June 14, 2021
Spotlight: Vance Spilman, CEO of LeafSpring Schools
In some ways, LeafSpring Schools, the Richmond, VA-based company that operates and franchises early childhood education schools in Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and Texas and overseas, is like a startup, said Vance H. Spilman, who took over as its CEO in June 2015.
“This company has been around a long time and has really spent so much time attracting quality educators that have built such an impressive pedigree of teachers and curriculum, but, really, we haven’t expanded the brand externally,” said Spilman, speaking from the company’s corporate office off Cox Road in western Henrico.
“It’s been up to the owners and … the people here to keep that will-not-compromise level of offerings to the parents and families, and we are going to maintain that as we grow nationally,” said Spilman.
The growth he envisions could consist of as many as 200 LeafSpring Schools similar to the flagship center in western Richmond that offers nursery school, preschool, kindergarten, after-school and summer camp programs, in addition to a unique day care center for mildly ill children.
Founder and former CEO Gail W. Johnson, who remains the company’s chairman, started her career as a pediatric nurse and had the idea to include the sick child unit, making LeafSpring Schools unique among child care centers at the time it was founded in 1989. It remains unique even today.
“We will be increasing the organizational infrastructure … to better accommodate more units. We’ll be hiring staff, but it’s really my charge to make sure that we right-size those operational functions commiserate with our franchisee base so that we don’t get ahead of ourselves” he said.
Spilman knows a thing or two about growing a business. He is the former president and chief operating officer of frozen yogurt chain Sweet Frog Enterprises LLC. The Chesterfield County-based yogurt restaurant operator, founded in 2009, was in a growth spurt when the owner sold it to a local private equity firm in February 2015.
Before that, Spilman was chief financial officer of Monument Restaurants, the largest Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchise operator in the country at the time. The franchise owner purchased development rights to 314 locations nationwide and raised $43 million of private equity capital to fund that expansion.
“I love the ability to effectuate change on a very localized level. You are not just a cog in a great big company,” Spilman said.
“Every decision we make here every day has a profound effect on the future of the business. I am so blessed to be part of a great management team that was here already and will add to that. I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt more personal satisfaction out of working in an industry that does something as notable as helping young kids. Everyone here shares that,” he said.
Adapted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch 2016 article