Friday 6 December 2019

Montessori school aims for alternative to business growth

Moone Montessori in Kildare is a pre-school education centre. Owned and managed by Sharon Byrne, this centre is an essential part of the local community. (Stock picture)
Moone Montessori in Kildare is a pre-school education centre. Owned and managed by Sharon Byrne, this centre is an essential part of the local community. (Stock picture)

Alan O'Neill

Over the last 25 years I have been privileged to work with some amazing global and iconic brands across all industries. From banking to technology - from FMCG to retail - the list goes on. Added to this mix are a number of ambitious SMEs which have been mature about recognising that they don't have all the answers themselves.

They all have many things in common. The one I want to draw attention to is that they all want to grow their business each year. And by growth, I principally mean sales (at a rate higher than inflation), profit and market share. Indeed, I myself am so conditioned in that regard that when facilitating change sessions I just assume growth is the ambition and I challenge my clients to come up with ideas to deliver that growth.

I encourage them to take a long hard look at themselves and to acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses. In a structured format, I also encourage them to consider growth enablers in their product mix, route to market, marketing, their own people, etc. We always end up with a plan that addresses the opportunities to maximise their potential. Such plans will always have financial metrics to bring extra clarity.

And why is growth so important? Well on the one hand it's in our DNA to aspire to year-on-year 'plus' numbers as a measure of success. In an inflationary economy, if we're not growing then by default we are going backwards. And if we are doing that, our morale spirals downwards and we risk becoming less relevant.

So with all that said, you can imagine how surprised I was when I met the business owner featured here this week. Growth, which is usually measured in financial terms, is not her particular ambition. Yes, she'd like to grow beyond inflation - but not necessarily more than that. So naturally this raised my curiosity and as a result, it also challenged my own personal paradigm.

Moone Montessori

Moone Montessori in Kildare is a pre-school education centre. Owned and managed by Sharon Byrne, this centre is an essential part of the local community. Sharon and her team of three fully-qualified assistants provide valuable learning to 25 pre-school children.

Sharon is a veteran in the industry, having run a number of Montessori schools in Dublin. Commercially astute, she knows what it takes to run an efficient and profitable business. But the market has changed in recent times.

We all know how demographics and lifestyles have changed over the years. And this usually means that both parents of small children have to seek paid employment to get by. We also know that the cost of childcare can often be as high or even higher than a mortgage. This is partly due to the cost of running a childcare centre. Regulations and compliance demand that staff should be qualified to at least Fetac Level 5. Those that have studied and achieved the required qualification can usually expect or demand more money. Another consequence of this change is that there is a significant skills shortage. Just this week we heard a lot about the shortage of teaching assistants in primary schools. So it is a national problem.

In recognition of this, Sharon has opted for another direction. She is passionate about learning and educating young children in their most formative years. For that reason and the fact that her facilities are limited anyway, her ambition is now more about improving quality of education for the existing 'customer' base. With her experience and expertise, she could of course consider opening another centre in another location, but that's not in the plan.

Quality over quantity

Subvention fees paid directly by the Government to qualifying Montessori schools were reduced during the downturn. They have not been increased since and that of course impacts profitability and therefore the availability of funds required to fuel growth.

Sharon is now more interested in maintaining the size of her current business and focusing instead on doing her bit to professionalise the industry. She wants to help get more credibility and recognition for the high level of care in the sector, especially from the Government.

In the meantime, she is determined to sustain her business at the level it is at. Sure, there is capacity for a few more children and indeed filling the centre in the afternoon slot. And to do that, she is constantly exploring ways to improve the quality of the current services. She and her team keep themselves updated with global best practices in pre-school education.


There are a lot of owner-managed businesses around the world that are quite happy with their current size and don't necessarily want to expand. You too may be quite satisfied with your business at the size that it is today. For whatever lifestyle or personal reasons or indeed extra effort required, you may not want to expand your business. And that's OK.

The watch-out however is to be clear on what it takes to sustain your business momentum for the long term. The reality is that due to inflation, your overhead costs are always going up. If you're not either cutting costs or growing at least in line with inflation, you will make less money.

Questions for you

What factors deserve consideration to ensure you at least sustain your business for the next year? Other than financial growth, what else is needed to ensure you are relevant and not at risk of going backwards?

Sharon wants her business to be the best around and is on her way to achieving that. You may have other ambitions and ideas for improving your business. If you don't focus on some form of improvement, my concerns are of complacency and stagnation.

Alan O'Neill is a change consultant and non-executive director. For 25-plus years he has been supporting global and iconic brands through change. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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