School & District Management

As Ed-Tech Competition Ratchets Up, Blackboard CEO to Step Down

By Jason Tomassini — October 23, 2012 3 min read
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Blackboard Inc. announced last week that its chief executive officer will step down, the latest change for the educational software giant, which faces increasing competition in selling learning-management systems to schools and colleges.

Michael Chasen, 41, one of Blackboard’s co-founders and the only one still involved in its day-to-day operations, will leave his job as CEO in December, the company said.

Blackboard’s larger business is in higher education, but its products are used widely in K-12 classrooms as well. Its offerings include classroom-management software, collaborative-learning tools, and data-management services.

Some educators applaud Blackboard for helping them use technology to improve teaching and learning, but others complain its products are not easy to use and say the company could do a better job addressing those concerns.

Michael Chasen is the outgoing CEO of Blackboard.

Since its acquisition in July 2011 by the private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners, based in Providence, R.I., for $1.6 billion, the Washington-based Blackboard has been through dramatic changes and encountered rising competition from open-source software, which is free to outside developers to use and revise. Educators must pay licensing fees for the use of Blackboard products.

Mr. Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky, former co-workers in the higher education practice at KPMG Consulting, started the company in 1997.

“While it has been a great privilege to lead the company for so long, the board of directors and I have decided that now is the right time to bring on a new CEO to help the company take the next steps to carry this vision forward,” Mr. Chasen wrote in a blog last week.

Acquiring Competitors

William Raduchel, who has worked in the education and technology fields for decades, stepped down from Blackboard’s board of directors in February, citing disagreements with the company’s direction, according to the Washington Business Journal.

In March, the company surprised the educational technology world by acquiring Moodlerooms and NetSpot, two companies that built learning-management systems and provided services around the open-source Moodle software. Both of those companies were seen as competitors to Blackboard, which was not viewed as being friendly to the open-source-software community.

Mr. Chasen’s replacement will be Jay Bhatt, the president and CEO of Progress Software, a publicly traded company in Bedford, Mass., that provides management software and training services to help companies with their technological infrastructure. Before joining Progress last year, he was a senior vice president at Autodesk Inc., a 3-D-design software company.

A search for a new Blackboard CEO has been “under way for some time,” said Matthew Maurer, a Blackboard spokesman. He said Mr. Chasen had agreed to stay on for at least a year after the acquisition by Providence Equity.

Observers said Mr. Bhatt’s hiring seems to be another step toward Blackboard’s becoming a company that helps schools and colleges implement a wide range of software products, rather than a company selling its own software.

“This is simultaneously investing in multiple products, rather than thinking any one approach is going to do,” Blackboard’s chief technology officer, Ray Henderson, said in discussing that strategy in an interview in March.

Other educational technologycompanies also appear to be taking that path. For instance, Promethean World, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based interactive-whiteboard company that has faced intense competition, is planning to shift to helping schools put in place a wide range of software products, according to company officials.

In a blog post last week, Mr. Henderson explained the shift Blackboard is making, though he offered few details about how its direction might change under new leadership. He lauded Mr. Chasen’s tenure, during which Blackboard became publicly traded in 2004, valued at $400 million; made several acquisitions, including control of Edline, a K-12 technology company; and became one of the first educational technology startups to grow into a large corporation.

A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helps support coverage of the education marketplace and new approaches to schooling in Education Week and on edweek.org.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2012 edition of Education Week as As Ed-Tech Market Evolves, CEO of Blackboard to Step Down

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