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Pearson Names Ex-Disney Executive as CEO, Ending Long Search

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 8/24/2020 Thomas Pfeiffer and Thomas Seal
Andy Bird wearing a suit and tie: Andy Bird. © Bloomberg Andy Bird.

(Bloomberg) -- Pearson Plc named former Walt Disney Co. executive Andy Bird as its next chief executive officer, to guide the education company out of a long slump that led to a string of profit warnings.

Pearson has been trying since December to replace outgoing CEO John Fallon, whose tumultuous seven-year tenure saw a collapse in demand for traditional higher education courseware in the U.S. and a rapid switch to online learning and digital publishing.

As head of Disney’s businesses outside the U.S., Bird oversaw an expansion of the entertainment giant’s digital operations and a shift in strategy to market its content directly to end-users. Before joining Disney, he held senior roles at AOL Time Warner.

Pearson’s succession process took an unexpected turn in June when activist investor Cevian grabbed a 5.4% stake in the company and pushed for a say in the choice of a new CEO. It increased that position to 8.5% as of July 29.

“We are pleased to see the conclusion of what has felt like a protracted process,” Shore Capital analyst Roddy Davidson wrote in a note to clients. He said much of the hard work to reposition Pearson as a digital company has already been done and there are tentative signs that business is improving.

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Pearson shares edged down 0.1% in London as of 8:45 a.m.

In a statement, Cevian Capital Managing Partner Christer Gardell said Bird will bring “entrepreneurial experience and high energy to Pearson, and we expect him to drive profitable growth and shareholder value.”

Pearson appointed Bird to its board in May. He will take over the top job on Oct. 19.

(Updates with shares, analyst comment from sixth paragraph)

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