The writing is now officially on the wall—or in this case, the blackboard, for Jay Bhatt. The man who took over as chief executive of Blackboard in 2012 has been relieved of his post.
Dr. William “Bill” Ballhaus is now the new chief executive of the Washington, DC-based learning management system developer. He was formerly CEO of SRA International, a government IT services and solutions company once owned by Providence Equity Partners (which currently owns Blackboard). His career also include stints at DynCorp, a private military contractor, and an aerospace company, BAE Systems.
In a prepared statement, Bhatt cited “the toll that the constant commute from Boston to Washington, DC has taken on my family” and a need to allow the company to evolve as reasons for his departure. Not everyone is buying his reason; Phil Hill of e-Literate suggests the departure is related to a series of big product updates and personnel shakeups under Bhatt that have generated mixed results. Since 2014, the company has made 11 acquisitions and laid off dozens (if not hundreds) of employees.
No one is buying Blackboard, the company, either, despite rumors in the summer of 2015 that Providence was looking to sell the company for upwards of $3 billion. “In a nutshell,” writes Hill, “the attempted sale of Blackboard this year has failed, and the company has stalled in its turnaround attempts.” He observes that the numbers have not been rosy either:
When Moody’s updated their ratings of Blackboard’s $1.3 billion in publicly-held debt in Spring 2015, we got confirmation of the financial status of the company. Revenues are stagnating, K-12 is even dropping, earnings have marginally increased, and debt ratios (debt-to-earnings in particular) are too high and could trigger a ratings downgrade. Blackboard is just not hitting their numbers.
Ballhaus may have better luck finding a buyer. He joined SRA International in July 2011, three months after Providence purchased the defense consulting company. In 2015, he steered the company towards an acquisition by IT company, CSC—a deal from which “Providence expects to make [a] slight profit,” according to PEHub.