In honour of International Women’s Week, ILAC rounds up three of the most extraordinary female managers in the company. These women are respected leaders, game-changers and innovative ground-breakers.
All are new immigrants who came to ILAC as ESL students and worked hard at their careers and at ILAC’s success.
Tatiana Dandzur – Porvatkina, Senior Marketing Director
Before coming to Canada, Tatiana had a good job in Moscow as an interpreter at an American company. Later, she completed a Postgraduate program in Human Resources (HR). Studying from American books led her to consider an internship in North America, as she wanted to get this knowledge first hand.
Torn between two options – the US or Canada – she chose the latter, as she heard that the Canadian accent was very neutral and easier to understand. Heeding the advice of her agent and good friend, Tatiana applied to ILAC.
“When I arrived at ILAC in 2006, I was really impressed by Canada,” Tatiana remembers. “It wasn’t as glamorous as the UK or other countries I visited, but I felt really comfortable being here. I started to bike, play tennis and live an active lifestyle that I really enjoyed.”
ILAC’s Executive Director Jonathan Kolber conducted a speaking test for Tatiana and recommended that she take the TOEFL Preparation course, after which she started an internship in ILAC’s HR department.
Upon completion of the internship, Tatiana got an offer from ILAC to stay another year and became a Student Ambassador, responsible for Russian students and marketing overall.
“I was 23 at the time. At that age, I believe, you need to try working in different fields to
understand what you really like. So I forgot about HR and switched to marketing. It was a big responsibility!” Tatiana says. “Often I was going for long extended trips, as Russia is a huge country with 8 time zones. My passion became working with international students to understand how non-native speakers can reach the same english level as the native speakers.”
“The more I did it, the more I fell in love with this industry and with my job. I was married to my job and couldn’t have a long-distance relationship with it. So I chose to stay in Canada, where my job is,” Tatiana laughs.
Marketing in the education industry was a very interesting and challenging opportunity for her. “I would compare marketing in education with a doctor’s job,” Tatiana says. “You work with people, you consult with them on their lives, and you recommend certain magic pills or products that can help them to achieve their goals. You can’t make a mistake. You are also like a fortune teller. Whatever you tell people, it comes true.”
During her 9 years with ILAC, Tatiana has witnessed, firsthand, the company’s dynamic growth. “ILAC has developed a lot,” she recalls. “If you compare ILAC before and after, you would not even recognize it. But what has stayed constant is our corporate culture. No matter how much the company grows, the family-oriented culture and personal approach have remained a unique ILAC feature all these years.”
Tatiana believes that being a good marketer is not enough. It is also important to have a good
product that you believe in. “ILAC is not a typical ESL school,” she says. “We can offer various programs and paths for different needs. Our competitors joke: ‘It doesn’t matter what you want, you can find it all at ILAC. I think ILAC has been very bold in setting very high goals and achieving them with our hard work.”
Tatiana is a great example of a very driven individual with a passion for her job and great customer service skills that moves the company forward. “I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer!” She says. “I just aim for results and it doesn’t matter how hard it’s going to be. ILAC has become a leading brand for many educational programs in Canada. The sky has no limit and we are moving towards it!”
Fabiana Schneider, Social Events Director
Fabiana came from a very small town in Brazil and moved to the capital to pursue her university goals. She earned two degrees and an MBA in tourism and hospitality.
Later, she worked for a big tour operator and moved up the ladder pretty quickly. Working with the main office in Miami, she felt that she lacked adequate English knowledge. She addressed her concern to a friend who was working at ILAC and recommended her to come take a course to improve her English.
“I remember my first day at the school like it was yesterday,” Fabi recalls. “It was March 6, 2005. Everyone was so welcoming. Since the very beginning as a student I felt at home. Everyone was like family to me.”
After three months of studies, Fabi started her internship, assisting a Brazilian Student Ambassador. She showed great enthusiasm to learn more, helping other departments after hours.
“I remember staying late at the homestay department, helping with accommodation
letters,” Fabi recalls. “ILAC was my life and I would spend hours and hours here.”
Having had sales and marketing experience back home, Fabi felt very comfortable in her internship and proved herself a valuable worker, so the directors offered her a position as a Brazilian Student Ambassador.
After working at this position for a year and a half she was offered the opportunity to move to ILAC’s Vancouver location to set up a homestay department.
“I wanted more responsibilities and a new role,” Fabi says. “My job was to build the entire department, find families, and start documentation process. It was a 24-hour job. When I wasn’t in the office, I would rent a car and visit new families. I also had four or five ILAC students living in my house. I felt like I was working all the time.”
Having put all her energy for two years into establishing a new department, she was ready for new challenges. She returned to Brazilian Marketer role combined with General Manager’s responsibilities.
In 2013, she returned to Toronto as the ILAC Teens Program Director. “I really appreciate how human ILAC’s directors are,” Fabi says. “They see you as a person first, and as a part of the family. They never ignored any of my concerns or personal needs. I am grateful that I always had an opportunity to speak up.”
After running the ILAC Teens program for almost two seasons Fabi saw a chance to take over her current role as Social Events Director.
“I did so much for the school. I think it was the last thing I haven’t done,” she says. “I am still attached to the Brazilian market and directors often consult with me on certain things. I am kind of everywhere and I like it. It’s been 10 years I am here at ILAC. Never felt bored or unmotivated. I feel I did it all, that I can cover anyone in the company.”
Fabi seems like a very adventurous individual ready to new tasks and opportunities that the company continues to offer her.
“I started here when I was in early 20s. Everything I went through – became a real woman and matured – happened here at ILAC. I’ve grown with the school. A feeling of not being here gives me a stomachache,” she says. “It may sound cheesy but sometime I open my closet and see all sorts of ILAC T-shirts, maybe 40, all the colors since 2005. ILAC is almost everywhere for me and the owners are very lucky to have people like us in the school. We are a large group that feels a part of something really big.”
Ana Karina Montilla, Homestay Director
Ana was born in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, where she earned her degree in Accounting and worked as an Auditor at KPMG.
A strong desire to improve her English brought her to ILAC where, on her very first day she met Jimmy, her future husband, who was working in the school’s internship department the time.
“When I arrived, everything was beyond my expectations. I started at the beginner level.
I did a 24-week course and finished at the Advanced level,” Ana recalls. “In November 2010, I returned home but realized how much I had fallen in love with the city, and with Jimmy as well. I registered at ILAC again and decided to complete all the pre-degree courses.”
While she was studying, she took an nternship position in the school’s accounting department.
“ILAC opened doors for me and I just felt that it was the place to be,” Ana says. “I was really excited about my job, as it was my first opportunity in Canada and I wanted to get the most out of it.”
Ana’s romance with Jimmy culminated in their 2012 wedding, which erased her thoughts about returning to Venezuela. She continued working in the accounting department for a year and a half until she found a more appealing opportunity, managing ILAC’s homestay department in Toronto.
“The first summer was a big challenge for us. Almost all of us were new to the department, but we learned so much from that experience,” Ana remembers.
As Director of the Homestay department, Ana demonstrated her leadership skills and ability to generate innovative ideas. Working with international students, she realized that most misunderstandings were due to the language barrier and cultural differences. This led her to restructure the department by market. Ana also initiated the launch of online surveys that made it easier to analyze and filter homestays.
She has also had a profound impact on the culture of homestay families, by demonstrating to them that they are responsible for 60% of students’ experience in Canada, and therefore pivotal to ILAC’s success.
“I know how important it is to be placed in a good family,” Ana says. “We are matchmakers! Students spend most of their time in their homestay. If a student is not happy in a homestay, most likely he/she will be depressed and less successful at school.”
Ana says that her biggest challenge and achievement has been developing the leadership skills to run a department. “I need to be a role model for my staff and to inspire them.” She says. “Managing means knowing how to give instructions and explain their importance. If you demonstrate that you are not just a manager but also part of the team and that everyone is equally important, you will achieve your goals together.”
Ana is getting ready for a big change in her personal life. She is now a mother-to-be, running several big projects within the department.
“My plan is to get everything set up for this summer (the busiest season),” Ana says. “My goal is to make this department the best homestay provider in Canada and prepare my team for my maternity leave.”
Series of articles about ILAC’s Most Powerful Women to be Continued.