Garsendy St. Fleur immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in 2014 for an education. He carried with him the American dream of running his own business one day. Through PROPEL: People Reaching Out to Provide Education and Leadership, a nonprofit that provides education and leadership through mentorship, apprenticeship and life skills training for disadvantaged youth in South Florida, the 17-year-old high school student found a mentor — Richard Weissman, the 53-year-old Chairman and CEO of The Learning Experience. The Learning Experience is one of the leading and fastest growing early education childcare franchises in the U.S., with over $250 million in nationwide revenues last year.
St. Fleur wanted to learn everything he could about running a business. Weissman took the young man under his wing, giving St. Fleur time, cultural guidance, life-long lessons, and an apprenticeship at The Learning Experience. The mentoring relationship has grown into an unlikely cross-cultural friendship, and the two men stay in contact.
“Garsendy’s entrepreneurial mentality reminds me of myself as a teenager – hungry and ready to work hard,” says Weissman. “His parents are back in Haiti and he doesn’t have a lot of what most American kids his age take for granted. After mentoring him through PROPEL, I offered him an internship at my organization because I enjoy giving people the opportunity to reach their full potential. Let me be perfectly clear: This is not a handout, but a hand. I hope to be a role model who can teach Garsendy about much more than just running a business. My hope is to provide the foundation for him to excel throughout life.”
St. Fleur says that his friendships with Weissman and the other people he met through his internship at The Learning Experience have taught him about hard work, respect and discipline. “It’s meant a lot to me. Before I met Richard, I didn’t even think about going to college. But he told me about the importance of a college education and even offered to help pay for my college tuition. After I graduate high school this year, I now plan on attending college.”
The mentoring experience has taught St. Fleur to always look for help when you need it. “There’s opportunity everywhere, you just have to take it. Don’t procrastinate. Stay positive and work hard,” he says.
For his part, Weissman feels that everyone should mentor. “Do it and do it consistently. We should all be judged solely on the positive legacy we leave behind. In that spirit, reaching back and helping others scale the walls of challenge in order to succeed is a tremendous pleasure. I also want to share the mentoring is not one-sided. I have been able to extract numerous reminders of the importance of life’s foundation by mentoring Garsendy and others.”
In his daily work as an entrepreneur and The Learning Experience Chairman and CEO, Weissman enjoys the challenges and complexities of building companies that have grown in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars. “I love developing systems and the ecosystems to support them,” he says.
However, Weissman isn’t sure he has found his life purpose. “I like to believe my ability to be nimble as well as open-minded has allowed me to consistently evolve and properly pivot during critical junctures. Sometimes blind purpose can cloud thoughtful judgment. I am a highly passionate person who is equally blessed with pragmatism. I use both of these qualities and apply them to all of life’s endeavors, both personally and professionally. However, no matter what you achieve in business, you cannot have a life purpose without knowing what’s most important. For me, that’s my family and close friends.”
Weissman does feel that how he measures success has changed over time. When he was younger, he determined success solely based on monetary accomplishments. Today, his definition of success is much broader and more visceral. “I like to say my gray hairs have been earned. I view the world more broadly and attempt to impact more globally. My current position has afforded me the opportunity to sit on the boards of several worthy charities. I have been able to make positive impact and change, and influence others to join those causes.”