Brent Richardson is the executive chairman of the board for Grand Canyon University. He joined GCU in 2003 as the CEO and led the transformation of a near-bankrupt university into an IPO success story. Prior to GCU, he was the founder of multiple companies and CEO of Masters Online. In his early career, he gained a background in sales working for Prescription Learning, a company founded by his father.
SM: First, let’s cover your background before Grand Canyon University. Where do you come from and what kind of career path did you follow?
BR: I have been in the education space for over 20 years. In 1987, I started a company called Educational Management Group. We were doing distance education to K-12 schools through satellite at the time. We did curriculum development and training for teachers across the country. I ended up selling that company to Simon & Schuster in 1995. We had about 6,000 schools in the US that were using that service.
I then went on to start Private Networks, which did the same things as before but this time took advantage of the Internet, which was just starting to come into focus. We started using Internet technology for training development in the education, healthcare and automotive sectors. I started Private Networks in 1997 and sold it in 1999 to a private group in Los Angeles. In 1999, I was a partner in the purchase of Educational Resources from Houghton Mifflin. We spent a year turning that around and ended up selling our stake back to the private equity guys who were our partners.
SM: What kind of company was Educational Resources?
BR: It was a K-12 software company, and also a catalogue company. That was a little bit off my course there.
SM: Where does your interest in education come from?
BR: My dad, who did his PhD in education, was a school superintendent. He became an entrepreneur and started a company called La Petite Academy. He started that in the 1970s. It is the second-largest daycare chain in America. He then started a company called Prescription Learning in the late 1960s. It was one of the first computer-based learning companies in the United States for K-12. He sold it to Jostens, the company that makes school rings.
I worked with him for a few years before going out on my own. I learned a thing or two working for him. That is how I got into it and really learned the business.