With more than 30 years of experience, it’s safe to say that Mark Mele knows what it takes for a brand to thrive in franchising. From serving as the Vice President of Franchise Development for Kumon North America, Inc., to founding and franchising his own company, Athena Learning Centers, Mele’s extensive background has not only engrained in him a deep understanding of the franchise sales process, but it’s made him a valuable asset to any company he touches, too. Now, Mele is bringing his extensive knowledge of the child care segment to his newest role as the Senior Vice President of Lightbridge Academy.
After spending more than a decade as the Director of Franchise Sales for Century 21 Real Estate Corporation, Mele was ready for a change. He really found his passion when hired as the Vice President of Franchising for Kumon, a supplemental education company for school-aged children. During his five years with the brand, growth skyrocketed, and Kumon opened upwards of 500 units. That experience instilled in Mele a newfound passion—and that was working alongside companies that were making a real and lasting difference in the world.
“I had always been an advocate of franchising, but I realized there was this incredible opportunity to do something in franchising where you’re affecting the lives of families and their children,” said Mele. “That’s what really got me motivated to take my career to the next level—and I haven’t looked back since.”
Mele’s positive experience in the child care industry prompted him to develop a company of his own. So, in 2012, he launched Athena Learning Centers—an after-school tutoring program for elementary and high school students that helped kids who were in danger of falling behind in the classroom. Through this experience with Athena—a company that’s still in operation today—Mele positioned himself for his next chapter.
“As I got my business off the ground, I reconnected with Guy Falzarano, the founder and CEO of Lightbridge Academy. I kept a close eye on him and what he was doing in the child care space—I felt that he was creating something truly unique in this industry,” Mele said. “When I found out that they had opened up the brand to franchising, I decided to take a deeper dive into what Lightbridge Academy is all about. It was clear to me that this was a company with a culture built on genuine family values. And with that foundation, they were on the verge of incredible things. I knew I had to be a part of it.”
Mele officially joined the Lightbridge Academy team in April 2016. As he learned more about the brand, he quickly realized that this wasn’t a company that just touted their core values in brochures and pamphlets—they were engrained in every franchisee, every center director, every parent and every program.
“It wasn’t until I was entrenched in the company that I realized just how important this culture is. Lightbridge Academy’s values and philosophy deeply define the company. Before a parent gives you the opportunity to care and educate their young children, you must build trust. The values of this company define how we act as a family and franchisees get it and want to share this experience in their community,” Mele added.
Today, the passion that Mele has for his role has only gotten stronger—and that’s evident in the franchise development process that he executes every single day. For Mele, finding the right franchisees goes much deeper than numbers and experience—it’s about having the right cultural fit. That’s why, in his role, he acts as a gate keeper of sorts, ensuring that each prospective franchisee is properly vetted and aligned with Lightbridge Academy’s philosophy.
“Our Circle of Care philosophy shapes who we are, so it’s crucial that every franchisee who joins our system not only understands our values, but lives and breathes them, too,” Mele said. “It may sound trite, but you’ll only be successful if you feel good about what you’re doing day in and day out. Passion has to be there. My job is to ensure that it flows from the top down and from the bottom up.”
Make one trip to any of Lightbridge Academy’s centers, and the energy that Mele refers to is palpable. That’s because every person within the brand’s system goes above and beyond to deliver the best customer experience for the parent and child. As “The Solution for Working Parents”, it’s clear that this differentiation continues to work for the brand year after year—with the help of Mele’s expertise, Lightbridge Academy now has more than 85 franchises sold—60 of which are currently open, under construction or in development. And, most recently, the brand was ranked in Entrepreneur Magazine’ Franchise 500 ranking for the first time ever.
"I've known Mark for years. When Lightbridge Academy was launching as a franchise, Mark was generous sharing his franchise expertise and insights. Well respected throughout the franchise industry, he's a perfect fit within our culture and it's a pleasure to have him onboard,” said Brenda Febbo, the Chief Marketing Officer for Lightbridge Academy.
In the years ahead, Mele is focusing his efforts on growing the brand concentrically by building a presence throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. This approach will allow the brand to work off a solid foundation to expand into new regions. Mele is confident that goal is well within reach.
“My key to success from day one has been to treat everyone I encounter as if they’re family. Think about how you’d treat your mom, dad, brother or sister—you’d go that extra mile for them, right? That’s the piece that’s different for Lightbridge Academy. We treat each franchisee and parent like family. We’re committed to their success, are willing to go the extra mile, and it’s what will continue to separate us from the competition,” said Mele.