Lau­re­ate CEO Becker to step down

Founder will be suc­ceeded by two long-serv­ing se­nior ex­ec­u­tives

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Sarah Gantz Bal­ti­more Sun re­porter Lor­raine Mirabella con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. sarah.gantz@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sarah­gantz

Lau­re­ate Ed­u­ca­tion Inc. founder Dou­glas Becker is step­ping down as president and CEO of the Bal­ti­more for-profit uni­ver­sity sys­tem at the end of the year.

Two of Lau­re­ate’s most-se­nior and long­est-serv­ing ex­ec­u­tives have been named his suc­ces­sors, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1. Eilif Ser­ck­Hanssen, 51, the com­pany’s chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer, will take over as CEO. Ri­cardo Ber­ck­e­meyer, 47, Lau­re­ate’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, will be­come president.

Becker, 51, will stay on with the com­pany as non-ex­ec­u­tive board chair­man.

"I am proud and grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to found and lead this re­mark­able com­pany which is help­ing so many stu­dents around the world achieve their dreams,” Becker said in a state­ment. “Lau­re­ate is a pi­o­neer in demon­strat­ing that qual­ity and scale in ed­u­ca­tion can go hand in hand.”

The com­pany’s stock fell 16 cents per share Thurs­day to close at $14.66 each.

In an in­ter­view, Becker said the lead­er­ship tran­si­tion was in the in­ter­est of en­sur­ing that Lau­re­ate — a com­pany that has changed course mul­ti­ple times over the years — would con­tinue to evolve.

“When you cre­ate some­thing, you tend to ob­sess a lot on how to make sure it out­lasts you and it’s durable,” Becker said. “The best way to be durable is through re­newal and change.”

Head­quar­tered in Har­bor East, Lau­re­ate has grown into the largest global net­work of de­gree-grant­ing higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, own­ing and op­er­at­ing 71 uni­ver­si­ties in 25 coun­tries, many in emerg­ing mar­kets. The firm em­ploys more than 67,000 peo­ple glob­ally and about 1,130 at its of­fices in Bal­ti­more and Columbia. It is one of the few “B Corp” com­pa­nies, those cer­ti­fied as meet­ing stan­dards of so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance and ac­count­abil­ity, to go pub­lic.

The com­pany was born out of Syl­van Learn­ing Corp., a tu­tor­ing com­pany Becker and his busi­ness part­ners ac­quired in 1991. By that time, Mary­land na­tive Becker, who at­tended the Gil­man School and was ac­cepted at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity but never at­tended, al­ready had achieved en­tre­pre­neur­ial suc­cess. At 19, he de­vel­oped the wal­let-sized “LifeCard,” which was en­coded with a per­son’s medical his­tory and adopted by health in­sur­ers. Becker

Over the years Syl­van be­came known as a pi­o­neer in fran­chise­based pri­vate tu­tor­ing, and ex­panded to in­clude other ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices, in­clud­ing test prepa­ra­tion and a net­work of in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties.

“Play­ing a lead­er­ship role and tak­ing chances is some­thing that has al­ways felt very re­ward­ing to me,” Becker said. Becker is viewed as one of the early lead­ers of the ed-tech move­ment in Bal­ti­more, said Frank Bon­sal, di­rec­tor of ven­ture cre­ation in the di­vi­sion of In­no­va­tion & Ap­plied Re­search at Tow­son Uni­ver­sity’s TU In­cu­ba­tor.

In 2003 Syl­van di­vested its epony­mous tu­tor­ing com­pany and a year later re­named it­self Lau­re­ate Ed­u­ca­tion to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on higher ed­u­ca­tion.

The com­pany went pub­lic in1993 and was taken pri­vate again in 2007. Lau­re­ate went pub­lic again this past Fe­bru­ary, rais­ing $490 mil­lion in an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing. In its most re­cent quar­terly re­port, for the Aprilto-June pe­riod, the com­pany re­ported a profit of $117.1 mil­lion on rev­enues of nearly $1.28 bil­lion, a 3.7 per­cent in­crease as over­all en­roll­ment grew 2 per­cent year-over-year.

Lau­re­ate and Becker made head­lines last sum­mer dur­ing the po­lar­iz­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, when Hillary Clin­ton’s cam­paign re­leased tax re­turns that showed Lau­re­ate had paid for­mer President Bill Clin­ton $17.6 mil­lion over six years to serve as its hon­orary chair­man. Dur­ing that time, Hillary Clin­ton was sec­re­tary of state and Lau­re­ate was ac­quir­ing uni­ver­si­ties around the world. The part­ner­ship with Bill Clin­ton had been an­nounced in 2010.

In Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment, Lau­re­ate said Becker’s tran­si­tion plan had been in the works for sev­eral years.

Both Serck-Hanssen and Ber­ck­e­meyer were pro­moted in March 2017 to their cur­rent roles.

Prior to his pro­mo­tion to chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Ber­ck­e­meyer served as CEO of Latin Amer­ica for the com­pany. He joined Lau­re­ate in 2002.

Serck-Hanssen joined Lau­re­ate in 2008 as chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, and pre­vi­ously held man­age­ment roles at Pep­siCo, North­west Air­lines and US Air­ways.

As for Becker, step­ping away from the daily re­spon­si­bil­ity of run­ning Lau­re­ate will free him up for other op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“I have a back­ground as an en­tre­pre­neur,” he said. “It’s hard for me to en­vi­sion not do­ing more en­tre­pre­neur­ial things in busi­ness and so­cial en­ter­prise.”

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