Interviewer: Can I ask you to introduce yourself and your business?
Ryan Pinto: Sure, firstly its utter privilege and joy to be always participant and active member of the MENA conference and for us as an organization. We are based out of India. We had humble beginnings in 1976.
Our chairman and managing director both teach till this date and it is through their calling that they started their first group and 40 years down the line as an organization we are spread across India and internationally as well. We operate 135 campuses and institutions educating over a quarter of millions of children every day. In India we are across 40+ cities. In UAE we are in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and we are expanding within the middle east. In terms of our offering we are across the spectrum when it comes to curriculum and price points. We do the main Indian boards that are the ICSE and CBSE but at times we also do the state boards. We are of course doing the IGCSE and IB. We entered the UAE market in late 2009-10. We now have 2 schools in Abu Dhabi and 1 in Dubai and 1 in Sharjah.
Interviewer: As an operator, how different do you believe operating conditions are in 2016/2017, compared to perhaps two years ago, 2014/2015?
Ryan Pinto: So I think if you look at it from 2 factors- external and internal. If I would call the external factors beyond the UAE as such people might debate about how the economic environment is, whether the world is growing and some parts is in recession or its not growing fast enough. There are those doubts and in general about Middle East because of the impact of oil is having in around the countries in here. So one might say that they perceive the market to in general to be not growing as fast it was maybe a year before. But we have experienced the market is stable, the economy is stable, UAE enjoys that stability especially in middle east and we have been witness to that over the last few years that we have been present. We see new business coming up. We see growth in the expat population here in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi.
Internally, what has changed and it actually is encouragement is that there are lot of operators, a lot more schools are opening up over the UAE. This is great because you have better competitors. At times somebody can look at competition being something to be afraid of or there is a bit of the apprehension that somebody will come and take away the piece of pie but for us we love when there are larger number of schools because then there is greater opportunity for collaboration, then there is greater opportunity for partnership, there is greater opportunity for learning. We bring in education learning is a part of our life cycle. So there are more friends – so as to say in and around the place we operate we feel that the environment is promoting growth and innovation. And through competitors all of these aspects of something out of innovation can come forth. So there is a greater completion when there are lot more people in the market and we see that the market is maturing as well. There are I would say people with different focus coming into education sector because education as a sector is very different.
Education and healthcare are 2 sunrise sectors which are perceived to be consistent and more secure. And the same time for us education, we see education as sector that involves a lot of I would say emotions, the human quotient and personal touch involvement is very much and when you have people who share the same kind of mind-set just like you, it is very encouraging to see them.
Interviewer: As you mentioned about higher competition leads to more collaboration, do you have plans to acquire any schools?
Ryan Pinto: So in collaboration we have always tried to be at forefront in all our initiatives. I will give you examples of some of the collaborations. We have a programme called Indian Model United Nations which we brought to India- we were the first group to bring to India. It is the largest in India. We have over 15,000 students participating from 6 or 7 different countries and happens year around. We have 200 schools participating both with India and internationally. We have performing arts festivals where 25,000 students again from on an average 25-30 participates. In terms of collaboration it is not just business partnership whereas it is the exchange of ideas, working together at the end it is about giving a platform where our students, our children can work with one other, share ideas, share concepts, learn from one other.
In the world today it’s about making friends, it is all about networking, it is all about learning from one other that is what I meant by an opportunity to collaborate and work.
To answer your question if whether we are open to acquisition- till date we haven’t acquired a particular running institution we have always built our own that’s been our focus and that’s been our strength.
Interviewer: What are the two or three biggest challenges that you have faced?
Ryan Pinto: The biggest challenge I would say is about the availability of teachers the retention of teachers and the quality of teachers that are available. Bottom line is it is all about your teachers because they are the face of your organisation they are the ones that represent the organisation, they are the ones that are interacting with students on daily basis, they are the ones that are interacting with parents and building relationships with that particular child and that parent. So it is all about relationship that the school extends through the family. So for us this is has been a challenge is not a new challenge, it is a challenge that affects the sector whether it will be here in UAE or back in India or other parts of Asia or other parts of the world. But yes this is the biggest challenge because the need for the school is ever increasing but the availability of good teachers, committed teachers. We see a difference in terms of focus of people coming into teaching job. You look back into your school; you will remember that one teachers that made impact in your life. And we are always looking for that kind of teacher and that is a challenge.
Interviewer: So what do you think can be done to addressed the challenge of availability of teachers on a national or regional level?
Ryan Pinto: So for different parts of the world we are adopting different methodologies. For UAE it has very unique position because of labour market which has great access to different parts of the world. It is your -I would say resource availability is not limited within UAE or maybe limited to your neighbouring countries.
People know Dubai. People know Salespeople know Abu Dhabi and so the country itself has become a brand. So it is easier to talk to people, to invite them to move here’s yes, within the pool that exist there is going to be ever increasing scarcity in the labour market. So organizations and institutions will have to look out elsewhere, beyond UAE and probably I would say as the population grows within the country. You know – this is something we are encouraging our students -maybe 20 years ago who wants to become a doctor, who wants to be an engineer, who wants to be a pilot, who wants to be a teacher that number would have dropped drastically from 20 years to now and for us as a school we are encouraging our students to actively consider the teaching profession -looking at getting back to education and doing something for society and community.
Interviewer: Can you please tell us how your business is structured and why Ryan group has not accepted any investment capital?
Ryan Pinto: So this primary goes back to the why we conceived, why we first, why we took shape in 1976.Our founders are teachers and academicians at heart every day. They still visit classes across 100+ schools continuously, and not only visit but enjoy having relationship with all our children. We have 35,000 students. that are graduated. Our chairman writes a letter to each one of them wishing them all the best for exams. Our MD meets every single of those 35,000- people wonder how they do make time.
Our philosophy is different from any other primary institution. I couldn’t say which is right or which is wrong. This is our approach, this is our thought and our belief. We have grown through debt and internal accruals. We have found great partners in banks. They have supported our growth and that has really helped us grow all these years. All of our schools are not franchised, we own and manage our school. People have this misconception that we are franchised but we are not. We don’t have a mandate to meet certain financial outcomes. So we are not driven by excel sheets. We are not driven by EBIT and multiples. Yes, as an organization we need to ensure that we are sustainable and we are growing but we don’t have a mandate XYZ target on year 1, year 2 or year 3. We are not driven by financials. Financials I would say are necessity. We don’t want to be constraint by them and that’s why we haven’t explored external investors whether it will be private equity or external investments of any kind.
We have grown very comfortably and we are growing very comfortably and we grow at a pace that we believe we are able to manage, certain and ensure the quality of the education that is given to our students.
It is not just about building X number of schools and just meeting certain targets, it is about ensuring and having conviction within ourselves that we are doing what we do in right way.
Interviewer: So are you open to seek any external investments?
Ryan Pinto: I can’t say as of now but our doors are always open and we are continuously engaging with them and may continue to engage with our dialogues with different people. It is always good to make new friends as you don’t know what future holds but yes definitely open to discussing and knowing people if and when time arises.
Interviewer: What do you think will be the biggest compromise that you will make if you opt for external capital?
Ryan Pinto: I think this aspect of having the apprehension when you accept the external capital when you have external investors and they now sit on your board and especially if they have control or they have a major stake in the organisation things will change and more often they do. And this apprehension is shared by a lot of promoter groups that have founded their organization and they are running it today so it is their baby and just like any mother or father their baby is very precious to them. So I think apprehension in general when one does go out seeking for external investment they have to have their requirements clear, they need to have clarity of thought why they are going, what is the need for the capital, how much do they need. Do they have a exist strategy and what is their exist strategy and why do they have it. So we are, we have never been in a position of saying we really need to go and get X amount of capital from an investor because we are in a particular situation. We have been very conservative in our growth and that has given us the stability. So we enjoy that security.
Interviewer: What are you looking forward to at Education Investment MENA this year?
Ryan Pinto: So the education investment event, we have been a part of it for about 3- 4 years. This is the fourth year and we have enjoyed being an active partner and involved in this event. I have made lot of new friends because of this event and I have met people whom I have not otherwise met not just because of access but also because of proximity. Today I have people from different parts of the world looking at Dubai as an opportunity. You know I had the opportunity to extend the friendship / relationship.
For me the greatest value out of this event is the people that I meet, the things I’m able to learn from them not just specifically for UAE but the exchange of ideas globally.
Make sure to head down to EdEx MENA this November to meet Ryan Pinto and discuss Education within the region. Ryan International Group of Institutions are gold sponsors at the Education Investment MENA.