As of this month, Robert Bortins will officially begin his tenure as CEO for Classical Conversations, Inc. I recently had the chance to sit down with Robert and ask him about his background and about his plans for CC. This transcript of our interview will help Classical Conversations get to know Robert better.
JC: Tell me about your college and work experiences.
RB: I earned an Industrial Engineering degree from Clemson University in 2006. During my time at Clemson I helped pay for school by co-opting with Ethicon, Inc. for almost two full years. I worked on facility planning and increased process efficiency. After college, I went to work at UPS as a management trainee in logistics, working on data-driven results and accountability management. A year later, I accepted a position as Facilities Engineer Manager for Easy Gardener, Inc. At Easy Gardener I oversaw the expansion of new product lines, managing a seasonal budget, and increasing production rates on key product lines. In 2010, I joined Classical Conversations to work on marketing and development. The variety of work environments, company sizes and roles has given me the ability to work in a wide variety of environments and to resolve issues from a number of different perspectives. I’ve had a chance to see both the operations of Fortune 500 companies and small manufacturing companies. These experiences will be key in my new role as CEO.
JC: Tell me about your hobbies and outside interests.
RB: I’ve been playing rugby since 2001 and have picked up coaching the last couple of years. I serve as the Scholarship Director for the Clemson Rugby Foundation. When I’m not involved in rugby, I love to travel. My favorite travel involves visiting friends or heading to the beach.
JC: As someone who was homeschooled through high school, I’m sure you have many stories to share. What is your favorite memory of homeschooling?
RB: I enjoyed working with Nathan Tomkinson on the debate team in high school. We weren’t the best, but we had a lot of fun doing it. I really enjoyed meeting with the other students weekly for interesting discussions and arguments.
JC: I understand you went back to school this year by participating in a Classical Conversations community. What was the best part about being in a Foundations class this year?
RB: Snack time! Seriously, I enjoyed getting to know the families and the children at my location. It is amazing what these children are doing. Since Foundations didn’t exist when I was growing up, I had no idea. During the year, it was really cool to see the children grow up and to see them improve in their speaking and writing abilities.
JC: I know you have been involved in a variety of projects in the last two years since you joined the Classical Conversations team. Can you tell me about some of them?
RB: I’m happiest with the Writer’s Circle we began to implement about six months after I joined Classical Conversations. We have been able to help so many parents with their homeschool challenges and have started discussions on some tough issues. We don’t necessarily have all the answers, but we are searching for the answers together. I’ve worked with Shannon Brown to grow the testing services and decrease turnaround time on returning scores to the families. I’ve been trying to learn the business and learn more about classical education. I wasn’t classically educated, at least not at the level CC students are today, so I’ve had to do a lot of reading, listening, and writing to increase my understanding.
JC: What are your major focuses for next year (2012-2013)?
RB: Customer service will remain our major focus. Our primary customers are our directors, with parents as a very close second. We want to train directors effectively so that they can provide a first-rate product to the families in their programs. This will take a multi-tier approach. The first thing we’ll do is keep focusing on our communication initiatives. Next, we want to give our corporate customer service people more tools for properly answering questions effectively and efficiently. Finally, we want to continue to improve our management training and accountability so that parents can get local assistance. We have solid systems already in place in these areas, but there is always room for improvement. We will also be looking to expand our office space and to evaluate technologies that will help us improve our processes.
JC: What are your goals as CEO?
RB: First and foremost, I want to continue to help more families pursue classical, Christian education by learning to know God and to make Him known. That is a very loaded sentence with many applications: it means we have to have exceptional customer service; we have to have great training for the parents, tutors, and directors; we have to be able to meet families where they are and help them lead the life God has called for them; and we have to help parents through the hard times of homeschooling so that they can finish educating their children as God has called them to do. We set goals to reach, but, ultimately, if we continue to strive to meet our mission the rest will come. Then, it’s our job to prepare for the growth.
JC: What are your predictions for the growth of CC?
RB: It is scary, honestly. This past year we had 38,000 students and early numbers suggest we will have between 55,000 and 70,000 registered in Classical Conversations this next year. We don’t ever want to turn someone away, but at the same time we must grow with integrity in order to maintain our credibility. Our growth has always been a result of word-of-mouth promotion and because of the exceptional job parents are doing with their children who are in the program. Our stretch goal is 1% of all students by 2021, which would be about 580,000 students. In order to have enough leaders to reach this goal, we will need to hire and train about 50,000 tutors, directors, and other leaders. This means that we would have more parents in leadership roles than we had students last year.
JC: What new areas do you see us branching out into?
RB: We just announced the expansion into post high school programming through the Mandala Fellowship. We already have over 300 inquiries for 24 spots. This has been an amazing revelation of the need many parents see for their children as they get ready for life outside of the home. In addition, we will need to expand training programs for parents so that we can equip 50,000-100,000 parents to be classical leaders in the next ten years. Perhaps we will offer a fellowship for parents who want to take their understanding of classical education and their teaching to the next level. As we grow, we will have a lot of opportunities to expand. Above all, we will evaluate all new opportunities prayerfully.