At a time we need it most, we’re uncovering local customer stories who are successfully leading through change. Hayden McEvoy, CEO and Founder of A Team Tuition, shares the story behind his business and how he quickly prepared it to support 220 tutors and more than 10,000 students online when he saw the seriousness of COVID-19.
At school I was considered just another naughty kid who wouldn’t pay attention. I’d been diagnosed with ADD but it still wasn’t really understood then and my D grade average was pretty much what everyone expected of me.
Except mum. In Year 9 she got me into competitive swimming in an attempt to find an outlet for all my energy. I wasn’t bad but I wasn’t amazing. My best was around 4th place at the school carnivals.
I’d been training on a squad next to Grant Hackett and one day his coach came in and recruited a few of us to train for Nationals which is how I found myself learning the secrets to becoming an Olympian – how to train, how to behave, how to think. It was one of the toughest years of my life. At age 13 I was training sixteen times a week in the pool and at the gym. Let’s say I wasn’t fourth at the school carnival anymore. I went on to win six silver medals at Nationals.
And that’s what triggered everything for me. I thought to myself, why couldn’t I apply the same thinking to school? I know what the secrets to being a champion sportsperson are. What if I find out what the secrets to being an A grade student are and apply them? So I researched how top students were studying and preparing, how they were behaving, even what their relationships with teachers were like. I wanted to smash the stereotype which had me pegged as a kid who’d never get above a D. And so I met with all my teachers and told them I was going to become an A student.
And I did.
I went on to study biomedical science and psychology at university and kept refining these strategies for getting high grades, maintaining a HD average across some of the toughest academic disciplines around.
I felt sure I could help other kids with what I’d learned and took on my first student. The first term didn’t go quite as expected and the pressure was on – at $50 an hour I was charging a lot for a 19 year old at the time! I asked my student’s parents to give me another chance and spent a full month just looking at how she studied, prepared for exams, did assignments, took tests. I gave her the strategies I’d created for myself at school and her first assignment was to make her own plan. That term she got her first ever A. And I got sixteen more students to work with, all of whom ended up getting As.
Over the summer I was contacted by hundreds of parents wanting my help and A Team Tuition was born. I’d wanted to go into medicine but I fell in love with tutoring. It became my life’s mission to show that society has it backwards – we think you’re either smart or not, end of story. But there is so much more to it. To me, a D grade is just the beginning of a story.
Our business success is made up of four key components: partnering, story, people and systems and data.
Our partnering strategy is locked in – we have a fantastic network of partners and have recently partnered with the Australian Boarding Schools Association who are helping us launch A Team Tuition across hundreds of Australian schools. Our story and brand are established and people can relate to it – speaking to kids, parents and schools alike. We have amazing talent with a board filled with incredible experience across a range of sectors. Systems and data were our final frontier and after many months of refining and customising a Salesforce program, we can keep growing and scaling the business.
With Salesforce, everything can be completely customised and part of the learning curve for us was understanding that you have to put the hard work into creating a system that works for you to get the rewards. Now our data, dashboard and manual workflows are all seamlessly integrated. This meant when it came to transitioning to remote learning, we could get it done fast. And we did – in two weeks we were ready to roll.
I was in Oman in January when the coronavirus was already taking off and I’d studied enough about pathogens and microbiology at university to understand what exponential growth meant in this context. I knew it wasn’t a matter of if the virus made it to Australia, but when.
Back home in Australia I had a few days of feeling really panicked and stressed. But then I went for a surf and thought, hang on, maybe there’s a different way to think about this. What if it became about thriving, not just surviving? It was the shift in mindset I needed to make and we got out ahead of everything fast, including setting up our whole program as online classes.
At that point, I was talking with schools who still couldn’t believe they’d be shut down. It seemed inconceivable. But when it happened, we were there ready to help. We’ve had teachers and parents coming to us from all over the country as everyone works to adapt to the huge changes our schools are facing.
Previously we had only 5% of our 200 staff working remotely. Now they all do, while still maintaining the personal experience we really pride ourselves on. And we’re hiring another 52 tutors this term to meet the demand.
My team is working more efficiently than ever. In fact, they’ve been so impressive working from home that we will continue to offer three days of work from home per week once isolation ends. If there’s one thing I’ve realised over this period, it’s how amazing my team is. I already knew they were pretty epic, but they’ve taken it to a whole new level.
Our vision is to give all students the opportunity to succeed at school, and by 2025 to expand to 20 key cities across Australia with 5,000 tutors teaching 30,000 kids a year. With 80% year on year growth (now tracking at 110% growth) and an incredible advisory board whose expertise and experience is crucial, we’re set to achieve that goal.
One of my favourite initiatives, Project Limitless, has unfortunately been put on hold until the pandemic is under control but I can’t wait to get back into it. It provides $5,000 scholarship opportunities to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed at school – something we know will have a huge impact on their future. We’ve had a 100% success rate so far with six kids.
One who really stands out was a girl who had been completely written off by her teachers. But she believed she could do it and she proved all of them wrong. By the end of Term 1, she was getting As. Turns out she worked full time at Dominos to support her terminally ill mother and during the course of the scholarship, she would walk 4km to tutoring then 3km to school. Now that's what I call grit and resilience. And that’s a huge part of what we want to develop in our students.
If there’s ever been a time for resilience, this is it. It’s an opportunity to show our kids if a pandemic can’t stop us, then nothing can. If they can get through this experience, then they’ll be able to get through anything when they return to school.
After more tips and advice for navigating through change? Our Leading Through Change series is full of business resources to help.