It's useful to want to build a major business by adding onto the base of your initial breakthrough. But what does that look like in practice? Let's examine the case history of Education Management to better understand the principle involved.

Commercial art had been defined historically as applying artist talent in that arena, but Education Management learned from its collaboration with employers that many needed artists with broader backgrounds than most commercial artists have. The company expanded the variety of education disciplines at its art institutes at the associate's level and later added bachelor's degree programs that required 18 more months of learning, but resulted in a much higher return on their educational investment for graduates.

This created a win-win-win situation for students, employers, and Education Management. Soon, the curriculum was being successfully expanded through its nationwide system of schools.

As computers became more important to design work, Education Management added significant classroom technology reflecting the workplace environment to help prepare students for work in multimedia and on the Internet.

To test the relevance of such changes, Education Management has paid a lot of attention to the percentage of students who finish the bachelor's program versus the number who start. In 2003, 55 percent got their degree. By comparison, the national average completion rate of all bachelor's degree programs was 40 percent.

The company next paid attention to the opportunity to provide Internet-based learning for those who do not have the time to study full-time or do not live near one of its schools. This innovation was tested in conjunction with classroom learning to validate learning outcomes. The company trained 125 members of the faculty as on-line facilitators, and student reaction to on-line course work has been positive. Online courses provide a measure of convenience to students who cannot commit to 20 hours per week in the classroom, and attract other students who cannot come to one of the art institutes' locations. Ultimately, on-line courses are expected to operate on a higher profit margin than those that are site based.

As a reflection of its growth over the prior 30 years, Education Management has positioned its art institutes as "America's leader in creative education." Other opportunities for the future include extending this business model to education disciplines outside the art, design, and culinary fields of its art institutes.

In 2001, Education Management acquired Argosy Education Group and its education institutions which offer graduate and post graduate degrees in clinical psychology, education, law, and business. The Argosy University campuses provided a base that Education Management believed could be used to establish a "true national university" in the United States.

How can you focus on making the best use of your initial breakthroughs?

Author's Bio: 

Donald Mitchell is CEO of Mitchell and Company, a strategy and financial consulting firm in Weston, MA. He is coauthor of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. You can find free tips for accomplishing 20 times more by registering at: