Susan Valverde is about as well-versed with the Sylvan Learning brand as a person can be. During her 15-year career as a Sylvan franchisee, Valverde served as president of the Sylvan Franchise Owners Association, was named Franchisee of the Year and participated in numerous pilot programs for the brand. “Susan was a truly entrepreneurial franchisee with a great reputation in the system,” Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe said. “She was a terrific partner to our corporate team.”
It’s no wonder that when Valverde’s financial partners were seeking to exit the business to capitalize on the success she’d grown, the brand was quick to call on her to join its leadership team as Chief Franchise Operations Officer. Valverde assumed the role in August 2016 and has since transformed how the brand supports and connects with its franchisees.
“We knew Susan would be a valuable asset to our team because of her passion for this business,” McAuliffe said. “She sits at the table with us for every major decision in the company. She’s a strong voice with reason whose experiences as a franchisee helps us make better decisions.”
McAuliffe and the rest of Sylvan’s leadership team wanted Valverde to join the corporate staff because of the success she brought the brand as a franchisee. On a mission to increase revenue and create operational efficiencies, the team felt her ability to weigh in from the franchisee point-of-view would lead to better decision making across the board. “We gained instant credibility with our franchisees because bringing her onto the team showed our willingness to build the business with franchisees in mind,” McAuliffe said.
“Susan is so well-respected throughout the system, we were confident that when she works with a franchisee, they’d be more inclined to accept her recommendations because of her credibility and relatability,” McAuliffe added. “Sylvan has implemented a number of changes to its business model over the last several years and Susan has been an invaluable asset in the execution because of her ability to explain to franchisees why the initiatives are beneficial for them,” he continued.
Valverde’s impact on the Sylvan system goes beyond her presence providing a connection point for the brand’s network of more than 450 franchisees. In her role, Valverde is responsible for managing franchise business consultants, franchisee training and institutional support teams.
“By encouraging collaboration between our data team and franchise business consultants, Susan has made her whole team more effective through training and education,” McAuliffe explained. “By supplying franchise business consultants with relevant data, they become more effective business partners with our franchisees,” he said.
Valverde also plays a key role in Sylvan’s new owner onboarding process and regularly holds regional trainings that are focused on key growth areas. “Susan’s energy and passion are so much a part of her that we developed these regional trainings where her experience really engages the franchisees and center directors who attend,” McAuliffe said, adding Sylvan has held around 20 sessions since Valverde joined the team.
The extent to which Valverde has influenced Sylvan’s franchise operations is evident in the increase in same-store revenue since she joined the brand’s leadership team. She’s also spearheaded a number of relationships with organizations geared at serving underserved populations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Texas Academic Innovation and Mentoring Program and, most recently, the National Math and Science Initiative.
“One franchisee told me I was a genius because I hired Susan,” McAuliffe said. “I’m inclined to agree.”