McHenry-based Follett School Solutions sold to new private equity owner

No layoffs at one of the city’s largest employers are expected immediately as part of the deal, spokesman says

One of McHenry’s largest employers, Follett School Solutions, is being sold to private equity giant Francisco Partners, business leaders for the buyer and the Follett parent company said Wednesday.

No immediate layoffs are expected for the Follett School Solutions workforce of 1,315, said Doug Thompson, a spokesman for Follett.

The company, which provides K-12 educational institutions with print and online library content and has installed its library content management software in more than 75,000 K-12 schools across the world, will also not be leaving the McHenry offices, which is where 986 of the employees are based, Thompson said.

In April, the business was on a hiring spree, looking to add 150 workers as demand for print books in school libraries surged back to pre-pandemic levels as education officials prepared for a full return to in-person learning.

The parent company for Follett School Solutions before the sale, Westchester-based Follett Corporation, will remain in control of both Follett Higher Education Group, which operates college stores and is an online retailer of campus-related products, and Baker & Taylor, a content and technology provider to public libraries.

“[Follett School Solutions] has played a pivotal leadership role in the development of content and technology solutions for schools everywhere, and as a result of this transition to Francisco Partners, we expect the business to significantly expand its reach across education,” Todd Litzsinger, CEO and chairman of the Follett Corporation, said in a statement. “On behalf of the Follett family and shareholders, I would like to thank the FSS employees, publishing partners, librarians, teachers, schools and school districts for the long and rich partnership we have enjoyed.”

Follett has been an employer in McHenry since 1997, and previously had a Crystal Lake location from 1974 to 1997, Thompson said.

Its K-12 division will now be a part of what a Follett news release said is Francisco Partners’ growing portfolio of K-12 education-focused businesses and technologies. Those include Renaissance Learning, Discovery Education, Freckle, myON and Mystery Science, according to the release.

“While we have different owners, Follett will remain a household name for many more generations of school librarians, teachers, administrators and students,” Britten Follett, a fifth-generation family member, who will take the title of CEO of FSS Content, said in the release. “And our purpose and reason for being remain the same: We are here to improve the world by inspiring learning and shaping education – with more focus on that goal than ever.”

The price and other terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“FSS has amassed an impressive customer base over its long and accomplished history,” Jason Brein, a partner at Francisco, said in the release. “We thank the Follett family for their trust in us, and we look forward to working with Britten Follett and her team to accelerate this investment in FSS’ market leading software and content solutions.”

Paul Ilse will take over as CEO of FSS Software. Ise most recently served as CEO of Discovery Education, another company within Francisco’s portfolio.

“We see significant opportunity for rapid growth and continued success,” Ilse said in the release. “Britten and I will work together to ensure that our software user experience takes full advantage of our content ecosystem.”

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.