Richard Robinson died this June after more than four decades as the CEO of Scholastic Corp. a power in the world of children’s literature and educational publishing. His passing and the contents of his will have been shocking to his family and employees. In one swift move, the longtime CEO made his lover, Iole Lucchese, the heir to all of his personal possessions and, indirectly, put her in a position to take over the reins at Scholastic.

Scholastic was founded in 1920 by Maurice R. Robinson, Richard’s father, and was always considered a family company. Richard Robinson, on the other hand, did not pass control of Scholastic on to either of his two sons, or to his ex-wife or to his siblings.

Robinson’s will named Iole Lucchese as the beneficial owner of three million Scholastic shares. It also named her as a co-executor of the Robinson estate, along with Scholastic’s chief counsel, Andrew Hedden.    

The company is known as the publisher of some very successful children’s books, including the American editions of the Harry Potter series, and the Magic School Bus.  

Scholastic is the publisher of the massively popular Harry Potter series, which is also highly lucrative. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

The will, apparently executed in 2018, was a surprise to Robinson’s family members. So was his death itself. Although he was 84 years old when he died, he had long been known as an exercise enthusiast.   

Members of the Robinson family are reportedly shocked by the deceased’s decision in favor of Lucchese, and are considering their legal options.

In all fairness, and romance notwithstanding, Lucchese is not an entirely arbitrary choice. She has had a 30-year long career at Scholastic. She joined Scholastic Canada in 1991, later becoming co-president of Scholastic’s Canada operations. She remains a Canadian, though she has permanent resident status in the United States.    

In recent years, Lucchese has made her mark in the entertainment side of the multifaceted business. Paramount is coming out with a motion picture with the revealing name, Clifford The Big Red Dog,  and Lucchese is a co-producer of the movie which, of course, builds on Scholastic’s intellectual property. 

Despite the move toward digital publishing, Scholastic has been highly successful. So is it an acquisition target? Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Is Scholastic an Acquisition Target?

Scholastic, with its steady revenue stream (its fiscal year ended on May 31, 2021, and for that year Scholastic’s revenue is $1.3 billion) is not large enough to be considered one of the top tier players in book publishing today. The global revenue of Penguin Random House, for example, is $4.4 billion. 

Nonetheless, Scholastic is quite large enough to be a tempting acquisition target. 

William Robinson, the younger brother of the late Richard Robinson, was quoted on this point in the WSJ story. 

“Our family value was we’d rather not have the financial benefit that we might get from a sale if it means the company won’t be in the future what it was.”

Yet the world won’t be in the future what it was. One could certainly make the case that as book publishing goes ever more digital, as actual dead-tree books become a smaller part of the whole, the economies of scale will force consolidation on the industry, and Robinson family values (even if Lucchese shares them) won’t change this.

Some careful students of the subject believe the time will come when all book publishers are (as PRH already is) a subsidiary of a larger corporation, typically a multi-media conglomerate. Beyond that, another time will come, not too distant, when those large conglomerates will break up the parts of their book publishing subsidiaries. They will unbundle their assets, selling the backlists, for example, to private equity companies. 

Within that big picture, the role of any legal struggle between the Robinson family and Iole Lucchese will look like a minor detail – though it may have a lot of entertainment value.