Q: Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
A: Blackstone Career Institute (BCI) is a mid-size provider of distance learning educational services through correspondence courses and Internet-related education strategies. The company based in Allentown, PA, markets nine career training programs and eight advanced paralegal courses. BCI, a Direct Learning Systems, Inc. (DLS) school, dates back to 1890 as one of the oldest correspondence schools in the country, and is a market leader in providing correspondence career education with over 2,500 students enrolled in high-growth industry career training programs.
BCI was acquired by Kevin McCloskey in September 2001 when the company was operating only one correspondence course in legal assistant/paralegal. Since the acquisition, Mr. McCloskey has made dramatic changes to expand the business and improve course offerings. The existing course was redesigned, new courses were developed and introduced, key staff were hired, and the organizational structure was reconfigured to better meet current market opportunities. In addition, operations were significantly improved by implementing a new marketing plan, increasing operating efficiencies, and expanding and upgrading company websites.
A pioneer in distance education, Blackstone Career Institute has been meeting the needs of adult learners since 1890. The school’s mission is to change people’s lives through education, teaching them new skills, and preparing them for entry-level careers in today’s high-demand fields. Blackstone offers adult learners convenient and affordable training that accommodates their busy schedules while helping them successfully meet their educational goals. As a nationally and regionally accredited school, we fulfill our mission by providing high-quality, effective, technology-driven distance education programs and services.
Q: Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
A: Kevin J. McCloskey is the owner of BCI and the Chairman of the Board of the parent, Direct Learning Systems, Inc. He is responsible for the development of the institution and its growth as a distance education resource. He has a distance education and training school background and was an administrator for more than ten years prior to the development of BCI. Mr. McCloskey was a member of the DETC while serving as Vice Chairman of NLKK, Inc. (parent company of Keystone National High School) and has also served on the Business Standards Committee of the DETC with a final position as vice-chair. He received a degree from Bloomsburg University and worked in medical equipment sales and management for 13 years prior to entering the distance education field.
Q: What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?
A: Just prior to becoming owner of Blackstone I Conceptualized, developed, and implemented strategic plan to create and launch Keystone National High School, an online distance learning institution. After the Successful development and launch of the online high school we went on to earn DETC and Regional accreditation within eighteen months along with gaining NCAA approval within this same period.
Eventually, I lead the divestiture of the company to KinderCare Corporation in June of 2000.
Acquired Blackstone in October of 2001 and wanted to take it to the next level as a distance education school.
Q: What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
A: Don’t do it alone. It is a huge challenge and a huge undertaking. Build a network and rely on it, make the people in this network you friends and treat them like they are significant all the time.
You have to make decisions on your own in the end but always search for advice and remember, ninety percent of the advice you’ll get is terrible, ten percent is great and of that ten percent, five percent is game changing.
Surround yourself with exceptional people. Find and listen to great mentors. Search for and hire incredible teammates. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job so surrounding yourself with the best people enhances your chance to succeed, and it makes the process a lot more enjoyable.
Q: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: Being able to communicate clearly.
Being able to brand yourself, your company, and your product.
Being able to develop a strategy that is sustainable.
Q: How many hours do you work a day on average?
A: Not all in one string of time but my average day, M-F, includes between 11 to 12 hours of business work.
Q: To what do you most attribute your success?
A: My faith, my parents, my wife, my children and my friends…
Q: How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
A: In the business we are in our main method of advertising is our digital presence on the internet. Most of our time, talent and treasure go to our websites and their visibility to our buying audience.
Q: Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
A: Blackstone Career Institute and its taxable entity Direct Learning Systems, Inc were self-funded by Kevin J McCloskey.
Q: What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
A: Commitment to consistency with the ability to change rapidly.
Q: Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
A: Blackstone Career Institute is growing between 5-10% annually so in 5-10 years we will be 25-50% larger as an organization. There is consolidation going on in the industry so BCI could be part of a larger organization via either merger or acquisition during that time.
Q: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Recommended Questions –
Q: How important have good employees been to your success?
A: On a scale of 1-10 at least an 8…
Q: How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
A: Long enough to measure for success or failure, if failure drop the idea immediately.
Q: What motivates you?
Looking at business like a sporting season and attempting to have the best W/L percentage for the season.
Q: What are your ideals?
A: Be a dreamer.
Have a plan.
Constantly seek more knowledge.
Be willing to work hard.
Be relentless and don’t take no for an answer.
Q: How do you generate new ideas?
A: Go for a long walk or if you are in shape, go for a long run or bike ride. Let your mind go blank like a white board and then begin to use your mind marker to scribble on your mind white board all your new ideas…
Q: How do you define success?
A: More W’s then L’s, see “What motivates you” above.
Q: How do you build a successful customer base?
A: Treat them like guests in your home and they will keep coming back for more.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
A: I will never have a 27 year old supervisor fresh out of MBA School.
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A: When I sold my first business at 12 x’s EBITDA.
Q: What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
A: Entrepreneurs understand the true value of a budget because it is located in their back pocket, not in someone else’s.
Q: What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
A: Customer centric, fun, quality work vs quantity, collaborative, team oriented, communicative and transparent…it was easy to set this tone I just taught people to do it my way and it worked.
Q: In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Optional Questions –
Q: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
A: Start out on my own earlier than I did.
Q: How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
A: In a positive way.
Q: How did you decide on the location for your business?
A: My wife is from here and makes me live here…
Q: What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
A: I tell people I play golf, but I would like to tell people a play more golf and play better all the time. I enjoy traveling and being with my family. I am a sports nut so I do attend quite a few games in various sports throughout the year.
Q: What makes you happy?
A: Seeing other people that are important to me, happy.
Q: What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: Not always having a steady annual income has forced some decisions to be held up along the way. The flip side is in good years I have had to manage to save for the lean years and that could be seen as a sacrifice by some.
Q: If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
A: If you were having a dream, and you were dreaming of the one business you could be running what would you be dreaming about?
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For more information, visit Blackstone Career Institute.