You have to have the mental attitude of getting from A to B. Don’t let anything stop you, once you start a task and know it needs to be finished.
Pat Brown is President of Fort Worth-based Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers, the franchisor of the nation’s leading values-based early childhood educational schools. Pat’s primary responsibilities cover oversight and management of the company’s business growth.
A true innovator and trendsetter in the early childhood education, Pat and his brother Mike, who serves as CEO of the company, created Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers to raise the level of educational support for children ages six months to 12 years. Under Pat’s leadership, the company has developed a winning business model that is now being replicated across the country through the brand’s strategic franchise growth.
Pat’s guidance has been a key factor in assembling and retaining Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers team members that have crafted and refined the educational childcare industry’s most coveted curriculum.
Today, the company is growing from its Fort Worth headquarters into key U.S. markets through franchising. There are now more than 40 centers nationwide. Currently, Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers has approximately 250 employees among its company headquarters and eight company-owned centers. There are eight company owned and 40 franchised centers open and operating, and 20 additional franchise locations in its development pipeline.
Pat currently serves on the Fort Worth Zoological Board. He has previously served as a board member of the Steeplechase Club and was President of the KE Alumni Association. He was also the Special Events Chairman for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Pat completed his education at Texas Christian University.
Where did the idea for Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers come from?
My brother and I have been running businesses since we were in high school. Eventually, we sought to start a company that would have a great impact on the Dallas/Fort Worth community. We wanted to provide a service for young children and we’ve always been big on education. My brother did the homework, researched the industry for years, and traveled the country meeting with different people who worked in education. After a while, my brother Michael honed his idea and invited me to come on board. I liked his findings, trusted his instinct, and decided to join him in a leap of faith to open our first school 18 years ago.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In the early days, it was just Michael and I running the business. We wore a lot of hats when we get started. As we’ve grown and evolved, the position itself has changed. We’re more involved in making strategic decisions, rather than managing day-to-day operations. We have an executive committee internally that manage day-to-day tasks. These days, I coach our team, rather than execute projects myself. As a result, there’s no set structure in my schedule.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For the company itself, we have weekly meetings during which we review operations and sales, and then strategize next steps. Everyone on the team has their day job and responsibilities, but we want everyone knowing what everyone else is doing. We discuss our ideas as a group, and then make decisions as a team on next steps.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The level of competition in our industry is much better than when we first started the business. Our competitors take good care of their students, and I’m pleased to see that. This is why it’s more important than ever for us to have a competitive edge. Our commitment to education is our primary differentiator. By listening to our parents, we know our customers want their children to get high quality education throughout the day care program.
This inspired us to develop a new curriculum, and we brought a prolific early childhood education expert named Dr. Sharman Johnston to design that curriculum with us, based on cutting edge research that responds to the way children learn. We feel strongly that this new curriculum allows us to carry the torch within an industry that does an excellent job of teaching children important learning skills and values.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I think it’s my belief in internal communication. We’re a small company and you just have to communicate with everybody. You have to have a work environment that fosters that level of communication. We’re not a top down company. It’s not like ‘Big Pat’ says we’re going to do this — we’re not structured that way. Our key people sit down together, we talk about issues, then as a company we decide how to move forward and address these issues. We listen to all our key staff, and then our team has a lot of freedom to exercise their responsibilities. Everyone gets to have their opinions and the freedom to turn those views into results.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I have worked practically all my life. I had a paper route when I was 13. My father owned a manufacturing plant, and I worked there in the summer. In high school, my friend and I started a lawn mowing business. Despite all these jobs, I never had one that I hated. My brother and I always worked, and we got the job done, that’s always been important to us. Today, there isn’t a job within the Children’s Lighthouse company that I haven’t done.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When we started Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers, we didn’t have a grand plan. A lot of people who start a business have a business plan, but when we got into it, we weren’t sure. We had a direction we wanted to go, and once we started we loved the work, but we made mistakes early on. However, those mistakes were valuable to us in the end, as they helped teach us how to improve and package the business model as we entered franchising. Today, we have programs in place to make sure our franchisees don’t stumble the way we did early on. For that reason, I don’t think I would do anything differently, since all our experiences have made us smarter and more equipped to work with our current group of franchisees.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over, and recommend others to do as well?
You have to have the mental attitude of getting from A to B. Don’t let anything stop you, once you start a task and know it needs to be finished. You just take care of your business and communicate, because when you communicate with people about what you’re doing, everyone will be much better off. That’s what we foster internally and among our franchisees.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My brother and I were primarily entrepreneurs; we didn’t have a thorough background in education or childcare. So as our company grew and we developed more cash flow, we were able to hire the people who worked at larger companies within the industry. Making those key hires was vital to our growth, and people were happy to work with us since we provide our staff with a lot of freedom to execute their responsibilities.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just as we were about to launch Children’s Lighthouse as a company, an important source of funding fell through at the very last minute. Fortunately, the lost funding did not set back our launch or growth, as other financing sources were able to keep us moving until we found a backup lender to cover the gap, but the experience taught us a very important lesson that we impart on every franchisee now. Even when you think the deal is done, crucial components can fall apart at the last minute. As a result, we help our franchisees establish safe guards to protect their business from unforeseen challenges.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Our country is aging, so elderly care and health industries are in a good position to grow. We’re focused on the work we do at Children’s Lighthouse, so it’s hard to imagine a specific business model that caters to aging consumers, but the consumer base is there for the right entrepreneur to engage.
Tell us something about you that very few people know.
The people that know me, know me. I don’t have anything particularly neat and cool to reveal – what you see is what you get.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Internally, we use Procare Software. It’s structured very nicely for the diverse work we do here.
What is one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I didn’t read books on entrepreneurship. We just grew up in an entrepreneurial environment, and learned those skills from our personal experiences and our family. My father was a manufacturer — seeing and hearing him talk about his career instilled those skills into our DNA. As kids, we watched our father, and realized that we wanted to follow in his footsteps, so we learned to run businesses very early on, by offering services for our community.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
My father was one of my biggest influencers and inspirations. We also socialize often, and surround ourselves with entrepreneurially minded folks. Business is business, and our friends tend to experience the same issues we do. Our close friends have their own companies to run. If you can stay in an environment of entrepreneurs, you can learn a lot from social gatherings. We have a network of people we can call and get feedback from. For us, that network of friends has been crucial along the way.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.