From Zero to Millions
By: Claudia Repsold
By aerodynamic rules, bees should have a hard time flying; their bodies are heavy and their wings are weak, making the act of flying a tremendous effort. However, bees do not know anything about aerodynamic equations and are flying throughout the times. As Henry Ford once put it, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” The same intangible quality of believing in yourself that makes the bee fly moves Brazilian entrepreneur Flavio Augusto da Silva. After all, he is the businessman who built an empire of English schools in Brazil without speaking the language when he started.
At the age of 21, Silva obtained a $10,000 loan, with a whopping 12% monthly interest rate, to establish an English school called Wise Up. At that time, all English schools in Brazil focused only on teaching children. Silva’s idea was to cater to the adult market. The concept was very simple: Brazilian professionals could earn more if they knew English.
Getting on Forbes List
Eighteen years later, what once seemed a strange idea has become one of the biggest franchises of English schools in Brazil, and has expanded to other nations, with 400 Wise Up schools scattered in six countries worldwide. In 2013, Abril Education, a company under the umbrella of the Abril Group — one of the largest media groups in Brazil — acquired Silva’s holding company, Ometz, for $450 million. Abril’s acquisition of Ometz was one of the biggest deals in the history of the Brazilian education industry.
Silva did more before he turned 40 years old than most people accomplish in their lifetime. He came from a poor military family where failure was not an option. He grew up in a tiny apartment with two young sisters on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Back in those days of counted pennies, he learned resilience from his army father and focus from his schoolteacher mother. He took those lessons to heart.
The old saying that behind every successful man stands a wise woman can and should be applied to Silva. He was motivated to seek his first job because he wanted to take his girlfriend, Luciana, to dinner and did not have money. He credits Luciana, his college sweetheart, for inspiring him to dream beyond his impoverished neighborhood. “When I started a relationship with her, I started having reasons to dream,” he recalls. “That sounds a little bit romantic, but I started planning a future.” Twenty years have passed, and the pair continue to plan for the future together. Silva and Luciana are still happily married and have three children.
Dribbling David Beckham
Mr. Silva managed to dribble David Beckham at his own game. For years, Miami’s soccer fans waited to see if Beckham’s quest to bring Major League Soccer to the city would eventually work out.
So far, Silva’s game plan has been much faster. He invested the wherewithal to cover the $75 million required to establish Orlando City Soccer Club as an MLS franchise. He is the new owner and chairman of the team, and with other investors, he’s building a $100-million soccer-specific stadium with 20,000 seats, due to be ready for next year’s MLS season.
Playing With Kaka
As any Brazilian knows, every soccer team needs its international scorer. Silva once again hit a home run and brought to Orlando’s fields a fellow countryman: Ricardo Kaka. The Orlando City Soccer Club’s 800,000 Facebook followers are gushing about having Kaka play on this year’s debut MSL season.
With so much accomplished, you might think Silva was done playing around. But, like the bee, he cannot stop flying. He is planning to open a franchise of soccer schools in the U.S.
The last time this guy came up with a similar idea, he was able to make a half-billion dollars out of it.
Silva has what it takes, and he is willing to share access to his Facebook page, Geração de Valor, with anyone. Just like the bee, Silva is a pollinator of ideas, spreading his knowledge and tales of entrepreneurship to his two million Facebook fans. He seems to manage the impossible, and scores in every match he plays.
Claudia Repsold is the Editor-in-Chief of Brazil & USA Biz. She is a Brazilian international award-winning journalist with twenty years of experience in editing, research, coordination, production and reporting news on Brazil and US.