Renaissance plays politics

Contact: Brenon Daly

It must be election season. That’s what struck us when we saw earlier this week that Renaissance Learning went ahead and accepted a buyout offer that valued the online education vendor at about 10% less than an unsolicited bid. To our ear, some of the material in the proxies filed in connection with the $455m leveraged buyout could very well have come from a campaigning politician. The deal closed earlier this week.

Consider the language that the company used in laying out why shareholders should follow the lead of the company’s cofounders, who controlled some 69% of the equity, and back the initial offer from buyout firm Permira: The deal would be ‘more favorable’ to the employees and the broader community than the unsolicited bid from rival company PLATO Learning. (In addition, Renaissance said PLATO’s offer would take longer and be less likely to close, in their view.)

The concern, presumably, is that there would be far more overlapping employees if the two companies were merged, resulting in more job cuts than if Renaissance were taken private and largely left to run as it had been running. Who knows, maybe if PLATO took the company over, the combined company would start with cuts in the executive ranks. If that were the case, the cofounders of Renaissance would go from majority owners to unemployed.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re all for not contributing to the already intractably high unemployment rate in the US. But as a public company, Renaissance has a fiduciary responsibility to all its shareholders, not just the ones in its hometown. It’s worth noting that Renaissance is incorporated in its home state of Wisconsin, rather than the typical location for incorporation, Delaware. (Roughly half of US companies, including PLATO, are incorporated in Delaware.) So that may go some distance toward explaining why the company made ‘jobs and community’ a part of its pitch.