By Georgann Yara for The Arizona Business Gazette | azcentral.com
When Frank Healy and his friends yearned to start their own company, they found themselves, in a matter of speaking, headed back to school.
But instead of getting stuck with homework and exams, this educational path involved helping higher learning institutions entice prospective students.
And what started as a small venture among longtime pals has turned into a booming full-service marketing business that uses technology, consulting and various other methods to help post-secondary educational institutions boost enrollment and retention.
When Healy and his business partners launched Higher Ed Growth in 2007, it attracted five clients in the first six months, Healy said. Currently, the Tempe-based company has more than 300 clients and connects them with tens of thousands of students. Over the last year, Higher Ed Growth has experienced 300 percent growth.
“We show the schools what tactically works best for them,” said Healy, the president and CEO of Higher Ed. “It’s really more of a helpful tool.”
Healy and his founding partners, chief operating officer Eric Flottmann and chief technology officer Adam Carlson, have been friends for years, dating back to college days at Arizona State University. Business development strategist and chief marketing officer Joe Laskowski joined them in 2011.
Much of Higher Ed’s edge comes from its technology, which Carlson builds. It took a few years of tweaking, but Healy said the algorithm is running smoothly, and feedback from schools has been positive. Strategies are tailored to what schools want. Often, even a new school can start receiving information on potential students within an hour, when it would normally take weeks from other agencies, Healy said.
“We’re getting good at matching (a school) with who they are looking for,” Healy said. “We get a lot of compliments from clients.”
Higher Ed works with schools in every state, plus several in Canada and the Caribbean. More than half of its clients are campus-based and regionally located, while others are online. In addition to traditional colleges and universities, clientele range from those that offer veterinary and criminal justice degrees to welding and beauty schools. Higher Ed’s longest running client is Grand Canyon University, Healy said.
Jessica Gimbel, the director of digital inquiry management for the Delta Career Education Corporation, has worked with Higher Ed for nearly three years. The company’s responsiveness, execution and transparency, Gimbel said, have impressed everyone at the Virginia Beach, Va.-based institution that has 37 campuses and 16,000 students across the country.
“It’s really important to be able to trust who you’re working with in higher education. I know what I’m getting, and there’s never any question,” Gimbel said. “They have not only proven themselves but they have been very effective.”
Born in Globe, Healy is a third-generation Arizonan who moved to Tempe as a third-grader. He attended Tempe public schools and continued his education at ASU, where he earned his degree in business management.
Hailing from a family of entrepreneurs, Healy talked about how his grandfather, who owned a car dealership in Globe, influenced his own approach to business. For example, no one telecommutes, not even the executives, and everyone works in the office. Occasionally, they’ll implement a fun activity, like bowling, into the workday.
“His felt like a small-town business, and I wanted to operate something like that here,” Healy said.
It’s also played a role in Healy’s decision to keep his business headquarters and personal residence in the city where he grew up. His ties to Tempe are so strong that most of the employees he’s hired either graduated from or attend ASU.
Previously, Healy, Flottmann and Carlson owned an online business that generated leads between consumers and landscaping professionals. Eventually, the trio sold the business to a firm in San Francisco.
But Healy longed to be a business owner again. Healy had worked in marketing and interactive media management for the University of Phoenix and enjoyed the experience. Less than a year after selling their former business, they launched Higher Ed.
In that first year, the market was solid, Healy recalled. But it didn’t take long for him and his team to notice a change in the tide. The recession’s ripple effect slowly made its way to his industry.
To stay afloat, they made a few changes, like adjusting their technology that influenced how enrollment leads were generated for schools and raising the overall quality of their services to increase demand.
And instead of laying off employees, Healy asked everyone to take a small pay cut and promised to pay back the difference after the rough patch was over. No one left, and within seven months, his staff was fully reimbursed.
“It’s very humbling that everyone decided to agree to a cut during tough times,” Healy said. “The downturn was industry-wide. Many of our competitors didn’t make it though, but we weathered the storm.”
This feeling of camaraderie and good will carries over to client care, which has been instrumental in Higher Ed’s success, Healy explained.
“Our service aspect has created loyalty. When they find out they’re being treated right and getting a quality product, word travels and you tend to grow,” Healy said. “If you focus on doing those two things, you’re going to do well.”
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