Happy 30th! – Bright Horizons Then & Now
This year marks Bright Horizons’ 30th anniversary! In celebration of this big milestone, we took a walk down memory lane with Eileen Smith, a Bright Horizons executive. Eileen began her career here in 1987 – as our first center director, in fact!, – and is now our VP of Recruitment and Temporary Staffing.
We sat down with Eileen to talk about the evolution of her career, what Bright Horizons was like in the early days, and how the company has grown since our very first center opened its doors. Here’s what she shared:
How did you first hear about Bright Horizons? I had been running a child care in the basement of a church here in Boston. I went to a NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) conference and happened to meet Linda Mason who co-founded Bright Horizons along with her husband Roger Brown. She was talking about their vision for child care and how they felt that they could dramatically improve the care that was available to working parents and help professionalize the field. When I left there I thought I had found child care utopia. I was so excited.
What made you want to join the company? I came to Bright Horizons because of Roger and Linda’s passion and vision. They were really approachable and committed and were trailblazers for a different model of quality, work-site child care.
Tell us more about what Bright Horizons was like in those early days. Roger and Linda were very engaged in all that was happening in my center and truly valued our point of view. They kept us well-informed. There was a commitment to culture, a respect for teachers and effort to professionalize the field. We were a for profit company in a non-profit world and they did a lot to dispel myths and make connections in the early childhood field.
In addition, from the start Roger and Linda created a teacher advisory group to make sure that teachers were heard. The believed in recognition programs, getting teams together to meet and have fun. From the beginning they offered benefits that were unique in the child care field. Not too long after the company was established, our co-founder Roger took a bike trip to visit centers across the country in order to fully immerse himself in the lives of teachers. A quilt to commemorate the tour (with a quilt square from each center) still hangs in our Watertown, MA home office.
What was it like to be a center director back then? Being a center director was a big job (and it still is no matter where you are). We always thought about the evolution of technology and how it could help make our jobs easier. When I started we didn’t even have a fax machine. I would have to write up a receipt for parents’ tuition payments and reconcile all the payment out on mimeo paper. It took a lot of time!
The corporate office was about three miles from my center at the Prudential Center in Boston but we had a hard time getting people their paychecks. They always got lost. We have come a long way.
Thank goodness for technology. What else has changed over the years? Obviously the scope of our impact and the number of children and families we serve including beyond our child care services and employees whose careers we have offered. We never dreamed we would be an international company with more than 900 centers and 25,000 employees. I remember when there was a Harvard Business School case study about whether we should expand to North Carolina and when all the employees were concerned about our ability to maintain our quality and values when we went from five to 10 to 15 to 20 centers!
And yes, centers’ technology has changed of course. How we can communicate with families is different: we are able to give them a glimpse into their child’s day by sending photos, emails or now testing out an app. For a director, there are more technology and systems to manage. For teachers being able to take high quality training online in Mary Ann Tocio University is incredible.
What’s one way the company has evolved that has been neat to see? In general I think the world is more in tune to the overall importance of the first few years of life development including brain development. Based on the growing research in this area and the educational environment we have developed a solid curriculum around STEM, health and wellness, as well as caring for one another and the planet.
And what’s remained the same? At the core, it’s still about as our mission says providing innovative programs that help children, families and employers be their very best. Striving to be a truly great place for children to enjoy their childhoods and foster a love of learning, we always have offered creative developmentally appropriate curriculum, now known as The World at Their Fingertips education.
For parents, it’s still about partnerships and communications and respecting their needs. While the methods of communication may have become more high-tech you can’t replace developing those relationships and sharing personalized highlights about their children, greeting them at the beginning and end of each day those elements haven’t changed. And the way we look to hire teachers; we seek out educators who truly delight in working with children, who are flexible and have a love of learning, who enjoy the partnerships they create with parents. Our dedication to being socially responsible and commitment to making a difference in our communities have also always been core to what we do.
What are some of the skills that you learned as a center director that you still use today? Oh so many but leadership and supervision, communication, customer service time management and prioritization and resilience come to mind. I always try to advocate for teachers and directors because I understand the important and sometimes challenging and stressful work they do.
You’ve been with the company for 29+ years – what have you loved most about coming to work every day? The people. So many people have stayed with the company long-term and they’ve become like family. Everyone works really hard here but has fun and truly support one another. I’ve watched their careers and their families grow. Many special bonds are formed at our child care centers where our children attend together. It’s been rewarding and makes me proud to see people on my teams and others encouraged to bring their whole selves to work and finds ways to contribute their unique skills to make important contributions to the company in other positions including through promotions.
I also think it’s amazing that our own employees have been able to tap into Bright Horizons’ other benefits as their needs have changed including College Coach, Ed Assist or back-up elder care as we all work to support other families. It’s truly been an honor and privilege be able to contribute to Bright Horizons and our mission. I can’t believe it’s been 30 years.
Neither can we! Thanks, Eileen, for sharing your stories. We’re very fortunate to have you as part of our team.