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Hong Kong's 'celebrity tutors' turn millionaires

By Anna Coren, CNN
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Tutors turn celebrity
  • Richard Eng operates 12 tutorial schools in Hong Kong and has just opened one in Tokyo
  • He has 50,000 students, employs 300; Last year he earned over US$1 million
  • He and his tutors promote themselves in adverts to appear like glamorous pop, movie stars
  • Hundreds of tutorial schools are attended by about a third of all students to improve grades
  • Hong Kong
  • China

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- Dressed in Louis Vuitton from head to toe with the exception of a Gucci belt, Richard Eng stands out in his neighborhood in Hong Kong's New Territories. When we arrive at his home, the 45 year old father of one warmly welcomes us. His manners are as impeccable as the hairstyle and clothes that he proudly wears. But it's not the chic and manicured man standing in front of us that's caught our attention -- but the bright yellow Lamborghini parked in his driveway.

Now, as we all know, teachers around the world are renowned for being over worked and underpaid; but that rule does NOT apply to Hong Kong's "celebrity tutors" and Richard Eng is living proof. Twenty years ago he began working as a teacher. During the day he'd teach his school students, and then at night he'd work as a tutor. Through word of mouth, these evening classes grew to the point where he set up his own tutorial school. Eng then decided to take the business to the next level -- advertising in newspapers and on television and that's when the transformation began.

He understood the interest, fascination and obsession with celebrities and began marketing his services with that in mind. With billboards, glossy brochures, eye catching TV commercials and model photo shoots, he and his tutors in their designer gear, fashionable haircuts and Hollywood smiles, appear more like pop or movie stars promoting their latest album or film than anything resembling a teacher. And it's paid off.

He now operates 12 schools in Hong Kong and has just opened one in Tokyo. He has a total of 50,000 students, employs 300 staff and last year he personally took home more than US$1 million. Eng says: "This is a chance in Hong Kong for some people to teach and help students. At the same time, students come to class and see something beautiful and they learn exam skills ... that's why we're worth it and why we are here."

Students come to class and see something beautiful ... that's why we're worth it and why we are here.
--Richard Eng

With this success, Eng has reaped the financial rewards. He not only owns a US$500,000 Lamborghini that he drives to work most days, but also owns property all over Hong Kong and has a designer wardrobe and watch collection that would rival any fashionista. But he's not content with the status quo and has plans to expand into China next year.

He admits some of his students are attracted to his celebrity status but dismisses this as the core reason for his success. "I have to say they may come to me at the beginning out of curiosity, but as time goes by they realize I can teach them exam skills very important in Hong Kong."

Tutorial schools are big business in Hong Kong. Four major schools dominate, but there are hundreds of others -- attended by approximately one third of all students. They pay approximately US$130 a month to improve their grades in a society where information is power.

One of Eng's students is 18-year-old Daisy Chung who has been attending his English class for the past two years. "My grade improved from C to B ... now I hope there's room for improvement."

While the big names like Richard Eng are multi-millionaires, the average celebrity tutors earn more than US$120,000 a year. Government teachers take home less than half that. The Education Department says while the tutorial schools are popular, it doesn't endorse them. Deputy Secretary for Hong Kong Education Dr Stephanie Chan says: "I'm concerned how parents and students use the services ... whether the money is spent wisely, but if it proves to help then I don't have the right to say I disapprove of it."

But as long as children's education is considered an investment, Eng and his colleagues will continue to make the sums of money that most people can only dream of.