When it comes to grading CEOs, Sari Factor gets an A.
The leader of Edgenuity, a Scottsdale-based education technology company, Factor was named one of the Valley’s Most Likable CEOs by Owler. Factor is also one of the most successful, helping her company get into business with 20 of the nation’s 25 biggest school districts.
Az Business talked with the EdTech pioneer about the jump from education to technology.
Az Business: You studied education, so what attracted you to technology?
Sari Factor: In college, I also took computer classes. When I went to look for my first job after teaching, I found an EdTech company — it was called “electronic publishing” back then — that was developing software for schools. I thought, “Wow, what a neat combination.” That was 1980, but I saw the opportunity of technology.
AB: How have you seen the EdTech sector evolve?
SF: The biggest change is that teachers today grew up with technology, so they come into the profession having used technology as a tool throughout their lives. Just as we use technology to streamline other aspects of our lives — like banking — the same thing is happening in education. The computer can grade quizzes and pinpoint what each student needs, so it’s a huge time saver for teachers.
AB: Why is Arizona such a hotbed for EdTech companies?
SF: Arizona has been an innovator in many ways in education. The University of Phoenix put the whole idea of online learning on the map as a business. And since early on, Arizona has been a big choice state, giving parents and kids the opportunity to choose which schools they attend. It’s that kind of change and innovation that allowed businesses to thrive here. We are also seeing a migration of engineers coming from California because it’s so expensive to live there, so the pool of talent here is good.
AB: Which students benefit most from EdTech?
SF: EdTech first started to make an impact on kids who weren’t successful in the traditional classroom. Think of the two ends of the spectrum: the very advanced kids who didn’t have an opportunity to take an advanced placement course and the low-level kids who failed a course and needed to repeat it. But as time went on, people said, “Wait, that curriculum can be used for other purposes.” Now, we are reaching and helping those mainstream students, too.
AB: What qualities make you such an effective leader for Edgenuity?
SF: I’m a learner. I’m a listener. I like to hear what’s going on across the company with our customers and with our employees. I believe in continuous learning, so being in a learning business and being someone who values learning, it’s a unique combination.
AB: What gives you the most pride?
SF: It’s this company. This is a capstone on my career. I taught. I did technology. I did publishing. Now, we’re putting it all together. We have the opportunity to change education and the way school is conducted because of technology. It’s only our imagination that’s holding us back. If we can’t think big enough, we won’t be able to achieve enough.