Blackboard co-founder and chief executive Michael Chasen plans to step down at the end of the year, the firm announced Monday, marking a significant leadership change for one of the District’s largest and best-known technology firms.
Jay Bhatt, the president and chief executive of Bedford, Mass.-based Progress Software, is to take his place. Bhatt announced last week that he would leave that firm in December after a year at the helm.
Chasen established Blackboard in a D.C. rowhouse in 1997 and built the firm from a small software company into an education technology behemoth that provides online learning tools for colleges.
“I was able to surround myself with seasoned professionals who have done it before,” Chasen said. “I think they reflected well on me to allow me to stay in this role and grow the company.”
But the business has slowed in recent years. Blackboard tried to enter new markets beyond higher education with measured success. What’s more, the firm has encountered increasing competition from rivals offering free, open-source software.
Those challenges brought about a shift in the company’s strategy, starting with the decision to go private last summer in a $1.64 billion acquisition by private equity shop Providence Equity Partners.
“I actually thought that that would be a good point for there to be a [leadership] transition,” Chasen said.
Providence Equity Partners merged Blackboard with another one of its portfolio companies, called Edline, which provides online education software for primary and secondary schools. The company also bought two competitors in March that provide customer support and services to schools that use open-source software. The purchase moved the firm away from a business model based solely on selling its own products.
Chasen said Blackboard has been enjoying one of its best years.
“Now is the right time to be taking advantage of the momentum that we have . . . [and] for me to step back and have someone else come on board,” Chasen said.
Chasen said the decision to depart was reached amicably and that he has not decided what to do next.
“I’ve been so focused with my head down here at Blackboard,” Chasen said, “I haven’t really focused yet on where I’d like to spend my time.”