Irini & Halim Mikhael: Nurturing the World’s Future

Irini Mikhael | Chief Operating Officer AND Halim Mikhael | President & CEO
Irini Mikhael | Chief Operating Officer AND Halim Mikhael | President & CEO

Children require a good environment and proper nurturing for them to blossom into their whole potential. It is crucial for children to inculcate the principles that eventually develop values. Especially in the initial stages of toddlerhood, when children are particularly vulnerable, they can’t be left alone without supervision. As a result, many working parents often find themselves availing of daycare facilities to leave their children in the care of trusted adults and safe environments. But what does a secure and nurturing childcare look like?

When 25-year-old Irini Mikhael was looking for a daycare establishment nearby; she wasn’t happy with the services being offered. Being an engineer, she decided to come up with her solution instead.

Irini, along with her husband Halim Mikhael, built and designed the first headquarters of Lullaboo Nursery and Childcare Centre in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Almost 14 years later, Lullaboo has fourteen locations scattered in the Greater Toronto Area, with construction on more locations underway. Currently, Irini is the Chief Operating Officer, and Halim is the President and CEO of Lullaboo along 450 Lullabooian staff.

Lullaboo’s environment facilitates learning opportunities while supporting the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children. Its philosophy is based on child development principles, centering on the concept of interaction and exploration during play as a natural way of learning.

Its teacher-supported environment engages children learning experiences and fosters healthy self-esteem in each child, providing a sense of belonging, well-being, and the ability to express themselves. Lullaboo believes that children deserve to be surrounded by knowledgeable and qualified educators.

Irini and Halim Mikhael, in an exclusive interview with CIOLook, define what a nurturing childcare environment looks like. Below are its excerpts:

Brief us about your career path as a leader up until your current position at your organization. What were the challenges that you had to overcome to scale your progress?

The biggest challenge was the municipalities and the red tape within them. We needed to get permits from municipalities and cities in order for us to be able to build the centers faster. For example, in the city of Brampton, it took us four years to get a building permit for one of our locations. Obtaining a building permit shouldn’t take four years.

Tell us more about Lullaboo Nursery and Child Care Center, highlighting its mission and vision.

Lullaboo is a service community. Therefore, anywhere that we go, we are the cornerstone of that community and ensure to fulfil the crucial need of the families. We work to make sure that we can look after the kids while the parents can worry-free do their jobs and go to work.

What do you believe is the significant factor for the woman and business arena, and what is the most important aspect of your success that adds to this fundamental?

Any leader, woman or man, especially over the last few years and over COVID, has to understand the reasoning behind their business existence. Once they have that foundation, then they’re able to push through to make sure that their services or their business are meeting those criteria for their existence.

We had to pivot quite a lot during the pandemic and through the last few years. Initially, we operated as emergency care, where we open 24-hour days for frontline employees. Even our interaction with children had to evolve along with the toys that were used in the classroom, our teaching methodology, our grouping of children – everything.

We learned that without the entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to envision how to provide the services, you wouldn’t be able to survive or embrace these changes. Therefore, it’s crucial to know your core reason of existence and then work toward achieving it.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted the education and development industry through your expertise in the niche.

Being a premier educational institution, you start from the ground up and create something that you believe in wholeheartedly. And you do it for the better good. It’s not just a business that exists to just make money.

It is something that is there for advancing and to better the next generation and to see how you can impact the next generation. Naturally, when you do that well, everything else will come together, and the whole-hearted passion that you have becomes evident to everybody that crosses your path.

What strategies do you implement to promote gender diversity for various leadership positions at your organization?

We have a problem with gender diversity because childcare is mostly for women, as 90% of our workforce are women. So, I think in terms of gender diversity, we have a lot of opportunities. We have a unique experience living and operating Lullaboo in the GTA, where we live and embrace diversity. We are very strong is bringing ethnic and cultural diversity and are able to represent the community we are in at each center. When we sit down to make decisions and we are at the same table with managers from different parts of the world yet all live in the GTA. We are also able to cater and make decisions to help children from all parts of the world that also live in the GTA.

Our children in the center are mostly from Ontario, which is an extremely diverse place. In order to be able to service our children’s needs and understand their cultural diversity at the management level, we do need that cultural diversity to shine through. I think that’s our strength. When we sit down in one of our meetings, it’s like the world meeting is gathering.

What values do you incorporate to enhance the work culture of Lullaboo Nursery and Childcare Center?

Halim: Making sure that everybody is there for the right reason. We started this business to make sure that we can trust our own children into this institution into every classroom and with every teacher. It’s the same values and attributes that we look for in everybody else.

Do we have that trust in the person? Do they share the same values, the same regard of children’s capabilities and potential that we would trust our own children with? Those types of values are very important in the industry as we’re dealing with vulnerable children that need to be cared for.

What according to you, could be the next significant change in the education and development sector? How you both are preparing for the change?

A lot of government regulations as childcare is a very regulated environment. One of the biggest factors we’re dealing with in Canada is universal childcare and access to affordable daycare. The biggest issue for next couple of years will be going through that exercise with the rest of the country to ensure that childcare is affordable and daycare maintains a high-quality atmosphere and high-quality environment and curriculum.

In order to navigate these challenges for the upcoming years, business fundamentals like economies of scale and proactive efficiency will be very important.

This is along with the technology that has sprung up. Every child nowadays knows how to use an iPad, which can be both good and bad for any child. So, it is critical to ensure that the technology we have at our disposal is being used for good. We also have to make sure that while children use technology, they understand these are tools to be used in their education and not something to become dependent on.

Where do you envision yourself in the long run, and what are your future goals for Lullaboo Nursery and Childcare Center?

Halim: Our company’s current objective is to reach 25 locations by 2025. To achieve that goal, it would be crucial to show the scalability of our operations over the next couple of years. After that, we’ll be able to expand in other areas while making sure that we continue to educate children and deliver the curriculum that benefits that we bring to children in all of our markets.

Irini: Additionally, it is important to ensure that children with exceptional needs are well integrated within our facilities. We really strive to make sure that we are diverse in every aspect, including children with special needs. We are also very strong leaders with the SickKids Foundation. We have committed a million dollars of donation by 2025 to the foundation. Thus, it kind of goes together; we are striving for 25 locations by 2025 and donated a million dollars to the SickKids Foundation in Ontario.

What advice would give to the next generation of former leaders willing to venture into the modern business area right now?

I think one advice that every entrepreneur needs– find your personal why, then wake every morning to see how you can achieve it. Learn from your mistakes, and create a safe environment for yourself and others around you. Once you do that you will achieve great things. Passion is always greater than goals. So, make sure that you are passionate about what you are doing, and you’ll always make the right decision in achieving your goals.