Robert Abramson – Bisk
Robert Abramson subscribes to the aphorism, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
He’s applied that principle throughout a legal career of nearly 30 years, whether working with M&A, regulatory issues or helping create new revenue models in the education industry.
Now general counsel for Bisk, a global provider of online education programs and student services, Abramson has found a career sweet spot where he can apply his experience while also adding to it.
“Throughout my life, and in particular, my career in higher education, I’ve been drawn to opportunities that support my passion for learning,” he says. “I was drawn to Bisk because of its mission to help students reach their potential through transformational learning experiences. I’m now able to combine eight years of practicing at a big international law firm with 20 years of practicing as an in-house business partner at a global education provider, so I feel extremely prepared for this challenge.”
From cassettes to keyboards
Bisk was founded in 1971 by Nathan M. Bisk and remains a family owned business led by his son, CEO Mike Bisk. The technology has come a long way from the cassette tapes Bisk used to provide, but Abramson says partnering with leading institutions to deliver online degree and certificate programs remains unchanged.
Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, Bisk provides all facets of an online program, such as curriculum design and student success services for academic certificate and degree programs, including supply chain management, business, criminal justice, IT and health care.
Among the universities Bisk works with are Villanova, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Florida Institute of Technology. It also partners with dozens of corporations on training programs and employee skill building.
The company also provides strategy, marketing and recruiting services, technology, and support services to help students stay engaged and complete their studies.
Abramson joined Bisk in September 2020 as its offerings and services were reaching new levels of demand, including a licensing arrangement with Michigan State to deliver its programs in India. As COVID-19 has closed classrooms and made online learning more vital, Abramson’s also lending his expertise to help grow the business.
“Bisk is looking for opportunities to grow,” he says, “and that can be accomplished organically, through partnerships or through acquisitions.”
Abramson adds there’s a complex framework of rules and regulations in higher education in the U.S. and abroad, so as the head of Bisk’s legal and compliance departments, he needs to be aware of any changes in the law and then carefully navigate the company’s business to meet them.
“It’s why I was recruited,” he says. “Having been in the education industry for more than two decades, you get a chance to see many business and legal situations and how they play out. The key is to remain calm, think through your options and make smart decisions by considering the short- and long-term implications of every situation, including the concerns of your customers.”
Seas of change
Abramson anticipates the change in presidential administrations will affect Bisk as a new leader takes charge at the Department of Education. Regardless of what happens with the federal government, he also needs to be certain the company complies with recent data and privacy laws enacted in California and the European Union.
Bisk websites and business models are compliant, he says, but in 2021, he’ll also be working to enhance compliance by adding advanced auditing and monitoring tools, as well as training programs that align with Bisk’s partners.
Abramson says he’s been updating how the company works with outside counsel, too. This entails bringing some legal services back in-house while better matching the company with specialized counsel.
“Part of being a good lawyer is knowing what you know and when it’s time to reach out to other resources better equipped to find a solution,” he says.
Leading and learning
A New Jersey native, Abramson was gearing up for a Wall Street career, but while studying for his bachelor’s in finance at Emory University, he discovered what he really loved is learning. A business law course piqued his interest in a law career, and the convincing factor was realizing law school was a place where he could continue his education in new subjects, he says.
He came back to the Garden State to earn his JD at Seton Hall University School of Law, where he wrote for the school’s law review journal. Abramson’s legal career began at Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts (now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman) in New York City in 1992. As a senior associate in the corporate and capital markets group, he handled more than 100 M&A and strategic transactions in a variety of industries.
Abramson was recruited by Pearson, the London-based learning company in 2000. Though he expected to work on M&A, a recession and tumbling stock market halted Pearson’s acquisition strategy. So instead, Abramson was put in charge of supporting the company’s growth businesses in North America.
The generalist approach suited him well, he recalls, as he addressed different areas of law while working with senior leaders to help them understand and manage risk. By the time he left Pearson in August 2020, he’d been promoted to senior vice president and associate general counsel for North America and head of global governance.
Abramson also serves as an adjunct faculty member at several academic institutions, and remarks that engaging with curious students is often as rewarding as helping guide business decisions and compliance efforts.
“When Bisk came along, it was the logical next step in my progression as a general counsel. I really appreciate Bisk’s values—be bold, be humble and be remarkable. It fits very well with my personal values,” he concludes.
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