In the Spotlight: Best in Class Proves Educational for Students Seeking to Make the Grade

In the Spotlight: Best in Class Education Center CEO Went from Refugee to Successful Business Owner

Starting a business presents a ton of challenges. But for the CEO of Best in Class Education Center, those business challenges pale in comparison to the risks he took personally as a refugee from Vietnam.

Now, his business is thriving thanks to a few key growth strategies, including a franchise system. Read about his journey and how he found success after taking tremendous risk in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Offers supplemental education services for students.

CEO Hao Lam told Small Business Trends, “Best in Class Education Center provides supplemental education services and is committed to building students’ foundational knowledge and critical thinking skills. From mathematics, reading and writing, private tutoring, gifted test prep, SAT/ACT test prep and more, Best in Class offers various programs to support students’ needs.”

Business Niche

Upholding very specific values.

Lam says, “Best in Class prides itself on five core values: PEACE.”

PEACE stands for Positive, Energetic and passionate, Adaptable, Collaborative, and Efficient.

How the Business Got Started

Because of a passion for education.

Lam explains, “After I fled Vietnam’s Communist government in the late 1980s, I worked tirelessly to put myself through school at the University of British Columbia. During that time, I tutored classmates through complex coursework and difficult exams. It was like a spark had been ignited — I knew that educating others was my ultimate passion in life.

“Best in Class opened its first center in 1995 in the heart of Bellevue, Washington. Just over two decades later, Best in Class is flourishing, continuing to expand, and helping more and more students reach their highest levels of academic success. We currently have over 61 franchise locations throughout 13 states, with more coming.”

Biggest Win

Franchising and sharing his story.

Lam says, “I am so happy that I am able to franchise my business. This allows me to share my passion and my dreams with like-minded people, and to focus on the success of our teachers and students. I also recently published my autobiography, From Bad to Worse to Best in Class: A Refugee’s Success Story. It has allowed me many opportunities, from brand-building to speaking with so many others who have enjoyed my story and felt inspired.”

Biggest Risk

Franchising the business shortly after opening and rebranding.

Lam explains, “At the time, I did not really know how to grow a company, especially a franchise business. I asked people for loans because I did not have enough money. I did not really understand what I was getting myself into. It was a huge financial risk and very stressful, learning how to operate and grow the franchise without any experience or expertise in this field. What helped me keep going was knowing that it was not the biggest risk I have ever taken. Risking my own life, many times over, trying to escape Vietnam was so much more dangerous and scary that risking money seemed fairly uncomplicated to me in comparison. I could have lost it all, as I have done many times before, but looking back, I am very glad I took the risk.”

Lesson Learned

Always use a strategic plan.

Lam adds, “I now have a real appreciation for standing operating procedures (SOPs) that help keep my company efficient. The SOPs give everyone in Best in Class a structured sense of how the business is run. Moving forward, we are working on informational documents that provide a model for all our franchisees. SOPs are an important component in our endeavor to be efficient and financially successful.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Bringing in some tech expertise.

Lam explains, “I would invest in technology for my services so that I can scale up my business more quickly and more efficiently. In other words, I would add one more IT professional so that we can launch our technology projects quicker.”

In the Spotlight: Best in Class Education Center CEO Went from Refugee to Successful Business Owner

Team Tradition

Sharing favorite dishes.

Lam says, “Four times a year, we organize our extremely popular Chef Hao Day! My wife Lisa and I cook up our beloved Southeast Asian dishes to entertain all of our team members. It is so much fun to share our culture and our food. We consider the cooking and eating of food to be an experience one enjoys with the body and soul; it brings people together in such a joyful way.

“Lisa and I seek to share the authenticity of our dishes as well as our life experiences as a way to align our traditions with Best in Class Education’s core values (PEACE). It is something we always look forward to. I believe Chef Hao Day demonstrates our love for the organization and our commitment to our team members. The pleasure of sharing a meal is an unparalleled recipe for community bonding.”

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Images: Best in Class Education Center, Hao Lam; Top Image by Ben Luddusire

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.

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