June 26, 2017 / 9:02 PM / a year ago

Brazil's Wiser bets on growth in language school takeovers

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Wiser Educação SA, a chain of Brazilian language schools owned by two local tycoons, aims to double in size over the next three years by buying cash-strapped rivals across Latin America’s largest country, the company’s founder said.

Flávio Augusto da Silva, who created Wiser last month after fellow billionaire Carlos Wizard Martins agreed to buy a stake in his Wise Up chain, told Reuters that the company is eyeing targets in regions outside Brazil’s southwest region.

Wiser expects to have 1,000 schools across Brazil by the end of 2020, from about 450 now. In May, Wizard’s family spent 200 million reais ($61 million) for a 35 percent stake in Wiser, which groups the WiseUp, YouMove and Number One English language school brands.

Last week, Wiser bought all of Number One for an undisclosed sum, adding about 135 schools and 100 million reais ($30 million) in annual revenue.

With an estimated economic value of 750 million reais after the Number One purchase, Wiser’s valuation could double in a couple of years “with the right acquisitions and the right business focus,” Silva said in an interview at the weekend.

Robust income gains and social mobility allowed millions of Brazilians to enter English courses at the start of the decade, luring global investors into the sector. About 5 percent of Brazil’s population of 200 million speak a second language, giving bilingual workers the ability to negotiate salaries 40 percent to 60 percent higher, industry estimates show.

Wizard sold his English language school Grupo Multi SA to Britain’s Pearson Plc (PSON.L) for 2 billion reais in 2013.

Silva, meanwhile, bought back Wise Up from Somos Educação SA about a year ago, paying about 60 percent less for the chain than the 1 billion reais at which he sold it in 2013.

Since the repurchase, Silva undertook a drastic turnaround of WiseUp, focusing on ending years of high delinquencies on student loans and soaring operational costs. Acquisitions could go beyond language schools although remain restricted to Brazil’s education industry, he added.

Wiser has most of its schools located in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte - Brazil’s most populous cities - as well as the wealthy national capital, Brasilia, and the southern city of Curitiba.

Silva, who owns the Orlando City Soccer Club in the U.S. Major League Soccer, declined to elaborate on potential targets.

Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; editing by Diane Craft

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