As e-Literate readers know, Ray Henderson is no longer President of Learning Platforms and is now serving on the company’s Board of Directors instead. This sort of thing naturally sets of all sorts of concerns and speculation. I had the good fortune to be able to speak with Ray today and have some details straight from the horse’s mouth.
First, he made it clear that this change was initiated by him rather than the company, and it was for reasons unrelated to Blackboard politics or direction. A lot of people don’t know that Ray’s family still lives in Indianapolis; both his kids and his parents are half a country away when he is at Blackboard headquarters in Washington D.C. Euphemisms aside, when he told me that he needed to spend more time with his family, I believed him. I also believed him when he told me that both Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt and company owners Providence Equity Partners have been working hard to find alternative arrangements that would keep him involved with Blackboard in a meaningful way. Ray made it clear that he will continue to be a very active participant in Blackboard product planning, albeit now in a non-operational role. Boards on Private Equity-owned companies are different from those in publicly traded ones in that way; it is not abnormal for a member of the Board of a PE-owned company to be actively involved in decision-making on a focused and part-time basis.
Ray used a lot of the first person plural pronoun—we—when talking about Blackboard’s work going forward. I didn’t get any less of a sense of enthusiasm for what the company is doing than I did when I spoke with him a few weeks ago. I believe he will continue to have meaningful involvement with the company. Whether the new executives being brought in will perform well remains to be seen, but if they have the benefit of Ray’s perspective and experience in the strange market that is higher education, then parts of his job that he will no longer be doing are easier for a seasoned technology executive from another industry to take on and do well. (In fact, in some cases those parts may be better managed by more of an operational specialist.) There’s no question that Ray’s reduced involvement is a loss for Blackboard, but it’s being mitigated and, most importantly, it’s not an indicator that executive management failed to recognize the substantial improvements in the company that have taken place on his watch.
Beyond that, we can make some reasonable guesses about what Ray’s future might look like. In addition to a continuing part-time commitment to Blackboard, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved in due diligence evaluations for Providence when they consider acquiring ed tech companies. Nor would I be surprised to see him involved with other ed tech companies. He mentioned, for example, that he is on the Board of In The Telling. Ray is still a fairly young guy and seems as fired up as ever about education and entrepreneurialism. I doubt that he is going to fade away any time soon.