Galileo Enrichment’s Rowie Juan Matti–Part 1
“The seeds of what would later become Galileo Enrichment Learning Program were planted when I was 5years old, helping my mother in our school,” says Rowena “Rowie” Juan Matti, 48. When Rowie was born in 1968, the idea of early childhood education was just taking root in the Philippines.
Rowie’s father, Bienvenido “Sonny” Juan, now 75, and mother, Maria Rosario “Charito” Juan, now 72, decided to send their children to preschool. However, the nearest one was in Pasay, which necessitated a lengthy commute.
At that time, Charito also wanted to set up a grocery business, but Sonny felt that between dealing with suppliers, customers and sundry other things, it would not be simple. Malabon, where the Juan family lived (and where Sonny and Charito stay to this day), was a growing community with lots of children. Why not put up a preschool nearby?
Sacred Heart Preschool started right in the family house. Charito had sought help from a friend who was already running a preschool in another area. The friend was about to migrate, so he shared their curricula, sold their equipment, and taught Charito how to run a preschool.
The living room became a classroom, while the yard was transformed into a playground. Eight kids, all of them Rowie’s cousins, became the first set of students, and by the end of the year, enrollment had jumped to 35. The garage soon became another classroom, and the preschool expanded to a garden and an adjacent lot in the compound.
“The key was good teachers,” says Rowie. “My mom wanted educators who can help children learn. She also ensured that our school had the best environment possible, well-ventilated, with clean bathrooms.” After another year of operations, more than a hundred students enrolled.
At the age of five, Rowie started helping out in the school, and by age 8, she was doing inventory for the canteen. Later on, while in high school at Assumption in San Lorenzo, Makati, under the close supervision of her parents, Rowie began doing the accounts.
“Dad taught us that we have to be careful in business, not to blindly trust people,” says Rowie. Once, a careful audit showed that a longtime employee was regularly fudging the figures.
“I was disappointed that someone we trusted could actually cheat us,” says Rowie. “This showed that controls are needed in business.”
In summer, Rowie and her younger siblings Raffy, Rommel, and Ria helped out in the family business. The girls generally spent their days in the preschool, while the boys worked in other family businesses, such as manufacturing. The siblings also took up activities such as ballet, tennis, computer, but they were expected to help out when needed.
At times, the children were brought to a construction site, where their father would ask them to pick up broken nails. Carpenters cannot work with crooked nails, so these would just be thrown away. The children would carefully collect discarded nails and hand them to their father, who would pay them a set amount per nail. Afterwards, an adult would straighten the nails, ready for reuse.
“Mom worried that we would hurt ourselves, but Dad told us to wear rubber shoes and be careful. Of course, he would be watching us from the side. But early on, we learned the value of thrift.”
Punctuality, too. “We had to go to work on time. How can we ask our people to be on time if we, the children of the owners, did not do so?”
But work became fun, too, especially with rewards. “When we worked hard, we were given extra money, we could watch a movie, etc.”
Rowie at first thought that she would take up Education in college, but her father counseled her to take up a more flexible course: Psychology and Marketing in De La Salle University (DLSU)-Manila. Upon graduation in 1989, Rowie took an extension course in Daycare Administration from San Francisco State University, where she did not just learn theories but also observed best practices from day care centers and preschools in the state.
The daycare concept was becoming popular in the United States, where busy parents were demanding areas where their children could be kept safe while they were at work. When she returned to the Philippines, Rowie wanted to pioneer a similar trend. She envisioned a combined daycare with preschool to be situated in a high-end mall, and she discussed the plan with mall administration.
“We could not afford the high rental rates, so I laid out the concept of having our planned center at the top floor, which was harder to rent out,” says Rowie. “While parents did their shopping or watched movies, children could do play and learn at the same time. The mall people were convinced, and we got a reasonable rent. In return, we offered to take charge of all children’s activities in the mall, for Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc.”
“It was a hit,” says Rowie, when Sacred Heart opened in the mall in 1992. The centers grew in popularity and in number, as franchises began. But after some years, Rowie felt she owed it to the franchisees, the employees, and the family business itself, to learn more about managing a growing enterprise, so in 2004, she took up a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).
At that time, the preschool was having its own curriculum and activities, but was also offering the supplementary program of another group. The family eventually decided to chart their own path, and in 2005, Galileo Enrichment Learning Center was born.
From the start, Galileo relied on local expertise and reputable educators. Ann Marie Wongchuking-Pato, a graduate of AIM, became the first non-family professional to become general manager, and though she is based in Singapore now, she remains a director and is still involved in program development.
To attract good talent, Galileo has on its board of directors not just the Juan family, but also independent directors who are also educators. [Disclosure: I am not a director, but I am a regular consultant for math, learning, and parenting.] (To be continued next week)
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (email [email protected]) Email the author at [email protected]
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