On Tuesday June 6, when the New York Stock Exchange opened, ProQuest Company became the new name and "PQE" the new trading symbol for the 94-year-old Bell & Howell Co. The new ProQuest Company is composed of the two companies formerly known as Bell & Howell Information and Learning and Bell & Howell Publishing Services and is led by Jim Roemer, who had been Bell & Howell's chairman, president, and CEO. Later that day, Roemer and New York Stock Exchange officials observed the ProQuest Company's launch by ringing the ceremonial bell to close the Big Board. With this symbolic gesture, Roemer rang out the last vestiges of Bell & Howell's old industrial era and rang in the new era of information technology for ProQuest.
Then ProQuest hosted a Webcast to brief investors on the company's evolution from Bell & Howell to ProQuest (this is archived on the new company Web site http://www.proquestcompany.com) and provided an update on the company's performance expectations. ProQuest expects sales growth to continue in the 11-to-13-percent range, which should mean $410 million to $420 million in sales for 2001.
To create the new company, Bell & Howell had proceeded to divest its non-information technology businesses over the past year. In January 2000, the company had announced it would separate its varied businesses into two companies. But during the year it decided to focus its energies on just the two companies that now comprise ProQuest and to sell the other businesses. Earlier this year the company's imaging business was sold to Kodak for $135 million. On June 5, the sale of the international mail and messaging technologies business to Pitney Bowes was finalized for $51 million in cash. The only piece left to sell is the North American portion of the mail and messaging business.
In the Webcast, Roemer said, "We are a technology company that makes information easier to use." Commenting on the company's new name, he said: "We believe the name ProQuest resonates with customers across all markets we serve. That's because it has been strongly associated with innovative, high-quality electronic resources. Under the ProQuest name, we will continue our commitment to serving the ‘quest' for valuable information by automotive and power-sports dealers and manufacturers, libraries, educational institutions, distance learners, and other customers. And taking full advantage of our technology, content, and market expertise, we'll continue to explore extensions and new ventures beyond our traditional businesses.''
ProQuest Information and Learning (http://www.il.proquest.com), formerly UMI, develops premium databases comprising periodicals, newspapers, dissertations, out-of-print books, and other scholarly information from more than 8,500 publishers worldwide. The archive of content includes 7,000 newspapers and 20,000 periodicals, 1.5 million dissertations, and a microfilm vault containing nearly 6 billion pages of information. Users access the information through the ProQuest Web-based online information system, Chadwyck-Healey electronic and microform resources, UMI microform and print reference products, and XanEdu online faculty and student resources. The ProQuest service reaches more than 10 million students through the libraries of North America's 4,000 colleges and universities and handles more than 2.5 million page views per day.
In his presentation, Roemer focused on the significant advantages that ProQuest Information and Learning has in the market. It has shown strong and predictable sales growth. ProQuest online sales, for example, increased 50 percent during the last year, while overall electronic sales grew 33 percent to almost $120 million. The company's rapidly growing international business increased 16 percent to $81 million last year. He highlighted the unmatched depth and breadth of content, its strong publisher agreements and high subscription renewals, and its leveragable technology platform that allows for repackaging content for new products. He also pointed to the potential of the company's new ventures, "like XanEdu, which sells course-specific content to colleges and universities, and BigChalk, which offers ProQuest research to K-12 schools and introduces our services to young students."
The other company comprising the new ProQuest, Bell & Howell Publishing Services (http://www.ps.bellhowell.com), provides electronic content and e-commerce applications for dealerships that require immediate access to technical information and diagrams related to parts, service, and business operations. Customers include more than 35,000 automotive, motorcycle, and marine dealers, and more than 30 auto and power-sports manufacturers. Roemer noted that the renewal rates for their dealer contracts were more than 90 percent.
Looking ahead, Roemer identified several priorities for ProQuest. The first, he said, is to move ahead with the anticipated sale of the North American portion of Bell & Howell Mail & Messaging Technologies and continue reducing the new company's debt. Roemer said he expects the sale of that company later this year. The second priority is to continue to generate profitable sales growth through existing customers, its new ventures, and its revenue-generating alliances. A third priority is introducing new products, such as digitizing archives, new electronic coursepacks and casepacks for colleges, and the CollisionLink product for automotive body shops.
Throughout its 94-year history, Bell & Howell has gone through a continuous process of growth and change, tied to evolving technologies and changing markets. As a company history put it, the company founders "had no idea their budding projector and camera company would survive the Great Depression, two world wars, the Space Age, and the dawning of the Information Age." Over the years, the process of diversification, expansion, and reinvention led to several transformations of the company. But, the change of the company name is the biggest change yet. A company representative assured me, however, that the Bell & Howell name is not completely disappearing. The Publishing Services division is retaining the Bell & Howell name for now. The company also still licenses the Bell & Howell name to some camera equipment products.
The Bell & Howell corporate headquarters had been based in Illinois. The new ProQuest headquarters is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the home of the ProQuest Information and Learning division. ProQuest is such a familiar name to librarians, students, faculty, and researchers that this should be a much easier transition for users than when we had to remember Bell & Howell Information and Learning rather than the familiar UMI name. Perhaps ProQuest will be the name that endures for the company for another 94 years. Given its successful record as a flexible, adaptable survivor, I'd say the company has a good chance. By the way, ProQuest's new tag line is "Infinite. Information. Innovations."