Exit at Embanet

Eight months after Pearson paid $650 million for EmbanetCompass, several of the smaller ed tech company's senior leaders have left or are leaving.

June 28, 2013

Several senior leaders of the largest company that helps colleges take their degree programs online have jumped ship eight months after Pearson paid $650 million last fall to buy the company.

At least four senior managers who joined Pearson when it bought EmbanetCompass last year, including Embanet CEO Steve Fireng, have recently left or plan to leave Pearson.

The changes come as Pearson, a sprawling education company with about $7 billion in revenue, is combining parts of the Embanet unit with its eCollege unit amid a scramble by colleges to make sure they can appeal to a growing number of online students.

Embanet – like Bisk, Deltak, Academic Partnerships, 2U and other “enablers” – helps colleges move for-credit courses from the classroom to the web. In the process, these companies can get about 50 percent of the tuition revenue from students, making the enabling business a potentially lucrative one.

It’s unclear whether the personnel changes at Embanet will affect Pearson’s client base. When Pearson bought Embanet in October, Embanet had 35 university clients and Pearson had 10.

The departures from Embanet were not planned when Pearson announced it would buy Embanet. But they came with advanced notice, said Dave Daniels, president of Pearson’s instructional solutions group, of which Embanet is now part. Pearson took down a webpage Thursday that listed Embanet' current management team.

“I don’t think it’s anything personal, so we’re still very amicable,” Daniels said. 

Besides Fireng, Pearson also recently lost at least three others who joined the company as part of the Embanet deal. Mike Purcell, the former executive vice president of business development, left and joined Academic Partnerships, a competitor. The former chief financial officer, Patrick Donoghue, is also gone from Pearson. Former Embanet chief operating officer Paul Gleason left the company in April to go “exploring new opportunities,” according to his LinkedIn page. None of them responded to requests for comment.

But Fireng sent an e-mail to colleagues about his departure on Wednesday.

“I know I have spoken to many of you about me leaving PearsonEmbanet effective July 1st,” he said. “It has been a great ride with Embanet and Pearson, but excited about my new future.”

Still, some education insiders were unaware Thursday of his or others’ departure from Embanet. Deans and spokespeople at several universities that do business with Embanet also either did not respond to requests for comment or did not know enough to comment.

Daniels praised several of the exited or exiting Embanet leaders but said Pearson’s relationship with the clients Embanet brought was bigger than just those senior leaders and so would outlast their departure.

He said the relationships between the universities and Pearson Embanet staff at the most intimate levels would remain intact because Pearson still has account managers and staff from Embanet who design and help deliver the courses.

“That has been unscathed totally,” Daniels said.


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