Follett School Solutions has announced that Chris Porter has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer, Software. Britten Follett continues as Chief Executive Officer, Content. This dual CEO structure is not common, and is an interesting characteristic of this company that preserves the continuity of its earlier business environment as it moves forward under new ownership.
Follett School Solutions separated from Follett Corporation through its September 2021 acquisition by private equity firm Francisco Partners. Paul Ilse, an operating partner for Francisco Partners and former CEO of Discovery Education, was named as the CEO, Software following that transition. Ilse will continue his involvement with Follett School Solutions as the chair of its board of directors.
Chris Porter comes to Follett School Solutions with executive experience in the educational technology sector. Most recently he was CEO of Apex Learning, a provider of digital curriculum content and technology. In July 2021 Apex Learning was acquired by Edmentum, an educational technology company owned by the investment firm Vistria Group. Porter exited Apex Learning following the acquisition.
Prior to Apex Learning, Porter was President and K-12 General Manager for PowerSchool, offering a unified platform to support K-12 educational solutions for finance, personnel, attendance, instruction, grading, and analytics. The PowerSchool software was initially developed and the company founded by Greg Porter, with the first installation of this student information system in 1997. Chris Porter joined the startup in 1998 as Vice President of Sales. He continued when the company was acquired by Apple in 2001 and joined Pearson in 2006 when it acquired PowerSchool and continued with the company in a series of roles, including Executive Vice President responsible for Pearson's K-12 Learning Services in North America. Porter continued with PowerSchool group for two years following its acquisition by Vista Equity Partners from Pearson. PowerSchool had been a portfolio company of Vista Equity Partners since 2015, and launched an initial public offering in July 2021.
Francisco Partners' investments in Educational Technology
Francisco Partners has previously made major acquisitions in K-12 educational technology companies. In recent months, it has made partial exits in these investments:
- Renaissance Learning. Acquired in Francisco Partners in 2018, Renaissance Learning provides assessment, teaching, and learning solutions used by about a third of all K-12 public schools in the US. Blackstone recently became a major investor in Renaissance Learning, with Francisco Partners continuing as a major shareholder.
- Discovery Education. Francisco Partners acquired majority interest in Discovery Education in February 2018; Francisco Partners recently sold its majority interest in company to Clearlake Capital Group. Former Follett School Solutions CEO and current board chair Paul Ilse served as CEO of Discovery Education following its acquisition by Francisco Partners through December 2020.
These two exits signal a bit of repositioning of Francisco Partner's investment portfolio in the K-12 educational technology sector, which seems now more centered on Follett School Solutions. It will be interesting to see whether Francisco Partners makes additional follow-on investments into this company as it did with Renaissance and Discovery Education.
In the higher education sector, Francisco Partners currently has a majority investment position in Civitas Learning, which provides solutions to help higher educational institutions retain students through predictive analytics, received major investment from Francisco Partnersin February 2019.
VitalSource, a company that develops electronic textbooks and technologies for the creation of educational resources for academic institutions, became a portfolio company of Francisco Partners in April 2021 when it was acquired from Ingram Content Group.