When Susan Valverde was a young girl, her family decided to immigrate to the U.S. from Mexico in pursuit of opportunity.
The transition wasn’t easy. Knowing very little English, she struggled in school. But she also realized how powerful and life-changing a good education could be—something she didn’t originally have access to while living in Mexico. So, with an unrelenting drive to learn as much as she possibly could, Valverde worked hard every single day to get ahead.
That hustle eventually paid off in a big way. And after graduating from the University of Texas with a Master of Business Administration, she landed a position at First National Bank as the international department officer. Then, she took on a role at the McAllen Economic Development Corporation as the director of U.S. business development. In that role, Valverde worked with employers in the South Texas and Northern Mexico area to create jobs, workforce development, training and education opportunities for locals.
It was through that position that Valverde answered her true calling—education.
“My heart was always in education—from the very moment I came to the U.S. as a kid. It became clear to me while working in that role that education is at the core of economic development,” Valverde said. “I continued to work for the McAllen Economic Development Corporation for five years, and during that time, education became more and more of a focal point. I found ways to link up economic development with education programs, creating opportunities for students by way of internships and mentorships.”
Then, one day, she saw a commercial for Sylvan Learning. She immediately fell in love with the brand’s concept, and its unique, individualized approach to education. At the same time, she was entertaining the idea of starting her own business. This match was a perfect storm, Valverde says.
“Within 30 days of seeing that commercial, I was signing a franchise agreement. It was both one of the quickest and best decisions I ever made,” Valverde said.
Valverde became a Sylvan Learning franchisee in 2002, overseeing a location in Rio Grande Valley, Texas. She started with one center in one of the poorest areas in the country, and over the years, she successfully catapulted to three centers and five satellite locations. During that time, she penetrated underserved markets. She also helped to pilot some of Sylvan’s key initiatives, such as the Ace-It! Program--which developed public and private partnerships to secure grant awards--and SylvanSync and Sylvan EDGE.
After being a franchisee of Sylvan for 14 years, the opportunity to sell her business came along. That’s when she was approached by the brand’s corporate team—they wanted her to continue working alongside the growing franchise. But this time, it’d be in their headquarters as the vice president of franchise operations. It was a role that not only allowed her to continue moving forward with a career she was passionate about, but it gave her a chance to put everything she learned over the past 14 years to use.
“I never could have imagined this path for myself, but it couldn’t have been written better. The fact that I ran the business first as a franchisee gave me invaluable insight going into this new role. You come to understand their needs on a much deeper level, and that listening to the voices of franchisees is critical to success,” Valverde said. “I have a firm grasp of the day-to-day operations having walked in the shoes of a franchisee for 14 years. I know that there are good times and bad times. And I know the importance of showing the right level of compassion and sensitivity. That’s why I approached this new position with a real hunger and eagerness to find ways to support our franchisees in the most effective way possible.”
During the past year, that approach to franchise operations has helped the brand thrive. In fact, Valverde has made fortifying relationships in the field her key focus.
“We’re a business that’s all about human interaction, and what we do is very personal. That shouldn’t just be applicable to the children and parents in our centers—that has to carry through in our corporate operations, too,” Valverde said.
Today, Valverde is getting ready to embark on another new adventure. Most recently, she was promoted to Sylvan’s chief franchise operations officer—an important role that will allow her to further solidify the brand’s stance as the leading supplemental education franchise in the U.S. It’s a position that she’s more than ready to take on in the months and years ahead.
“For me, it all started when I first immigrated to this country. That foundation gave me a perspective of how fortunate I was to have access to great education. And now, I’m able to be part of a company that’s bringing that experience to thousands of families throughout the country. It’s about giving people the chance to live the American dream. I know it sounds cliché, but when you live it, it’s the truth,” Valverde said. “At Sylvan, we’re creating jobs and doing meaningful work. It’s so unique to be a part of a company that isn’t just about the financial reward, but the reward that comes with making a difference, too. I’m convinced that Sylvan is the very best at what we do. And I’m so excited to let other people experience that for themselves.”