There’s being sprung—and there’s being so sprung that you leave control of your billion-dollar publishing company and all of your personal possessions to your girlfriend and colleague instead of your children. The recently deceased M. Richard Robinson Jr, longtime CEO of children’s book publisher, Scholastic Corporation, is in the latter camp.
After Robinson died in June at the age of 84, control of the $1.2 billion publisher and every last one of his possessions went to 54-year-old Iole Lucchese, Scholastic’s chief strategy officer and Robinson’s longtime romantic partner. The Wall Street Journal reviewed a 2018 version of Robinson’s will that described Lucchese as his “partner and closest friend,” but Robinson’s family are unsure about it now that relationship trumps blood. Especially since former colleagues believed Robinson and Lucchese broke up ages ago.
From the WSJ, emphasis ours:
Some family members are unhappy and are reviewing their legal options, people close to the situation said, with concerns running the gamut from wanting to maintain Scholastic’s independence to rawness about an outsider having control of Mr. Robinson’s personal possessions. One possibility is to reach an agreement with Ms. Lucchese to transfer some voting shares to family members or to ensure they get a greater share of the estate, one person said.
Maurice “Reece” Robinson, Richard Robinson’s youngest son, described his father’s decision to give control of his personal effects to Ms. Lucchese as “unexpected and shocking.”
“What I want most is an amicable outcome,” the 25-year-old filmmaker said in an interview.
The elder son, John Benham “Ben” Robinson, 34 years old, said in an email that when he grasped his father’s estate plans it “served as salt in an open wound.”
Worse still, Robinson apparently never “groomed a successor,” and that’s where much of the Succession-level drama pops up. Revenue for Scholastic fell during the pandemic and was largely flat for years before that. With titles like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games to The Magic School Bus and Clifford the Big Red Dog under their belt, the company’s focus on children’s literature makes it an appealing prospect for acquisition by another publishing giant. But bigwigs in the industry knew that Scholastic was off-limits during Robinson’s reign; he preferred to keep it in the family.
But Lucchese could complicate that, theoretically. Lucchese and Robinson reportedly clashed often about the company’s future, with her pushing toward digitization, expansion, and other modernizing strategies. Colleagues referred to the two as “The Bickersons.” And now, according to the Journal, Lucchese “will be the sole beneficiary of 53.8% of the company’s Class A shares, which hold the vast majority of voting power.”
Robinson’s family appears, in a word, shook:
William Robinson, Richard Robinson’s younger brother, said in an interview that his brother and father wanted to keep Scholastic independent.
“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,” he said. “Everybody knows Scholastic and has a good feeling about it and it does good things for teachers. It’s more than just a business for us.”
Mary Sue Robinson Morrill, one of Mr. Robinson’s sisters, said in a written statement that she and her siblings agree “that our first goal is the continuation of the mission and legacy of Scholastic, the vision and brilliant lifework of both our father and our brother Dick, and we are confident that the new management of the company is fully committed to this goal.”
Lucchese also, reportedly, has sole discretion over whether to distribute any of Robinson’s personal possessions to his two sons: Reece, the filmmaker, and Ben, the... well...
His brother Ben said he operates a sawmill and workshop that produces lumber, flooring and furniture from trees in Martha’s Vineyard and lives off the land, noting in an email, “I fish the fish and cull the deer.” He also describes himself as a writer and “the poet laureate who hasn’t told his story yet.”
Okay, sure, cool. Meanwhile, Robinson’s ex-wife and mother of his two sons, Helen Benham, is also wondering what the fuck is going on; not only had the two begun spending plenty of time together in the pandemic, she was also at his side when he suddenly died.
Ms. Benham said in an email that Mr. Robinson “was spending all of his time not working with us. Not only weekends but regular nights with us in Manhattan. He was coming back to the family.” She declined to discuss Ms. Lucchese. She described the experience of being with Mr. Robinson when he died as “excruciating.”
Regarding Mr. Robinson’s decision to leave his personal estate to Ms. Lucchese, Ms. Benham said, “I was shocked and we were not expecting this.”
Lucchese, who was named the Chairman of Scholastic’s board last month, did comment to the Journal. It’s easy, then, to paint her as some kind of villain who is terrorizing a grieving family, but we don’t know her side of the story. Who knows, maybe Robinson thought his siblings, ex-wife, and children all had bad vibes.