E-Learning Companies to Merge

Two months after its planned acquisition of Centra fell through, SmartForce announces its plan to buy SkillSoft.

Just two months after its planned acquisition of Centra Software Inc. fell through, SmartForce plc. is trying to consolidate the e-learning software space again, this time by buying SkillSoft Corp.

The two companies announced a definitive agreement to merge late Monday. Under terms of the deal, which has been approved by both boards of directors, SkillSoft shareholders will receive 2.3674 SmartForce shares for each share of SkillSoft they own. SkillSoft would then become a subsidiary of SmartForce.

But Chuck Moran, president and CEO of Nashua, N.H.-based SkillSoft, would take over the same positions at the new company. SmartForces current Chairman and CEO Greg Priest will be chairman and chief strategy officer. Other executive positions will be split evenly between the two companies.

The combined company is expected to have more than 2,800 customers and 8,000 hours of course material, in subjects ranging from IT, enterprise applications, business skills, interpersonal skills, management, sales and CRM, officials of both companies said.

"We believe that this merger will allow us to offer, and to continue to develop, an ever-wider range of learning applications to address your critical functional and business process areas," said Moran in an open letter to SkillSoft customers.

Whether the acquisition goes through or not remains to be seen. SmartForce, of Redwood City, Calif., had to back out of its planned acquisition of Centra in April after the two companies first quarter financial results proved to be worse than expected, sending down the value of the deal.

But in SkillSoft, SmartForce will be acquiring a company that has turned a net profit for the past two quarters. In its most recent quarter, which ended April 30, SkillSoft saw revenues grow from $8.5 million to $13.8 million. Ironically, the company was rumored to be a suitor for Centra after SmartForces planned acquisition fell through.

SmartForce, in its most recent quarter, which ended March 31, lost $19.1 million on $43 million in revenues, though the company has been profitable in the past.

SmartForce CEO Priest said in a statement that the acquisition would create a "powerful force in e-learning."

"By significantly expanding the content areas in which we can develop learning solutions for our customers and partners, we have the opportunity to grow revenues and profits and to build upon and enhance our combined position as the leader in e-Learning," he said.

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