David and Rene Frey of Teach Away Inc. (Photo: Darren Calabrese) David and Rene Frey of Teach Away Inc. (Photo: Darren Calabrese)

One could easily describe the 2008 financial crisis as a teachable moment. For many companies, the ensuing meltdown offered tough lessons about critically overleveraged positions and unsustainable business models. But for one global education firm, the crisis was itself a crash course in making the most of a crummy situation.

Teach Away Inc., which ranks 37th on this year’s PROFIT 500, recruits English-speaking teachers to work abroad. Even as U.S. unemployment numbers were piling up and governments were shedding workers, the Toronto-based firm watched its fortunes soar. Since 2008, Teach Away’s revenues have grown 1,621%, transforming a seemingly modest business into a grand global opportunity.

“During 2008 to 2010, we were able to more than double our operations worldwide,” says David Frey, says David Frey who, alongside his brother Rene, runs the company which was founded by their eldest brother Kevin and his wife Katarina. Thanks to a focus on global diversification and its involvement in the education sector, “the business has proven to be relatively recession proof.”

Here’s how it happened. In 2009 and 2010, as jobs in the U.S. grew increasingly scarce, applications from aspiring teachers—younger people who saw little opportunity to land a full-time gig at home, as well as professionals from other fields who wanted to switch careers and work abroad—poured in. That allowed firms like Teach Away could pursue more placement opportunities overseas. The growing supply of potential teachers, meant firms like Teach Away could more aggressively pursue greater placement opportunities overseas.

By 2011, Teach Away had zeroed in on Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, as a key market for growth. The country was in the midst of a major push to deliver several core subjects—including math and science—in English instead of Arabic and the education ministry needed to recruit thousands of teachers on two-year contracts. Schools were scrambling to find enough English-speaking teachers to fill their classrooms, and they needed folks like the Freys to find candidates.

Teach Away made headlines in Houston that year when, soon after news broke that the state would lay off hundreds of teachers in the region, the company announced it would hire 1,000 teachers to be deployed in Abu Dhabi. Successful hires would earn up to US$70,000 a year tax-free; they didn’t need to speak Arabic, but they had to be comfortable in an unfamiliar culture.

Click here for the complete 2014 PROFIT 500

Loading comments, please wait.