There are entrepreneurs who change the way people live, and there are entrepreneurs who change people’s lives. For Joji Ilagan-Bian, the vocational schools she started have changed more lives than she could have ever imagined.
[related|post]It all started when Ilagan-Bian heard complaints from her friends who were in business that their secretaries were good only in one thing, not in all aspects. “One complained that her secretary was only good in answering the telephone but does not know how to use the typewriter, while another complained that his secretary was good in answering phones and the typewriter but doesn’t know how to deal with people,” she says.
Then fresh out of college, Ilagan-Bian decided to put up a vocational school that would give holistic training and was capable of meeting the demand of the job market at that time. Starting with four classrooms along Anda Street in Davao City, Ilagan-Bian opened her Joji Ilagan-Bian (JIB) Career Center in 1982. “What set us apart immediately from all other vocational schools at that time was that we made sure that we had the best facilities, our classrooms were air-conditioned, and our students wore nice uniforms,” says Ilagan-Bian, who finished Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. “We showed them that even if it is a vocational school, we could still look good, even better.”
One of the things aspiring school owners must understand is that schools—preschools, high schools, colleges, tutorial centers, vocational schools, and even review centers—are not the same as any other product that you can just sell. “In our case, the products are different. The products are our graduates,” says Ilagan-Bian.
She is now working on her recently opened culinary school in General Santos City, the second campus of her culinary schools, and the seventh in the total number of schools that she owns and manages. “It’s still the same drill as if we were still starting with our very first school 20 years ago. Although we are more familiar with the process, it is still the same feeling every time we open a new school,” says Ilagan-Bian, who personally scrutinizes each school’s location, classrooms, equipment, and curriculum.