MassTLC recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Rob Waldron, CEO of member company Curriculum Associates, to learn more about this fascinating organization. Although Curriculum Associates has been around since 1969 when it started its life as an educational publisher, the company has transformed into a digital education technology leader over the past seven years. During our interview with Waldron, we covered topics ranging from user data as a tool to improve lessons and optimize learning to the importance of hiring the right people to ensure organizational success.
Technology as a Tool
Like many other consumer companies, Curriculum Associates collects large amounts of data—20,000 pieces— on each student using its products. This data allows the company to make small, but important, changes to its lessons that improve outcomes. Waldron sees artificial intelligence as an additional tool that will help this process, but he doesn’t see it as the total solution. He also does not see technology, no matter how advanced, as a replacement for classroom teachers. Technology should support educators, not replace them.
To pivot so quickly and successfully from a sleepy textbook company to a digital edtech leader, Curriculum Associates had to recruit a very different workforce. The sense of purpose that his employees derive from helping improve educational outcomes for students, the majority of whom are in high-risk, low-income communities, is a powerful recruiting tool for the company. As Waldron says, when a potential employee is choosing between two companies and the only difference is a sense of purpose, “Purpose wins.” He believes in paying people well and treating them with respect, but he knows how deeply this larger purpose matters.
Hyper Focused on Recruiting
To say that Waldron is interested in recruiting talent is an understatement. Obsessed is the word that he uses about himself. Waldron interviews all finalists for positions across the company, and in 2016 he conducted 371 interviews. Meeting with prospective employees takes between one third and one half of his time. Subscribing to the theory that it is much easier to be an outstanding recruiter and an average manager than the opposite, this CEO makes sure that he prioritizes this activity.
During the hiring process, the average candidate interviews with nine people at Curriculum Associates, and the company hires only 1 of 9 people that it interviews. Dedicating time and hard work to recruiting across the management team is key to the company’s growth in Waldron’s view. Without the right people, the company cannot be successful, and that puts growth at risk.
Curriculum Associates is a private company and thus does not have the pressures from investors that public companies often have. This allows him to take a long-term perspective on everything from product development to sales results. This commitment to doing what’s right for the company in the long term creates a sense of pride and dedication that is key to the company’s culture.
Raising the Minimum Wage
In addition to paying its office workers well—the company ranks in the 75th percentile for salaries—, Curriculum Associates has chosen to offer a $15 minimum wage to its warehouse workers. Waldron views this as a fair and important means of showing respect to his workers. While aware of arguments against universally raising the minimum wage, Waldron feels that for Curriculum Associates it was affordable and the right thing to do, and he dismisses notions that he is overpaying his workers.
Giving the Company Away
Curriculum Associates’ co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Frank Ferguson previously owned the majority share in the company. Earlier this year Ferguson, now 90 years old, gave almost all of his shares to The Iowa State University Foundation. Once these shares are sold, a portion of the proceeds will also go to The Boston Foundation for programs in the local community. The value of this gift is well over $100 million, making it one of the ten largest in the country this year. An interesting side note to this incredible display of philanthropy: Ferguson was once the President of Bose, which is 90% owned by MIT.
To learn more about Curriculum Associates, come to our Leadership Awards Gala. Curriculum Associates is a finalist for Company of the Year