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Alumnus of the month

Phiroza Marker (BA History 2006-09) left Warwick to work in financial services but soon realised that she wanted to be doing something different. With her brother she created Spanish Marks, a language school which employs teachers from Guatemala who connect with students from all over the world through live online classrooms. Charitable work is central to their school and they aim to give back to the communities where their teachers are based.

How did you go from Warwick to Spanish Marks?
I’ve always wanted to set up my own business. After three years working in financial advisory I decided to throw it all in and act on my impulses, setting up a Spanish language school with a charitable focus. I’ve never looked back!

What does Spanish Marks do?
Spanish Marks is an online Spanish language school based in Guatemala and the UK. I set it up with my brother, Rustom, and our friend, Sandy. We employ experienced teachers from Guatemala to teach Spanish to students all over the world through live online classrooms. The school has a really strong charitable focus, and aims to give back to our teachers’ communities in two ways:

1) working hands-on with local charities
2) donating part of the income from our Spanish lessons to charitable projects.

You studied History at Warwick, how does this help you in your career?
I approach potential customers like I would approach a history essay. I research companies which might be interested in taking on Spanish tuition, gather evidence as to why our services would help them and compose the email (making sure my argument is consistent throughout). I know it’s a well-worn phrase that History has transferrable skills, but it’s so true!

What are the most challenging parts of your work?
Since it’s an online business and there’s no physical store-front as such, there’s a constant need to think of new ways of bringing the school to people’s attention. It also means I never switch off – I’ll be shopping in the supermarket and get distracted by the idea of how I can design Spanish Marks notices for the community boards.

You’ve taken an unusual career path, what inspired you?
My dad – he got me and my siblings working in his restaurant during most summer holidays, so I had entrepreneurship drilled into my head from a young age!

What have you done that you are most proud of?
Seeing how funds from our Spanish lessons have translated into tangible results – we’re working closely with a Guatemalan charity, Asociación Fatima which helps vulnerable families at risk of malnutrition. To date we’ve helped them set up their own website so that they can publicise and collect donations on a wider scale, and also used funds from our lessons to fix their roof so there’s now a place to train women to sew and sell their products.

What drives you?
I get an adrenaline rush whenever a new customer signs up - whether it’s an individual or company. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away.

What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
More sleep!

What was your favourite aspect of the History course?
Without a doubt the term spent in Venice as part of the Renaissance module. I remember seeing the 15th century palazzo near the Grand Canal and thinking, if that didn’t motivate me for morning lectures, nothing else would!

What would you tell someone thinking of studying at Warwick?
Definitely do it! Some of my fondest memories are from my time at Warwick, and the campus experience can’t be beaten. I made my best friends there, the teaching is first class and my lungs were probably a lot healthier from breathing in all that fresh air.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently during your time as a student?
I honestly can’t think of anything! Warwick for me, gave me some of the best years of my life and I wouldn’t have changed anything.

How do you balance work and life?
At the moment it is more work than life, but there are definite perks. Travelling to Guatemala to see the teachers is more like a holiday dressed up as a business trip!

If you could choose another profession, what would it be?
Professional tennis player (if I knew how to play tennis – so this is a very hypothetical situation).

Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
I hope to have expanded the school into new areas – for example offering students the opportunity to do homestays in Guatemala combined with language classes. Also to have set up similar Spanish schools in other Latin American countries, and expanding our ethical focus.

What three objects would you take with you to a desert island?

  • Bear Grylls
  • A juice blender to make Pina Coladas from the coconuts.
  • A Kindle

What are your favourite memories of your years at Warwick?
Deciding to walk to Warwick castle (along the motorway), sleeping on the tennis courts outside Rootes, Top Banana, Tuesday nights at Smack, setting up camp in the library break-out area, and making lifelong friends.

Do you have any advice for new graduates?
Don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect job straight after university. Life takes so many unexpected twists and turns so take time to enjoy yourself!


Age: 27

Lives: London

Education: BA (Hons) History, 2006-2009, University of Warwick, MSc Management, 2010-2011, Cass Business School

Career: Co-founder of Spanish Marks

Interests: Spanish, Italian, tennis, travelling, drawing