Building a successful Mandarin learning platform: The Chairman’s Bao

Leeds alumni Sean McGibney and Oliver Leach share the story behind The Chairman’s Bao, the most comprehensive online news-based graded reader for students of Chinese.

How did they turn their knowledge of Chinese into a business, and how does their business fit into the wider Mandarin-learning landscape? 

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University of Leeds alumnus Sean McGibney started The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) while studying for his Mandarin and Spanish degree. He and his co-founder had seen a gap in the market for intermediate to advanced study materials catering to a wider variety of interests, and wanted to make it easier to learn by exploring different topics rather than rote-learning. 

The site has now amassed a library of over 6500 lessons across 15 categories, with 1600 new texts added each year, and forms part of teaching in over 300 global Mandarin teaching Institutions. Sean and Oliver Leach work with a native-speaking Content Team of 17 part-time writers and editors to produce the texts, starting at a few sentences for the lowest levels and progressing to more in-depth articles for advanced learners.  

With TCB forming part of teaching for established Mandarin programmes including the Mandarin Excellence Programme, Sean and Ollie have also witnessed the growth of Mandarin learning and teaching over the past few years.  

In this talk they will share their personal Mandarin-learning stories, how this interest developed into a successful business, and their insights into the business of online language-learning and the momentum around the world to study Mandarin Chinese.  

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About the speakers

  • Sean McGibney studied Chinese and Spanish at University of Leeds and founded The Chairman’s Bao alongside Tom Reid in his final year of study in 2015. Currently Managing Director of The Chairman’s Bao, he has overseen the company’s growth from university bedroom concept to an international force in the EdTech industry with over 120,000 individual users and over 300 global partner institutions. In his spare time, Sean sits on the Board of charity Leeds Irish Health and Homes and volunteers with Alzheimer’s Research UK, as well as being a keen runner and cyclist.
  • After working at an Investment Bank specialising in Mergers and Acquisitions, Oliver Leach joined the TCB Team as Business Development Manager in February 2018 and became a Director in 2020. His existing broad role at TCB spans from marketing and branding to sales and customer service. Outside of work, Oliver is a long-suffering fan of Reading FC.

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