WHEN Storm McGrath was a boy, hethought his younger brother was just ‘‘silly’’ when he didn’t grasp certain concepts.
Today the 44-year-old chief executive officer of the Metford-founded, global learning juggernaut Kip McGrath Education Centres better understands the cruel disadvantage of learning disabilities.
‘‘We have a long history of dyslexia in my family, which is one of the reasons we are so passionate about [education],’’ Mr McGrath says.
‘‘I didn’t realise how bad it was until I had kids; I just thought my brother was silly – until I got to an age where I realised ‘he’s not dumb, he’s just got learning disabilities’.
‘‘Kids hide it because it’s embarrassing, but they also get downtrodden. They are told every year at school they are dumb. It must be horrible.’’
Ergo, Mr McGrath is ‘‘excited’’ that the company founded in 1974 by his teacher parents Kip and Dugnija McGrath has been named as one of three inaugural official supporters of the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM).
Kip McGrath Education Centres (KMEC) will discuss its work to supplement education in Commonwealth countries, including methodologies to address illiteracy and innumeracy, and the online platform it uses to help regional and geographically remote children.
Mr McGrath views the CCEM invitation – the first extended to private enterprise in the event’s history – as a sign that governments realise they need assistance to boost public education.
‘‘[Private educators] will not replace the school system .. but we can teach a child with dyslexia to read, and the current system cannot do that,’’ he says.
Mr McGrath was not of school age when his parents started tutoring kids from the garage of their Metford home.
Causing a neighbourhood ruckus, council obliged them to move to the local shopping centre.
Soon they had six tutoring centres and when some of their teachers asked to buy into the business in the mid-’80s, they started franchising them off.
‘‘Dad put an ad in the Sun Herald and his father, also a teacher, actually wrote to apply for a franchise rather than just ringing his own son,’’ recalls Mr McGrath.
Meanwhile Storm ran his own race, dropping out of an economic degree at the University of Newcastle to open a printing business with his sibling, Garth, who died just over a decade ago.
In 1997, however, he became a director of the company, his parents keen to utilise his expertise as the potential of the internet and online education loomed.
“I could provide good communication between Mum and Dad because they were very different,” Mr McGrath says.
“Dad is really sales-driven and mum was all about customer services.”
Listed on the ASX in 2003, the company began buying back many of its franchises, keen to better control its expansion.
Not thrilled with the results, and with its overseas profits taking a hit from the high exchange rate before the global financial crisis set in, it soon changed tack.
Receiving a cash injection from a private equity firm, KMEC abolished its traditional fee structure in favour of 10per cent of revenue.
It also introduced a 20per cent ‘‘gold partnership” revenue scheme, under which it does all the back office work for franchisees.
“Dad thought I was an idiot, saying ‘we don’t want to do all that work’ and I said ‘yes we do!’” Mr McGrath says.
Almost 200 of KMEC’s now 520 franchisees are gold partners and Mr McGrath remains focused on the company’s original methodology in teaching maths, English, reading, spelling and comprehension.
“It’s about finding what the child can do, going back to where they have been successful and building on the basic strengths to get them to be a self-motivated learner, or to where they should be with their peers,” he says.
Mr McGrath, who never finished his initial degree but later returned to university to obtain an MBA, is relaxed about the education of his offspring.
“Giving kids every opportunity to do as well as they want is good but pushing them is not good for them or the parents,’’ he says.
‘‘It is never too late to go back and study when you are ready.’’