Why this expat business is moving back to Britain

Language, talent and time zones were a powerful pull for Hong-Kong based international schools group Nord Anglia Education.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 30 Oct 2018

There’s no doubt that breaking away from the European Union will affect the way Britain does business on the global stage. But there’s one thing that clearly won’t be changing. Geographically speaking, we aren’t actually leaving Europe - and that comes with certain benefits.

At least that’s according to Andrew Fitzmaurice, Chief Executive of international schools group Nord Anglia Education, which is returning to the UK after seven years headquartered in Hong Kong.


Founded: 1972

HQ: Hong Kong (for now)

Employees: 11,000

Turnover: Multi billion 

The company was founded as an education services group in 1970s Manchester, later moving its HQ to Burton on Trent. It grew rapidly and has been listed on both the LSE (in 1998) and on the NYSE (in 2014). Now it’s back in private equity hands.

In 2011, the decision was made to relocate to Hong Kong. Nord Anglia wanted to add an international centre to its global network of 11 schools based in China, Europe and the Middle East. It settled on Asia’s ‘world city’ as a gateway to exploit what was seen as a growing opportunity in South East Asia.

In the seven years since the company has expanded rapidly. A tripartite model of acquisitions, new school openings and campus expansion has seen the company’s network grow to 56 schools located in 27 countries across the Middle East, East Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Nord Anglia now employs 11,000 staff and teaches 53,000 mainly expat students, who pay an average of $25,000 a year to enroll.

London vs Hong Kong

Fitzmaurice says that irrespective of Brexit, the UK is the best location for the company’s headquarters now that Nord Anglia is ‘a truly global business’. On one level, this is for often understated, practical reasons.

‘In Hong Kong you can be a little out of step in time zones - particularly when speaking to Northern and Latin America,’ says Fitzmaurice. ‘We can get to nearly all of our major cities [from London] within a maximum of 12 hours. The logistics from Hong Kong are more challenging from that.’

The company is growing at 30% a year and is recruiting for up to 80 positions, so London’s deep pool of international talent and track record in attracting other multinational organisations is also a major pull.

The move is due to be completed by July 2019 and the London HQ will function as a hub for the company’s five regional bases in Chicago, Dubai, Geneva, Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai.

British education as a growing export

Nord Anglia’s growth has mirrored wider changes in the burgeoning international schools market. In 2000 the global sector was worth $4.9 billion, but by the end of the 2017-2018 school year this had grown to $48.1 billion, according to ISC Research - a figure that is expected to rise further.

A prominent factor behind that has been a growing preference among wealthy families - notably in East Asia -  to shun their own state schools in favour of an English language education at an international school. Four of the five million students currently registered at international schools worldwide come from local communities, though Nord Anglia bucks that trend slightly, with 60% of its students being expats.

In either case, it’s a business where it pays to have a British heritage. Four in five of Nord Anglia’s  students learn either the English national curriculum, leading to the IGCSE and A Levels, or an International Baccalaureate.

‘The thing that an English language education offers is recognisable qualifications for most of the world’s leading universities,’ says Fitzmaurice. 'The international language of business is English, and increasingly so.’

Image credits: PeterHulse/GettyImages


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