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Family makes mark on Sylvan Learning Center

Beginning in 1985, Malones now operate 14 franchises in West Michigan, Minneapolis.

October 14, 2016
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Sylvan Learning
Hillary Malone Tilton, Sean Tilton and Molly Ebers, from left, each bring unique skills to the operation of Sylvan Learning Center. Photo by Michael Buck

Perhaps no family has had more influence on the Sylvan Learning brand than the Malones.

Beginning with Robert Malone’s purchase of the original Grand Rapids franchise in 1985, the Malone family has been instrumental in establishing Sylvan Learning’s presence in the West Michigan market. These days, Malone’s daughters, Molly Ebers and Hillary Malone Tilton, along with Malone Tilton’s husband, Sean Tilton, are carrying the torch.

“My sister and I, we grew up with the business,” Ebers said. “And now, we’re all part of the next generation bringing a different skillset to our upper management structure, and I think that allows us to be successful.”

That success was affirmed recently when the family, which owns 14 Sylvan Learning locations scattered throughout West Michigan and Minneapolis, was honored as the highest revenue franchisee in the Sylvan Learning System.

Ebers said the trio works so well together, not just because of their family ties, but because each member brings a unique skillset into the fold. Between Ebers’ business background, Malone Tilton’s experience in education and Tilton’s former life as an attorney, the family has crafted a well-rounded business team.

“It’s a nice mix of skills that really has allowed us to grow,” Ebers said.

The family franchise was one of 10 that Sylvan Learning selected for its honor roll at its annual conference. Sylvan Vice President of Operations Susan Valverde said the operational excellence awards highlight franchisees that employ the best practices and offer superior service to its students.

“(The Malones) are definitely representative of a family franchise that’s unique in terms of how much skin they have in the game,” Valverde said. “And they’re unique because Sylvan is more than a business, it’s a legacy and they impact so much in terms of living the brand values and how they execute the Sylvan Learning business plan.”

Valverde noted because of the Malones’ initial investment in Sylvan more than 30 years ago, the Grand Rapids market is one of the foundations when it comes to looking at how to best implement the brand. She added Grand Rapids has been a part of the Sylvan family for three-quarters of the company’s near 40-year history, making it one of the longest served markets in the nation.

“Grand Rapids is actually helping shape the way that we grow as an organization,” Valverde said. “They have been involved in the company since Day 1, and they do a lot of listening and learning from the feedback that they receive from the community.”

Likewise, Ebers credits the Sylvan corporate umbrella for the success of their franchises. She said the company’s insistence on staying up to speed with the changes to K-12 education and striving to constantly improve the company’s offerings have made it easy to stay on top of the needs of students and their families.

Just by virtue of being a part of the company for so long, Ebers said the staff at each of their 14 franchises can create personalized and well-crafted learning programs for the students.

“We go above and beyond, we partner with local school systems and really strive to market to different bodies of students,” she said. “And Sylvan has been wonderful in creating enrichment programs that we’ve rolled out around STEM that’s allowed us to market to a different type of student. That’s allowed us do everything we can to be seen as a resource, not only for our students and families, but also our communities and schools.”

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