The chairman and chief executive officer of the education software company Plato Learning Inc. abruptly resigned last month, soon after the company’s chief financial officer and its vice president of sales and marketing quit.
The departure of John Murray, an 18-year veteran of the Minneapolis-based for-profit company, was announced Nov. 17, a week after the exits of Chief Financial Officer Gregory Melsen and sales chief Robert Kilgarriff. The flurry of departures caused industry analysts to wonder about the stability of the Bloomington, Minn.-based company, which produces academic software and assessment products and data management tools.
“What went wrong here?” said Richard Close, an analyst at the New York investment bank Jefferies & Co., in a Nov. 17 conference call with the company. “Was it something John [Murray] did or didn’t do?”
Plato Learning board member David Smith, a former CEO of the data-collection company Pearson NCS, has been named interim CEO. He said that Mr. Murray’s resignation was a mutual decision by Mr. Murray and the Plato Learning board.
In a statement, Mr. Murray said: “I am pleased that I am leaving a company that is well positioned. . . . I believe in the company and its prospects and will remain a stockholder.”
Plato’s former CFO, Mr. Melsen, left to join another company, and his departure was merely coincidental with Mr. Murray’s, according to Mr. Smith, who would not elaborate on Mr. Kilgarriff’s departure.
Mr. Smith credited Mr. Murray with building the company from $33 million in revenues in 1997 to an expected $140 million this year.
But Mr. Smith also said that while Mr. Murray helped the company grow with a series of acquisitions, such as the buyout of rival Lightspan Inc., “the board has been less satisfied with the organic growth of the business.”
The price of Plato Learning’s stock, which is traded on the Nasdaq, fell to a 52-week low after the announcement of Mr. Murray’s departure. The price closed at $7.02 a share on Dec. 1, down from a high of $13.50 in late February.