The language training industry plays an enormous part in connecting local Chinese and expats. Often serving as the means for people to first come to China, these schools are enormously popular with locals determined to gain English fluency and advance their opportunities. Wall Street International is one of the largest such training centers, operating around the world. Their founder, Tiziano Peccenini, told us about spotting the gap in the market.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in a really small city in the north of Italy. My life was tough at the beginning, but that just made me stronger. I got my university degree studying on the weekends at the age of 33. At 19, I started to work and the longest time I stayed in one job was a year and a half, because I wanted to be happy. I left a very well paid job at the age of 24. It was very respectable but I was getting bored.
Can you tell us about Wall Street Institute?
Why do you think it was so successful? In September 1972, I set up the company that was destined to be my life’s work: Wall Street Institute. We created a student- rather than teacher-centered approach, whereby lessons follow a flexible timetable and study is both self-directed and teacher-assisted, offering a new way of learning that was self-paced and, above all, convenient for students. We also
created social clubs and English corner for students to practice their English. Three years ago, the publishing company Longman and Pearson concluded that the method I created is the best for language acquisition, and they acquired Wall Street Institute. Now it’s Wall Street International Institute and it’s working very well all across the world.
Do you mind telling us your first failure?
I started my first business when I was 25 with a partner who was 35, but it failed. People think failures are bad, but in fact it was good because I learned from it. My partner and I each had one
department and mine was fine after one year but his had a big loss. So my lesson was that you have to choose the right partner and that good partners are rare. If you choose the wrong ones, it’s your responsibility alone.
How did you enter the second language learning industry? What was your inspiration?
In my life, I have always wanted to do something new, adventurous and useful to people. In my view, profit is the consequence of doing something right philosophically and businesswise. In 1968, I started Computex, a pioneering venture, the first in Italy to offer computer training to private individuals. They were the years when the IBM 360 was as big as a cupboard! After four years of successful trading, I sold it to a Swiss company for one million dollars and I decided to enter the English language training business, applying the same teaching method I created in Computex.
I’m really impressed by something you said:“I was not born to be a businessman… but it was my destiny”. How did you come to this conclusion?
I was not interested in being a businessman because I think money is just a tool for the quality of your life and freedom. Back then I was born with other qualities; for instance, I was already a gifted player in a soccer team when I was 9, always coordinating and organizing people. People are looking for success
but I think success is only just a consequence; happiness is number one. There are people that are successful who are not happy at all. There are three conditions to be happy in a job: first you need to like what you do; second, you need to like the environment and your boss; and third, money. I quit a very well paid job when I was young because I wanted to be happy to be free and to take my own risks.
So I eventually become a businessman even though I didn’t want to!
You found WSI in 1999 and launched the first one in Beijing in 2000. Why did you choose China at that time?
The first time I was China was in1995. I became the friend of the president of the World Trade Centre through the international meeting in Beijing. In 1999, I sent a manager here because I thought China might be the country of the future but it was hard to set up an institute in China back then, unless it was under a college. Then things got better in 2000, and I opened the first center in May.
Now online language learning is popular, what are your thoughts on that?
As a businessman, you need to understand that life is constantly changing. We are also doing a lot of online training with Longman and Pearson. We always try to get the best combination of technology and the human side in language teaching.
If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I have couple of regrets. One is that at the age of 17, I was told by an expert I could be a number
one soccer player. The second is that I wish I bought books every time I travelled, and I wish I could have to more time to read.
What do you think of Beijing’s entrepreneur environment?
After entering the World Trade Organization in 2001, China’s business environment is very good, so my first impression is admiration for the Chinese people who work very hard here. My fear for the future is that after 20 to 30 years, people place business before life. My wish could be that this situation could be changed and more people will think about their life first.