The Massive Decline In Larger Education Company Market Caps

After our coverage of Blackboard’s CEO change last week, we were both interviewed by the Washington Business Journal, with the following lede:

Analysts and sources I spoke with Monday, both on and off the record, said the decision to bring on Bill Ballhaus as CEO was a combination of Bhatt failing to make progress building the company’s business and lacking the experience needed to successfully run a company of that scale. And that means at least several years before Providence Equity Partners, which owns a majority of the company after paying $1.64 billion for it in July 2011, begins actively marketing the company for sale, according to industry experts.

Earlier this week I wrote about Apollo Education Group, parent of the University of Phoenix, putting itself up for sale due to its weakening financial position. I also noted that I doubt that McGraw-Hill Education is going to be able to go public in the near-term. Part of the reason for this latter observation is the dramatic fall of Pearson in the stock market, triggered by its warnings that it would miss earnings estimates. In Audrey’s excellent year-end post on the business of ed tech, she noted:

Private equity firms sure love buying ed-tech companies. Perhaps because the stock market’s sorta “meh” about them.

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Solving the Ed Tech Patent Problem

You may have heard that Khan Academy has filed for several patents. Audrey Watters has written a really strong piece providing the details of the filings in the context of the history of ed tech patents and showing why some academics feel that the patent system clashes with the values upon which academia was built. In the process, she excavates some of my personal history in the Blackboard patent war. While I am sympathetic to arguments against ed tech or software patents on principle, my own personal reasons for getting involved with that fight were more utilitarian. I believed then, as I do now, that patents threaten to kill innovation in educational technology due to the specific characteristics of the market. The outcome of Blackboard v. Desire2Learn did not end that threat, although it did temporarily reduce it. The conversation being provoked by Khan Academy’s filings offers a new opportunity to come up with a more permanent solution. Continue reading

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Parent Company of University of Phoenix Could Be Sold to Owner of McGraw-Hill Education

Apollo Education Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix as well as Apollo Global, is in “advanced talks” to be purchased by Apollo Global Management, owner of McGraw-Hill Education and of Cengage debt. Got that?

To clarify, the Apollo Education Group is the parent company of the University of Phoenix, and they have a subsidiary called Apollo Global, which is a joint venture with the Carlyle Group, another private equity firm. While the confusion is understandable, Apollo Global Management previously shared nothing in common with the Apollo Education Group other than their admiration for the choir-directing sun-god.

With that in mind, here is the news from the Wall Street Journal today:

A deal between Phoenix-based Apollo Education and Apollo Global Management, a New York private-equity firm, could be worth about $1 billion, some of the people said, with one of them adding an agreement could be reached in the next few weeks. Apollo Education had been in discussions with a number of private-equity firms since late last year, but Apollo Global Management is the only one still in the running now, this person said.

It is possible, as always, in such situations that there will be no deal, and another buyout firm could re-emerge.

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What Blackboard’s New CEO Needs to Do Now (and how you can tell if he’s doing it)

As Phil noted in his post, Blackboard has hired a new CEO, a guy by the name of Bill Ballhaus. We don’t know much about him yet, other than that he came from outside education. (That shouldn’t be considered a disqualifier, by the way. Instructure CEO Josh Coates also came from outside education, for example, and he has kept most of his customers very happy so far.) We’ll learn more about him over the next days, weeks, and months. In the meantime, it’s worth taking some time to consider the challenge he has in front of him.

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Blackboard Replaces CEO Jay Bhatt: What happened

Just over four years since Providence Equity Partners acquired Blackboard and three years after they brought in Jay Bhatt to replace co-founder Michael Chasen, the company announced another change in CEO. Blackboard has removed Jay Bhatt and replaced him with Bill Ballhaus. The official reason from the announcement:

Today, we are fortunate to be joined by a great leader – our new CEO Bill Ballhaus. Bill’s philosophy is directly in line with ours and his skill set is going to help us reach new heights. While this is certainly a change for Blackboard, rest assured that the heart of our mission and strategy will remain the same. [snip]

So we have defined our strategy and now, with Bill joining the company, we’ll continue to execute against it. Bill has accomplished much over his career and his operational expertise has led various businesses to great success. He and I share a fundamental belief that if you make your first priority taking care of your customers, the business results will follow. So, under his leadership Blackboard will continue our focus on doing just that. We will deliver next generation teaching and learning capabilities to the market, continue our international growth, and improve even further the way we serve our customers and strive to exceed their expectations. Bill is uniquely positioned to help us execute against these priorities, and with him we’ll achieve significant advances for our customers and for Blackboard.

While the official messaging is ‘full steam ahead’, to me this is a straightforward story that we have already been covering at e-Literate. In a nutshell, the attempted sale of Blackboard this year has failed, and the company has stalled in its turnaround attempts. Continue reading

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