Lesley Mitchell built an impressive career in education before she came to Sylvan Learning. Before moving to Calgary in 2006, she leveraged her academic background in early brain development and literacy to work for the Canadian government’s children’s ministries in Toronto. After the move, Mitchell was looking for a new opportunity to put her expertise in early education to work. That’s when she came across a local Sylvan Learning center in need of a director.
Mitchell worked closely with her Sylvan’s owner for two years before the owner decided to sell the business. “I worked with her to help put the business up for sale and find a good buyer,” she said. Mitchell says she was prepared to work just as closely with the center’s new owner, but when that deal fell through, she decided it might be a good opportunity to extend herself.
“I had always thought about finding an opportunity to work independently, on my own business,” she said. “My husband and I are very business minded, and we had even looked at other franchise opportunities in the past, so this felt like a good time to fulfill that drive in a way that would use my passion and skill set in education.”
Mitchell purchased that Sylvan location in 2008, and though she was able to keep the business running without interruption through the transition, she admits there was a bit of a learning curve in becoming a business owner.
“I developed a passion for Sylvan quite early on as a director,” she said. “I loved the way it engaged with families and supported the community, but I had never owned a business before, so there was some challenge to that transition.”
But she quickly got the hang of it. Mitchell was able to steadily grow the business at her first Sylvan location, and in 2015, she purchased two more. A year later, she purchased a fourth center.
These days, Mitchell splits her time between the four centers, relying on a director at each location to manage most of the day-to-day operations, but she is adamant about never stepping too far back from the business.
“I personally think the key to successful operations is being able to work both on the business and in it,” she said. “It’s so important to be engaged with our families. You need to see how important what we do is. You never want to lose sight of that. So I try to stay very hands-on and engaged.”
In addition to running her four centers, Mitchell is also finishing her term as the president of Sylvan’s Franchise Owners Association (FOA), a group of franchise owners who work closely with Sylvan’s corporate team to represent the interests of its owners. Mitchell has been a member of the FOA for a few years, ever since she learned about the opportunity at a franchise conference. After joining, Mitchell says she quickly learned how important the group was to the franchise system.
“After I signed up, I got a much better perspective of the business, and I realized there were franchisees across the country who were all dealing with the same issues,” she said. “I immediately saw the value of keeping all those franchisees connected and engaged with each other so that we could take our best ideas and our shared concerns and present them to the corporate team.”
Mitchell became an active member of the FOA, and in her third year in the organization, she was asked to become the association’s president. In that role, she is primarily focused on advocation, but she says there is a significant personal benefit that comes from working closely with other owners.
“I love supporting franchisees through any challenge they might be having, but there are also so many smart business people who are learning and sharing what they know, and there are so many benefits to working with them,” she said. "Sylvan is always growing, and I’m excited to be a part of that. There are always changes in education, and it’s exciting to be with a brand that is constantly pushing forward.”