Sasha Zilovic

Executive Vice President @ ELS Education Services Inc. | USA

Time to read: 4 minutes

How did you start out?

Like many of us did - as a teacher of English, with an affinity for an international setting. I was born in Eastern Europe, spent part of my childhood in the Middle East, and came to the US in my twenties. Having obtained a degree in teaching languages and literature, I got my first job teaching English as a Second Language in a small chain of Intensive English Programs.

My third day on the job, I received a message that the President of the company wanted to meet with me. He told me that he was overwhelmed with projects and thought I could help with administration and management. I looked at him flabbergasted and said: “I am a teacher - I have no idea what you do!”. He smiled and said: “I know-you are a tabula rasa-but I can teach you, and I have a feeling you will be great at this.”

I was still dubious about this sudden career change opportunity. Then he quoted Robert Frost and asked me if “I will take the road less traveled by”. This highly intelligent, educated and charismatic man, just before his retirement years, saw something in me and decided to take a chance. In the ensuing months and years.

I absorbed all he did like a sponge, worked so hard to prove myself worthy, but also had so much fun that every day was a joy and an adventure. As Frost would say: “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

What helped you get as far as you have?

Working in this field is all about people and about relationships. You need to genuinely enjoy communicating with people and have an innate concern about their well being from your students, your colleagues, your employees, to your peers in the industry.

What I believe has also helped me is a laser-like focus, bounds of energy, believing in what we do, being motivated by challenges, and a lot of courage. Oh, and, apparently, I’m pretty good at math, especially for an English teacher!

If you could give one piece of advice to your 21 year old self, what would it be?

Don’t compromise, be true to yourself, and always show moral courage.

How would you describe yourself in one word?

I truly can’t do one word, as I think it’s the amalgam of different attributes that defines us, so I will use a few different words-focused, inquisitive, energetic, and warm. I really care about the human warmth part!

What are you most proud of in your professional life?

Over the last 28 years, I’ve had the good fortune (and challenge) of being involved in many different kinds of business projects - negotiated major contracts, opened schools, designed programs, worked on strategy and vision and mission, redesigned business models, etc.

All of it was, and still is, exciting and fun and fulfilling, but what I am most proud of is the respect and fondness I feel from the many people I work with. That is by far the most rewarding part of my work life. I believe a healthy organization must have the ability to recognize talent and integrity, and then encourage and help people grow to their full potential.

Apparently, Warren Buffet said: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

What do you do to keep yourself centered?

Being a mother is definitely something that keeps you centered. With a busy schedule and intense travel, you still have to think about homework and back to school night and whether there are enough groceries in the fridge, and oh, yes-I promised to make 50 crepes for my son’s French class, which is tomorrow!!!?

I also feel my work has benefited my children - how encouraging is it for my daughter to see that her mother enjoys what she does for a living, and that women can balance a demanding career with motherhood.

Also, over these decades, I have developed friendships from across the world, and my children have grown being exposed to this wonderful international environment.

What is your favorite quote?

My life motto - simple but eternal: “Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do”.

On my desk is a card a member of my team gave me, with a note that it reminded her of me. It says: “Keep your heels, your head and your standards high”. I like it…apparently a quote from Coco Chanel!

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