One of the largest acquisitions in the education sector in recent years, a transaction of almost R $ 1 billion, highlighted the group’s management revenue Raises, which gained fame for having the mega-entrepreneur Jorge Paulo Lemann as a major shareholder.
The plan of the company’s founder, Bruno Elias? “To be the largest and best group of elementary and high school in Brazil. Who knows about the world ”, he says, in an interview with EXAME IN. How big is it? “As big as possible”, as long as he can offer what Elias thinks is the reason for the result: the best delivery of education for the associated cost.
In the portfolio, there are schools ranging from classes C to AAA, with names like Elite, Pensi and Alfa, among others. There were 90 thousand students before the acquisition of Know, announced last week, and there will be 120 thousand with the operation.
Elijah and Duda Falcãofrom the controlling fund Gera, where Lemann’s money is located, are co-chairs of Eleva. They give the face and strategy to the group. The plan – for both – is the way Lemann likes it. But, while the partner brings brand, money and ambition, Elias and Duda take care of the culture, the model and the result – the results of the students, teachers and the operation. Professor, engineer graduated from IME and company administrator, Elias is passionate about data-driven education.
Eleva acquired the Saber group, the group’s physical operation Cogna for the segment known by the financial market as K12 – from pre-school to high school -, for R $ 964 million. The move represents a jump of almost 50% in the group’s revenue, which could go from the current R $ 1.3 billion to R $ 1.9 billion in a single stroke. Details on what the deal means to Eleva were revealed exclusively to the EXAME IN.
The transaction was combined with another, concurrent. THE Only, Cogna’s fundamental education company listed on Nasdaq, bought the Eleva education platform, for which it will pay R $ 580 million. By Saber, Eleva will pay Cogna R $ 625 million in cash, in installments, and R $ 339 million in shares, converted at the price of an eventual IPO.
Thus, the estimated net cash impact on this cash flow will be only R $ 45 million for Eleva. It is not exactly an exchange of assets, since the companies involved on the side of businessman Rodrigo Galindo are diverse: Eleva pays to Cogna, but receives from Vasta.
The deal brought to Eleva the prospect of making the company’s Ebitda go from its current R $ 200 million to R $ 350 million in approximately one month in approximately one month, with the addition of 51 schools and 30,000 students. Saber has an average ticket almost 50% higher than Eleva’s, but a much lower margin.
With renowned brands in the package, such as the Leonardo da Vinci school, in Brasília, and others with enormous potential to be explored, the company was a full plate for Elias, who more than a founding partner of Eleva represents the beginning of everything.
Elias started his career in education early by teaching at Colégio Pensi, where he studied, after moving first to the Military Engineering Institute (IME), at the beginning of the year 2000. “I started out of necessity and, soon after, it became a passion”, he recalls. He does not like to speak and barely confirms, but he was the best student among the graduates of his class.
Soon after completing the IME, he went to work in the financial market, at Opportunity, where he stayed until the end of 2007. He continued to teach classes for pleasure. But it was then that the founders of Pensi invited him to run the business.
That was when the passion spoke louder and he dropped everything – “at that time, my salary for a month was what my parents earned in a year” – to run the school where he studied. “Education has given me everything I have. I have always liked the Pensi philosophy, which, at an affordable cost, is the highest ITA and IME approval in Rio de Janeiro ”, he emphasizes. Then, for 20% of the salary he had, he took over the school, with a thousand students and the teachers’ payroll done in pencil in a spiral notebook.
Four years later, Pensi already had 6,000 students and the operation generated enough income for the founders to retire. It started to attract the attention of investment funds. It was at that time, in 2011, that he met Duda Falcão and Rafaela Dantas, when they were setting up the Gera fund (where Lemann’s money is) to invest in the sector. Rafaela, current chairman of the board of directors, is the daughter of Verônica Dantas, partner at Opportunity.
But, the deal between them only came out two years later, when Gera already owned the Elite, the group’s current largest banner, and the schools were combined.
The growth was exponential. In the last five years, the annual expansion was of the order of 30%. Today, before receiving Saber, the group has 4,800 employees and even more than 5,000 teachers. Gera owns 56% of Eleva, Warburg Pincus, 26%, and the rest is in the hands of Elias and other collegiate partners that have been acquired.
“We have the recipe for how to grow because we’ve already made mistakes too”, commends Duda, co-president, to the EXAME IN. “We know well what not to do. We have lived through everything here. I have already opened a school that I had to close in two years and another that took five years to make a return ”, completes Elias, with a teacherlike attitude. “You also learn by making mistakes.”
The pair leads to Eleva in a complementary way, but with a single north. Elias takes care of the schools called “of excellence”, with a ticket of up to R $ 2 thousand per month and which are responsible for most of the operation. Duda, in addition to touching the “global” area, with an average ticket in the order of R $ 4,500 per month, has the challenge of technological initiatives, under the umbrella of Pátio, where performances are made with startups, for example.
The two speak in unison that the recipe learned to be a successful consolidator, as so far, in a segment as sensitive as elementary and high school, is a focus on “people and processes”. “We were from 2014 to 2016 dedicated to structuring ourselves to grow and form processes,” says Elias. “Practically, without investing in new units or acquisitions.”
Before Eleva, few groups tried to operate on a comprehensive scale in primary and secondary education, but were unable to advance and were either consolidated or abandoned as a business front. Within Saber, there are now 18 flags, more than the current 11 from Eleva. Among the names acquired are Anglo, Visão, Pitágoras. It is not by chance that the transaction will make the company put on the back burner the project of an initial public offering (IPO), which was in the face of the goal.
“It takes a lot of energy to do an IPO. You can’t do both well [absorver uma aquisição desse tamanho]. It is not in the plans to debut on the stock exchange for this year. The project was for 2022 ”, explains Elias, letting go that it is not even possible to know when exactly next year.
Eleva opens an average of 20 schools a year and makes at least three acquisitions. Therefore, it is a machine to train people and develop such processes.
The training area develops young strategic leaders, from 20 to 30 per year, with specific courses and also encourages professional development with 150 scholarship holders per year to improve the curriculum. In addition, it trains 50 to 60 directors each year (with 10,000 applications per course). There is also the school of coordinators, with training for 150 professionals per year, at level 1, and another 100, at level 2.
Finally, along with all of this, there is a great effort to hunt for talent within the network of students, including the provision of full scholarships.
The secret of scale and quality is that the teaching base is the same, but the curricula are diversifying more and more and becoming more complete depending on the focus of each school. Elias does not divide teaching into constructivist and contentist. For him, it is necessary a complete experience, a mixture of the student’s experience with the correct content.
“The future of education is as much in new subjects as in the training of students for work and for life in society, with the socio-emotional skills that can make a difference. Public speaking, statistical and data-based thinking. This and much more are on the list of skills needed for good development ”, explains Duda, passionate about research on the topic.
During the pandemic, the company aired 30 different elective subjects, from the most diverse themes: sustainability, women’s rights and other subjects for elementary 2 and high school. “We call on partners to develop the content with us, such as Museum of Tomorrow, for sustainability classes”, says Duda. The offer of this content went to the entire base. “This is only possible because we have this scale. Students need to choose between one of the contents per semester”, adds Elias.
The future is not online
The group has been making fame with the performance of students, who show high rates of approval in universities, with highlights for several of the most competitive and difficult in the country. Elite, for example, is the school that approves – the most – students for ITA / IME.
Few know, but they represent a leap in quality of life for many families. As soon as he enters the IME course, for example, the student starts to receive about one minimum wage per month and, at the end of the training, earns an average of R $ 8 thousand. “In general, it is more than the income of the whole family,” explains Elias, who knows what he is talking about.
In the executive’s opinion, it is necessary to have a mix of strong brands in the two income brackets, both with students of good performance, who can be scaled more nationally, and strong regional names.
He highlights the experience with the Alfa flag, acquired in 2016, with 2,300 students. “Today, there are 9 thousand students. First, you consolidate yourself. From there, he walks 100 kilometers and opens a unit and another. I left the interior of Paraná and I am already in Santa Catarina. ”
Regarding technology and online or distance learning, Elias does not answer: his words are a melody for parents tired of the pandemic. “I thought like that two years ago and I said that at an international event. You can’t bet on this model for elementary education. Perhaps, from the 8th grade [penúltimo do fundamental]. There are adults who do not focus on online training for public tenders with salaries of 30 thousand monthly. How can I ask this of children ?. ”
For the president of Eleva, technology brings great beauty: measurement. “I do NPS [medição de satisfação] for everything. Here we measure absolutely everything. I have been able to map the problems since the beginning of the chain ”, he says. At Eleva, for example, the teacher who teaches the class does not take the test. “It proves that the teacher shows similar exercises before it makes it look like the student is learning and the teacher is teaching.”
Whether by mathematics or philosophy, Eleva continues to expand. It began 2021 with a 6% growth in the enrolled student base, when the majority of the sector shrank by 20%. “If it reaches the end of 2020, the expansion is 15%”, adds Duda, pointing out that the pandemic affected everyone, even though the group’s performance may have been well above the average of the classmates.