Skillsoft’s March 14 sale to Charterhouse Capital Partners for a reported $2.3 billion caught the attention of the e-learning industry as Skillsoft is a major player in the space. But, it’s easy to turn a transaction into a trend, and the Skillsoft sale is being viewed as both a success and a sign of interest in the e-learning marketplace.
It certainly was a success for Skillsoft ownership triumvirate of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Partners, Advent International and Bain Capital, said Mollie Lombardi, vice president and principal analyst at the Aberdeen Group in Boston.
Lombardi estimated that Berkshire and Co. as much as tripled their initial investment. “It’s not a bad day’s work,” she said.
As for what the Skillsoft sale might mean for e-learning, Lombardi said it shows “continued growth and focus on the learning sector. As management shows an increasing interest in learning, and the economy improves, “the focus will be on new development,” Lombardi explained. “Organizations view learning as a way to combat the skills shortage and build from within.”
So why sell? Lombardi said some of the reason may lie in the nature of private equity ownership. “Its not so much about their passion in the company and its mission, it’s about making an investment and making a profit for the shareholders,” she explained.
Plus, the Skillsoft ownership was a conglomerate of equity firms, rather than a single owner. Charterhouse may or may not be a better fit than Berkshire-Advent-Bain, but the firm’s ownership will be under one roof. “Multiple firms may have different priorities for their investors, so it might be an improvement” of ownership for Skillsoft.
As to what kind of environment Skillsoft will be in as Charterhouse takes over, Lombardi said mobile, video and unstructured are trends. “What we’re seeing in our research is how mobile and social are intertwined. In addition, half of learning is unstructured, just-in-time,” Lombardi added. So future e-learning will need to balance and support the structured and unstructured, she said.
–by Richard Acello