supporting the different divisions but we work as a team.

The PIE: You obviously have had enormous success in growing business. Where do you see future business coming from?

LBR: If I was going to paint with a very broad brush, I would say the future is in Asia. I think it’s that broad; everybody’s constantly pushing China but we shouldn’t lose sight of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar. 

Yet a balance market portfolio is essential in our fast changing environment not only for business reasons but for educational reasons. With this in mind,  Africa is a market that we need to look afterThe size of that population is incredibly big, and it continues to grow. There are some economies that are trying to come throughAs a business we are investing in developing Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

“Africa is a market that we need to look after”

The PIE: Tell you about how you ended up in the UK from Uruguay.

LBR: I thought you would ask that! My dad was in the army and in my teenage years he was posted  to the UK. He was military attaché to the embassy.

I fell in love with the UK so I decided to complete my higher education here. And I was worked at [Cavendish College] part-time while I studied, on my 20 hours per week!

The PIE: Do you often think about those days when you were an international student?

LBR: I always think about that. I think a big mistake that professionals make as they go up in their careers is they forget where they come from and what they’re trying to achieve and they’re just focusing on that revenue and bottom line figure.

And I am a great believer that that bottom line figure is easily achieved if you’re doing the right thing for the right people, with the right intentions ethically. It has never been a problem to get to the numbers if you’re doing the right thing

The PIE: And how do you inspire your team?

LBR: I lead by example, I ask a lot of questions, I challenge, and I do the work. I believe that I’m very approachable because even when I get angry, I have a big smile on my face! And I think I spread myself across the business. So there isn’t anyone who is so junior that they don’t get an interaction with me. 

The teachers are the ones who have first-hand experience with the students, so I need and want to understand what they do, how they do it, why they do it in that way. And then the next question is, I say, ‘how are you preparing yourself for the student of tomorrow’?

The PIE: You started as CEO in January, didn’t you, and at that time you had a four-month-old. How is the juggling going?

LBR: I’m really enjoying it. It’s my third child and I have always returned to work quite quickly. This is the way I know how to be a mum, being happy overall as a person. I love what I do. I love being a professional, a mum, a wife and a friend. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy. By all means it’s challenging. It’s challenging to get out of the house in the morning with my dress clean!

 

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