Former FT Exec Takes Reins at Britain's TES

Former FT Exec Takes Reins at Britain's TES

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Here's a question that many, many teachers in the UK will ace--and a few million more around the globe will, too: Name an organization that has made a bounteous library of hundreds of thousands of pieces of content, available to teachers for free. And, for US readers, here’s another hint: In the US, it partnered with the American Federation of Teachers to create ShareMyLesson.

Got it? US readers get a pass if the name TES Global didn’t spring to mind. The London-based publisher has had a significant role in the UK and even internationally, but a smaller presence in the US. Now that may change.

Last week, TES, announced it has a new chief executive, Rob Grimshaw. Grimshaw joined TES in November 2014 as chief operating officer, after having spent 16 years at the Financial Times. Long-time TES leader, Louise Rogers, has moved up to be chairperson. That change is the most recent in a series of management switches, including the 2013 acquisition of TES by San Francisco private-equity powerhouse, TPG Capital LLP. TPG paid $600 million for the London-based education company.

At the Financial Times, Grimshaw played a big role in both transforming the pink broadsheet into a digital media pioneer. Although Grimshaw came from the advertising side of the newspaper, he became a staunch supporter of the editorial groups and helped lead the FT become among the first major new organizations to create a “metered subscription” model—a couple of free pieces before visitors are asked to pay. Grimshaw also led a data-intensive marketing operation to ensure that FT was “effectively an online retailer of its content,” noted this June interview with Grimshaw in the Columbia Journalism Review. And he nudged a redesign of the site to make in more mobile friendly. “I had a whole host of experiences that gave me great insight into what it means to transform a business and how digital can impact an entire industry,” he says.

That transformation includes some big growth plans in the US. Rogers began the US buildout: In 2012, TES and the AFT co-launched ShareMyLesson. Later, TES bought San Francisco-based Wikispaces and startup, Blendspace (for undisclosed sums). Wikispaces was already a favorite tool used by about a million teachers in the US and another million outside the US.

Six months ago, TES launched its “TES Labs” program for supporting 9 or 10 startups, with partners the UK’s Emerge Education and the Education Design Studio (EDSi) at the University of Penn.’s Graduate School of Education.“We felt we could do something special to help small startups get off the ground in education,” Grimshaw noted. TES Labs helps organizes hundreds of teachers who volunteer to give the TES Labs startups feedback on what might (or might not) work in classrooms.

Here’s one upcoming change: In an interview with EdSurge, Grimshaw described how TES plans to give the teachers who contribute resources to TES a choice over whether to offer their work for free or for pay. Before the end of the first quarter of 2015, Grimshaw said, TES will roll out a “a big upgrade of the resources platform, introducing in the UK a marketplace function,” along the lines of TeachersPayTeachers. Participating teachers will be able to sell resources to their peers, with the “majority of the reward” going back to the teacher, Grimshaw said.

“When we launch the first version of the marketplace, all those [existing 800,000 or so free resources on TES] will be free of charge. We’ll add a paid aspect on top of that,” he said.

Grimshaw said that TES enjoys working with the AFT; what he hasn’t yet discussed with the union leaders is where they come out on putting a price tag on some of the resources the two organizations offer. “We haven’t broached that with them to date,” he said, adding: “When we do, then they will have a position on that--and we’ll absolutely respect their position.”

Growth will also come, Grimshaw says, from acquisitions. “We absolutely do have the funds to make additional acquisitions—and we’re open minded about what those acquisitions might look like,” he said. He expect to consider many different size organization ranging from startups that bring unique talent to larger companies that can help TES broaden its US base.

“TES is an amazing company with an incredible social purpose of making teachers more successful,” Grimshaw says. “I felt that digital disruption was starting to impact the education world—and that I could bring relevant experience to that change.”

Besides, he adds: “I believe you have to step out into the unknown--otherwise you don’t feel alive.”  

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