Almost 30 years ago, Vicente Alvarez-Valdez came to the UK to improve his English. His teacher was a young man called Dirk van Niewenborgh.
Vicente was so impressed that when he returned to Spain he found himself recommending friends to travel to the UK and learn with Dirk. It did not take long before Vicente’s interests had transformed him into a language travel agent.
Now, his company, Astex, is one of the biggest agencies in Spain, with 22 offices. And Vicente and Dirk have maintained such a close personal and professional relationship that they were presented with a special award at this year’s StudyWorld.
Six such partnerships received the special awards, created to mark the 40th anniversary of this international business event for language centres and agents.
Tony Millns, Chief Executive of event organiser English UK, said celebrating such long working relationships was a meaningful way to mark the 40th anniversary of StudyWorld London. "We are partners in quality, working together to bring the best possible experience to students, because that’s what it’s all about," he said.
Dirk, General Manager of the Lines Language Centres, said: "We have been very close friends and I now have his children as my students. He’s my number one agent worldwide.
"It’s funny to see how we both grew. We are two success stories but with the same values we had when we started, and that makes it win-win for both of us."
Dirk says shared values have been an important part of the relationship, and how it has survived for so long. Like any other important relationship, he says, it has highs and lows and both sides must make it work.
He only takes students through agents. "Agents take many more risks than the schools - they have to believe in you.
"Vicente’s been a big player in my products. The agent is my first customer and my only customer and they are very important in my eyes. In 1987 it was very early days for language schools and there were not that many agents - it was very new."
Fernando Aguilar Bajo, a representative of Astex who picked up the award in London, said: "Vicente didn’t know anything about it. He’ll be really surprised – and pleased – when I tell him."
Another long term pairing were Richard Day of English in Chester and Juergen Peisker, owner of Ausland Sprachendienst GmBH, whose relationship goes back well over 30 years. Juergen says the industry has changed dramatically in that time.
"It was totally different then, with about 50 English language schools and 60 agents, who were Swiss, German, French, Italian and Spanish – and that was it. Everybody knew everybody."
Juergen says his business, which specialises in the corporate market, depends on forming long-term, trusting relationships with particular schools. "It’s about quality but also it’s about the personal connection you make with the school. If something happens I can lift the telephone and if there’s a good relationship we’ll never have a problem. Because we go back so many years we can solve it and it’s done."
Richard Day agrees that personal contact is vital for forming long-term partnerships. "We know what we’re getting from him, and he knows exactly what we do because he’s seen it."
by Susan Young (firstname.lastname@example.org)