How was MLI founded in 1994?
As we approach our 20th year in business, this story is a look back at where the MLI values, mission and concept were born.
by Pia Knappstein
Bev and Mike, co-founders of MLI, grew up in the same hometown and have known each other since they were kids. They kept in touch and golfed together frequently as adults. As both their fathers were entrepreneurs, and ran small businesses, the two were well aware of the ethics, integrity and commitment necessary to be successful in small business.
“Would international students be welcomed into Canadian homes?”
One day, as Mike was driving up to Huntsville to golf with a friend from Japan, a conversation started with this question “Would international students be welcomed into Canadian homes?” Mike knew that Japanese students frequently went to Australia to learn English language skills, learn about the culture, experience living with a homestay family, attend school in a different country, and make new friends. Mike was convinced that international students would be warmly welcomed in small towns across Canada. From personal experience with billeting programs for school bands, athletic events and hockey tournaments, he felt that this was something that one could build upon as a company. As the conversation ensued, he then learned that in Japan every high school student has to take a trip abroad – so each year close to 200,000 students travel abroad to experience, education, culture, learn English and experience a foreign country.
“I thought about the idea for a few weeks and became very excited.” says Mike.
“I then phoned Bev, who had been working in the education sector for over 20 years.” Bev had been a teacher, a vice-principal, a principal and senior administrator at an Ontario school board which nicely complemented the experience that Mike had in distribution, international business and pricing; in addition to them both having had entrepreneurial experience and knowledge.
So the two of them sat down with their wives for dinner, had some wine, threw some ideas around, and mapped out a business plan. They planned to build a program to bring young people from other countries to Canada, wanting them to experience what it was like for them growing up in beautiful small town Canada.
In the communities MLI works in, students will experience living in a home where nine times out of ten, people never lock their door. They will experience a community where you walk down the main street and someone says, “Oh you’re with the Japanese group. How do you like our town?” People in these towns have a sense of pride in their community, and the idea is that people feel welcome, safe and comfortable. These communities offer an optimal learning environment, surrounded by nature and wildlife. In small town Canada, the residents will look you in the eye and offer a smile and a hello. That is the reason why they want to bring people away from the cities to experience small town Canada.
Keeping in mind the attributes that these students look for – particularly the Japanese, they did not want to focus on the cities but, instead, on the places where people could feel more like a part of a family and a community. Many Japanese come from big urban centres, where it can be hard to access nature or walk to school.
“Our whole company concept is based on that dinner after Thanksgiving 1994.”
During the next summer, we had our first group: 53 kids from Osaka, Japan. After three years, Bev left his school board position to work full time on the business. At first, they operated only summer programs, but when they noticed the high interest in Western Canada, they brought in a new partner, Cheryl Lee, a former Director of Sales at Metro Toronto Convention Centre who had worked with Mike at Ontario Tourism. Cheryl runs the Vancouver office and has been a great addition to the growth and development of the Western market.
MLI’s core values are honesty, integrity, and to never promise something we can’t deliver to our clients. We want to be knowledgeable, and our knowledge is based on our products and services, but also on the needs of the students. We work with students, schools, teachers, agents, and parents, and we have had amazing results creating memorable experiences for thousands of students. We want young people to learn from our experience, and to gain life, leadership and language skills, while making new friends from new parts of the world. We believe our company changes people’s lives in many respects; those who participate in MLI’s programs will both enjoy and learn about the Canadian way of life, but also share their culture in order to enrich the lives of Canadians.
“MLI is focused on staying unique and self-reliant. We are committed to our business and to our very important and valuable employees. “
We want our employees to feel like a part of our unique family and to feel safe and valued in our company. We operate the business in a very personal manner – as a small, Canadian family business – and we prefer face-to-face communication. We try to create a healthy and exciting environment where people feel they can trust MLI. Muskoka Language International is not a job, but a lifestyle.