Tom Reckman (29) studied business administration at VU Amsterdam and started tutoring on the side. Ultimately, this led to the inception of the Pallas Athena Group tutoring agency, which provides tutoring and exam training to university students in the Netherlands and Germany.
He shows us around a classical building just around the corner of Vondelpark. Sunlight is beaming in through the high windows, but Tom prefers his office, hidden away in the building’s dark basement. “That’s where I’m least distracted.”
In another interview, you mentioned that you live your life in as structured a manner as possible. How’s that?
“I try to plan my days carefully, by the minute. I get up at 07.45 am every day, for instance, and arrive at the office at 8.29 am. Not because I’m neurotic, but because I enjoy living life as optimally as possible. I love my job, so why wouldn’t I? I also plan my life outside work as carefully as possible: I set food timers and exercise when my focus tends to dip.
Your concentration levels are supposed to be at their lowest between 3.30 and 4.30 pm, and yet you suggested meeting at 4 pm.
“Haha, theoretically that’s correct. However, I’ve just come back from Los Angeles, so my rhythm has changed. The main drawback of a tight schedule is that you suffer more when you deviate from it. I’m deliberately drinking coffee now, by the way, so you have my undivided attention.”
Your side job got a bit out of hand. Tell me more.
“I was already tutoring my classmates when I was still in high school. When I was a student, I noticed that my fellow students struggled with subjects such as mathematics and accounting, so I kept on tutoring. After a while, I started a course due to popular demand. It continued to grow organically from then on, and after 6.5 years, I now have 2,400 employees who handle the tutoring.”
Did you start to rival the lecturers?
“No. In fact, I got along with them very well, because I was very enthusiastic about the course material. It’s not that students started skipping lectures to be tutored by me instead. Professors typically don’t have all the time they want and need, so my services were a supplement of sorts. I even asked the professors to check some of my tutoring material.”
Have you always been an entrepreneur?
“I’ve done everything you could possibly imagine. I traded in computer games and Pokémon cards, and I’d done chores for money when I was younger. I wouldn’t go to just ten houses, though, but do the entire village. I took it very seriously, planning which streets I’d go to, what times would be best and what I should say to people.”
Is that why you decided to study business administration?
“I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do, so I started leafing through prospectuses and found business administration. One of the career options listed by the prospectus was manager, which appealed to me. The course was interesting. You learn a little bit about a wide range of topics, with the main drawback that you don’t really take a deep dive into anything. Still, I never regretted my choice, because the general nature of the course means I still find myself putting a lot of what I learnt into practice.”
What will the future hold?
“Five years from now, we’ll have a presence in many more countries than we do now and we might have started with online tutoring. I’m sure that I’ll be just as involved as I am now, although I also know how to delegate tasks and manage people. Ultimately, I’ve become the manager I always hoped I’d be.”