Richard Vaughan: How I made a million from teaching

Richard Vaughan arrived in Spain in the 1970s to teach English. 36 years later he's still there, but now he's head of Vaughan Systems, his multi-million-euro corporate language school.

When Richard Vaughan arrived in Spain from the US as a student in the 1970s, he never thought he would still be there 36 years later. But Vaughan, 58, who began teaching English "because it was the easiest way to make money, between my studies", soon found it too hard "to pack my bags and say goodbye".

The attractions weren't just sangria and sunshine. Vaughan had discovered a gap in the market for professionally managed English teaching schools. "Teaching English as a foreign language attracts tal-ented teachers, but not top managers. Imagine if you went to a class at the LSE and asked them where they wanted to work not one would mention language schools."

So, after teaching for two and a half years Vaughan set up Vaughan Systems in 1977. His first client was John Deere, the US agricultural machinery manufacturer. The experience was "a steep learning curve" for Vaughan, "it shaped the firm you see today". Deere's demanding 150 staff taught Vaughan the importance of "creating a course to suit the student" and finding the best teachers. Vaughan's strategy was to recruit newly retired, successful people from other fields (including former professional rugby players) and offer them a new career. "Our employees are the SAS of the teaching world. We attract successful individuals and put them through a gruelling training programme. Only the best make it and that is the key to our success."

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He also quickly realised the benefits of having corporate, rather than private, clients. "With large com-panies you only have to go to one person to receive payment for 100 students." At the time Vaughan was not planning "to build an empire" and was happy running a professional language school. The 1980s and 1990s saw steady but "very unforced" growth. Even so, by 2000 Vaughan Systems was the leading provider of English language courses to the Spanish corporate sector, with sales of €3m.

His biggest breakthrough came in 2001-2002 when the Spanish private tuition sector was thrown into crisis by a student-loans scandal and a spate of schools went bust. That damaged confidence in the whole industry. Vaughan, who had previously steered clear of private tuition, spotted his opportunity to expand fast.

"My biggest problem was that nobody knew who I was. Despite the fact that I had been in the industry for 20+ years people outside the corporate world hadn't heard of me." So in 2003 he invested e1m to launch an English-speaking radio station. It took off straight away. With more than 500,000 listeners it is "the ultimate marketing tool". Vaughan followed up with a regional TV channel covering Madrid, Va-lencia and the Balearic Islands. It is set to go national later this year. "The radio and television sta-tion's worked because there was nothing like them available in Spain. Millions of people have some level of English but little chance to practice it my stations give people that chance."

By 2008/2009, with new centres open, Vaughan Systems' sales hit €17.6m. But Vaughan isn't stopping there. "The next stop for Vaughan Systems is Latin America."

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.