You could say the 2008 financial crisis was a teachable moment. For many companies, the meltdown taught tough lessons about over-leveraged positions and unsustainable business models.

But a select few learned how to make the most of a crummy situation. Case in point: Teach Away Inc., which ranks 37th on the 2014 PROFIT500. As the unemployment numbers piled up and governments shed workers, the Toronto teacher-recruitment firm watched its fortunes soar, transforming a seemingly modest business into a grand global opportunity.

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

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

In that period, the number of resumes the firm received jumped 150%. Meanwhile, the company aggressively re-invested its profits, especially in international sales and development. The strategy brought more growth. In 2011, Teach Away made headlines in Houston when, soon after news broke that the State of Texas would lay off hundreds of teachers in the Houston area, the company announced plans to recruit 1,000 teachers to be deployed overseas.

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The company had zeroed in on Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, as a region scrambling to find English teachers. The country was in the midst of a major push to deliver several core subjects in English instead of Arabic. The education ministry needed to recruit thousands of teachers on two-year contracts, earning as much as US$70,000-a-year tax free; the successful applicants didn’t need to speak Arabic, but they had to be comfortable in an unfamiliar culture. Moving quickly, Teach Away set up a recruitment office in Houston to sign up the newly laid off teachers in that city.

The company, since then, has steamrollered forward, with revenues growing by 25% per year. David says the firm has 40 employees, 200,000 teacher resumes in its databases and about a thousand teachers in the field at any given time. Teach Away’s clients—education ministries, colleges, and other organizations that provide ESL training—are situated in more than 50 countries around the world, including the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe.

The Freys sought to distinguish their company from other teacher placement firms by effectively delivering turnkey instructors. The company does all the recruiting, interviewing, paperwork and cultural preparation for the ESL instructors who will, in turn, be placed with client organizations.

Teach Away traces its roots to a perceptive observation. In the early 2000s, David, fresh out of college, and a third brother Kevin, noticed that lots of people their age were going abroad to teach English. “We realized there might be a market for sending teachers overseas,” says David.

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