- March 21, 2014
A leaky roof meant a lot to online education industry executive and pioneer Nathan Bisk.
Not the roof itself, but as a metaphor for how Bisk lived his life, raised his family and built a multimillion-dollar business from a start in a Gainesville garage. Bisk didn't want to know the roof was leaking. Instead, he would tell people, he wanted to know someone owned its repair. Was a roofer called? Were there estimates? Was it going to be fixed soon?
“He always wanted to figure out a way to get to yes,” says Michael Bisk, Nathan Bisk's son. “He wanted you to think like an entrepreneur, to think like an owner. He didn't want a bunch of sycophants at his company.”
Nathan Bisk died March 6, after battling cancer. He was 76.
The company Nathan Bisk founded, Tampa-based Bisk, is now one of the leading online program management services for colleges and universities nationwide. It has more than 750 employees, in Tampa and Orlando. And it's facilitated more than 1 million enrollments for a long list of schools, including Villanova and Jacksonville University.
Nathan Bisk founded the business in 1971, when he was preparing to take the CPA exam. He found there was little access to effective test prep materials. The solution: Bisk took a few blank audiocassette tapes and did it on his own.
The business grew fast, and Bisk moved it to Tampa in 1987. “We had a very successful business, but this was not enough for Nathan,” says Andy Titen, who worked with Bisk for more than 30 years and has held several executive positions at the company. “Nathan dreamed big and wanted us to become a great company that would leave its mark on the world.”
One of those marks was to convert ground-based college programs into self-study degree programs that could be marketed to working adults, recalls Titen. But in the early 1990s, many around Bisk told him that idea was bound to fail.
That only drove Bisk harder and further, says Michael Bisk. “He had a strong will and determination,” Michael Bisk says. “People would constantly tell him he couldn't do something, and he would constantly tell them he could.”
Bisk was born into a close-knit family in Newark, N.J. He earned a bachelor's degree from Franklin & Marshall College in 1962, and he and his sister Irene were the first in the family to graduate college.
He joined the National Guard in 1963 and after that he worked in New York for some of the biggest accounting firms of the day, including Ernst & Young and Merrill Lynch. He worked on audits, and specialized in mergers and acquisitions. He moved to Gainesville to attend law school at the University of Florida.
Bisk and his wife, Barbara, who preceded him in death, had two children, Michael and Alison Bisk. Michael Bisk says Nathan Bisk, outside of work, was a devoted dad, family protector and took on a patriarch-like role with extended family. “He was ahead of his time,” says Michael Bisk. “He was a renaissance man.”