Robert Knutson

It would be easy to conclude that Education Management Corp. is one of the best-kept secrets on the Pittsburgh business scene. It’s not nearly as well-known as companies much smaller, yet it is one of the strongest performers in its industry.

For much of its history, Robert Knutson has been at the helm of the publicly held education company, whose most recognizable local holding is the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Its president and CEO since 1984, Knutson took the post of chairman last year.

Since joining the company in 1970, Knutson, a former investment banker, has quietly and resolutely led Education Management Corp. from a privately held, single-school organization to a public company with 29 campuses in the United States and Canada that offer curricula ranging from certificate to post-graduate programs. As of last fall, its schools had more than 58,000 students enrolled, and in fiscal 2003, it posted $640 million in revenue.

“At the outset, and for many, many years, our focus was in programs in art institutes,” says Knutson. “In the last two years, we’ve broadened our academic program reach through acquisitions.”

Last year, Education Management acquired Savannah, Ga.-based South University and Cincinnati’s American Education Centers, purchases that added master’s, bachelor’s and associate’s degree programs in a variety of disciplines, including health sciences, business, legal and technology. While making strategic acquisitions is important for the company’s growth, combining technology, a broad curriculum and multiple locations creates synergy that helps the company grow organically, says Knutson.

“As we co-locate and share programs, Education Management’s model becomes more powerful,” he says.

And, perhaps, more visible. How to reach: Education Management Corp.,