Ron Packard was previously a vice president of Knowledge Universe investing, incubating, and operating several charter school companies. Previously, Ron worked for both McKinsey & Company and Goldman Sachs. He holds a B.A. in economics and mechanical engineering (with honors) from the University of California at Berkeley. He holds an M.B.A. (with honors) from the University of Chicago, and he is a chartered financial analyst. Mr. Packard currently serves on the Department of Defense Educational Advisory Committee.
SM: Let’s start with your story. Where are you from?
RP: I grew up in Thousand Oaks, California, which is your typical suburb of Los Angeles. My father was an radar and weapon systems engineer for Hughes Aircraft. I grew up with a normal middle-class existence. I went to Thousand Oaks High School, where I played football, wrestled, and ran track. I was valedictorian of my class and went to UC Berkeley, where I majored in engineering and economics. I spent my summers working at Hughes Aircraft as a summer engineer.
After my senior year I decided to work on Wall Street, so I joined Goldman Sachs. I worked in mergers and acquisitions for two years and then went to the University of Chicago and got my MBA in 1989. When I was at the University of Chicago I thought a lot about what I wanted to do. I realized that I wanted to do something a little more operational and get a chance to eventually be an entrepreneur and create something. Instead of going back to Wall Street I went to McKinsey.
I spent four years at McKinsey and then had my first entrepreneurial experience, where I got a chance to go to Chile and put a large forester project through the government permitting process. Some investors had bought title to a large forest, and I was there to put it through the entire permitting process from 1994 to 1997.
After I got that approved, I went to work for Knowledge Universe, which was an education investment company that was set up by Mike Milken and Larry Ellison. I was doing most of the deals in the children’s space and eventually got the chance to become CEO of a preschool childcare company that we had bought called Children’s Discovery Center. I think it is now the such largest group in the world.
When my daughter was in first grade I was helping her with her math. I did not think that she was getting enough. I went online to buy a math course that would be world-class. I found plenty of supplemental sites, but I did not find a full math course anywhere. That gave me the crazy idea that it would be possible to build an entire school online. I went out and wrote a business plan to create an online school that involved creating online public schools and private schools. I then went out and raised the first $10 million.
SM: What was the business model?
RP: Our model was to go into a state that would allow us to have a full-time public school that was completely online. K12 would sell that online school’s curriculum, technology, and management services. That was the genesis of the business model. It is still the same business model we have today.