Saturday, 4 February 2012

Case study, part one

In the 1990s, Pitman Publishing Limited, wholly owned by Pearson plc, was the biggest business book publisher in the UK – by far. Its nearest rival, Kogan Page, was about one third of its size. Pitman wanted to grow, but felt it had exhausted the possibilities for organic growth, and so it turned to acquisitions.

Pitman re-examined what sort of business it was in, and made a decisive shift in thinking, from book publishing to management education. It was already involved in publishing of periodicals and learning resources, contract publishing and electronic publishing, but the new thinking opened up new acquisition targets.

Pitman looked within the Pearson empire first, and acquired Training Direct, formerly Longman Training, which had already swallowed up Rank Training and others. This added capability in management training videos, in DVD format. Then it looked for a management training provider.

Its first management training acquisition was HDL, formerly Henley Distance Learning, which had recently acquired Taytech. However, Pitman rapidly felt it had made the wrong acquisition, as everywhere it turned it found HDL out-manoeuvred, and beaten to prestigious blue chip contracts, by an unlikely competitor. This was The Open College, which despite its name (the legacy of start-up public funding) specialised in management development programmes for corporate clients.

When Pitman acquired The Open College in 1997, it felt it had completed its moves, and set about restructuring the new company, by now double the size Pitman had started with. In 1998 the new business was rebranded, drawing upon one of the most formidable names held by Pearson, the Financial Times. The new company, which dominated the UK market for management education, outside university business schools, was called Financial Times Management.

I had been Manager for Scotland of The Open College, and now held the equivalent position in Financial Times Management, with twice the staff and resources, and double the customer and income base. I was proud to be part of the new company, and excited by its prospects.

(part two to follow)

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