Sylvan names Riley to board

Company's CFO quits to take similar post at Conseco Finance

April 27, 2001|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Former U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley has been nominated to join Sylvan Learning Systems Inc.'s board of directors, the company announced yesterday.

The Baltimore-based education services company also said that Neal Cohen, executive vice president and chief financial officer, resigned to return to Minneapolis.

Cohen, who has been with Sylvan since September, will become executive vice president and CFO of Conseco Finance Corp. in St. Paul, Minn. He said the decision to leave Sylvan was a tough one, but he wanted to return home.

Cohen will be connected to Sylvan as a board member for the Sylvan International Universities, a subsidiary of Sylvan that is assembling a network of overseas schools.

Sylvan has launched a search for a new CFO, and vice president of corporate finance and treasurer, Sean Creamer, will fill the position in the interim.

During a conference call, Chief Executive Officer Douglas L. Becker spoke about the excitement of having Riley join the board.

"We're very proud that he would choose Sylvan as his first publicly traded, for-profit company to serve on the board for." Becker told analysts.

Riley also will serve on the board of directors for Sylvan International Universities, Becker said.

"Sylvan has a grand reputation," Riley said in a telephone interview yesterday. "They support what's taking place in the schools, and that is what I especially like."

Analysts said Riley's intent to join the board was a major victory for the company.

"I think the appointment of Richard Riley obviously bolsters the company's board with respect to someone really experienced in the political process in the area of education," said Richard Close, who follows the education sector for SunTrust Equitable Securities in Nashville, Tenn.

A former two-term Democratic governor of South Carolina, Riley was appointed by President Bill Clinton as education secretary and served from 1993 until this year.

Trace Urdan, an analyst with WR Hambrecht + Co. in San Francisco, said the value Sylvan gets from the appointment is in brand appeal: being able to have a well-respected, credible individual from the sector on their board.

"It's a plum," he said "I think that every company in the sector that I look at was probably angling to have him come in."

The appointment is subject to shareholder approval next month. Becker said that's a technicality.

While Close said it is not uncommon for former department heads to participate on the boards of education companies, he added that "with President Bush's No. 1 initiative being education, I think the addition of Mr. Riley to the board is obviously a great positive."

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