Business books are filled with examples of family-owned businesses that have been sold to a company with deeper pockets. The most recent case is that of the Bancrofts, who, after a drawn-out debate, decided to sell the Dow Jones Company to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. So how has the Wiley clan been able keep control of the publishing house that began in 1807 as a print shop in New York City?
"A small gene pool," jokes Peter Booth Wiley, the current chairman of John Wiley & Sons, in an interview in the publisher's Hoboken, N.J., headquarters.
But the relatively small size of the Wileys did have the practical effect of keeping the company in family hands by limiting interfamily squabbling, resulting in smooth transitions from generation to generation and giving them the ability to rally together in rocky times, explains Peter Wiley, who is the sixth Wiley generation to be involved with the company. He succeeded his brother, Bradford Wiley II, in 2002 as chairman; Brad had taken over as chairman in 1992 from their father, W. Bradford Wiley, who joined the company in 1932 and became president in 1956.
It was the elder Bradford who laid the groundwork for what became the modern Wiley—a diverse publisher with subsidiaries around the world. While from its earliest days, Wiley had been involved with exchanging ideas with other countries—it imported the works of Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen—it was W. Bradford who established the company's first international subsidiary, in London in 1960. Subsidiaries in Australia, India, Canada and Germany followed, and W. Bradford was an early proponent of opening up the Chinese market, making a trip there in late 1970s. In fiscal 2007, international sales accounted for 42% of the company's total revenue.
One reason Wiley has such a large international presence is the nature of its lists—a heavy dose of professional, scholarly and educational material that, as Peter Wiley notes, is in demand around the world. And as current CEO Will Pesce observes, Wiley is not "a U.S.-centric company." The practice of establishing publishing centers around the world facilitates "finding the best talent in different countries," Peter Wiley says, and using their expertise to benefit the entire company.
Talent, both authors and employees, has been at the heart of Wiley's success throughout the years. Peter Wiley notes that is was authors who spurred the company to expand into different technology fields— multimedia in the 1960s and '70s, electronic and digital products in the 1990s and 2000s. "We have access to some of the best minds in the world," Peter Wiley says about the authors the company publishes. "We'd be foolish not to listen to them."
Company executives also listen to Wiley employees about ways to grow the business. "This is a very collaborative culture," says Pesce. Collaboration is a key, Peter Wiley notes, because even though total revenue is now over $1 billion, the company is still a mid-sized player in the three market segments in which it competes. "We don't have a lot of money to throw around," Peter Wiley says. To help employees become invested in the long-term future of the company, Wiley's training programs emphasize the use of technology and the importance of maintaining financial discipline. While employees are schooled on the "financial consequences of their decisions," Peter Wiley says, "we aren't afraid to fail at something as long as we learn from it."
One lesson Wiley learned was that it is not a training company. Spurred in part by changes in corporate training methods through greater use of technology, Wiley entered the training field in the 1980s with the purchase of Wilson Learning. That company, however, never meshed well with Wiley's core publishing operations, and Wiley sold the business to a Japanese investment group in 1991.
With the sale of Wilson, Wiley was able to focus on its publishing operations, which are divided into three groups: STM, professional/trade and college markets. Pesce says Wiley will remain active in these market segments as long as the company has the financial resources to remain a viable competitor. He said the three-market approach gives the company balance, and the segments are similar enough that there is frequent cross-fertilization among the units. "We can sell lots of products across all our markets," Pesce says. He notes that Wiley's strength in the global STM field has opened up foreign countries to other Wiley products.
For Pesce, who joined Wiley 18 years ago and has been CEO since 1998, one of the primary benefits of family ownership is the stability it brings, including the willingness to invest for the long term—luxuries not all heads of publicly traded companies enjoy. "This has never been a place where management changes its mind about what business they want to be in once a year," Pesce says. "The Wiley family is committed to its mission and to the company." Peter Wiley describes that mission as "being in the middle of the transmission of knowledge," be it in print or, increasingly, digital formats. "Wiley has always been willing to change and adapt to what's going on around it," Pesce adds.
Ted Nardin, head of Springer Publishing, who has competed against Wiley for 30 years, also cites stability as a key ingredient that family ownership brings to the company. "They know what business they are in and they have built their business steadily, deliberately and thoughtfully," Nardin says. "They are true publishers, first and foremost."
In addition to using authors and employees to spot new trends, Wiley has long been one of the most active participants in industry organizations, something W. Bradford strongly supported. In W. Bradford's mind, by joining Wiley, "you became a citizen of the publishing industry," Pesce explains. It wasn't just an altruistic spirit that made W. Bradford Wiley encourage the company's participation in industry matters. "He knew that for a modest dues fee, he could make Wiley more influential in the industry," Pesce says. Whatever the motivation, AAP president Pat Schroeder is appreciative of Wiley's efforts. "Wiley understands that the only place you can really move the industry is as part of an organization," Schroeder says. "We can do things individuals can't." Schroeder notes that Wiley is among the association's most active members and has had three different executives serve as chair: W. Bradford Wiley, Andrew Neilly and Charles Ellis; Deborah Wiley, sister of Peter and Brad II, is currently chair of the International Copyright Enforcement committee.
As the year-long 200th anniversary celebration winds down—there have been parties and events around the world in all Wiley locations—the Wileys have no plans to withdraw from the business. A seventh generation, Jesse Wiley, is an assistant editor in the professional/trade division, and Peter Wiley says the family expects to keep the company for at least one more generation, noting that as long as family ownership can bring value to shareholders, customers and employees, he sees no reason to change a winning combination.
1807Charles Wiley opens print shop in New York City1814
Begins publishing books, and becomes publisher of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper
John Wiley takes over business following the death of his father
With partner George Palmer Putnam, Wiley establishes London office
Ends association with Putnam and broadens list to include nonfiction and professional works
John's son Charles joins the firm, forming John Wiley & Son
William Halsted Wiley joins the company, creating John Wiley & Sons
John Wiley dies and William Halsted Wiley becomes head of the company
Sales top $1 million, and under William O. Wiley, the company branches into science and business
W. Bradford Wiley, who joined the company in 1932, becomes president
Wiley opens first international subsidiary, in London
Wiley becomes publicly traded company
Sales top $30 million and company has locations in Mexico, South America, Australia, Japan and Canada
Acquires Alan R. Liss Inc.
Brad Wiley II succeeds his father as chairman
Acquires 90% interest in German publisher VCH
Acquires Van Nostrand Reinhold
Acquires college textbooks in selected areas from Pearson Education. Also buys Jossey-Bass and J.K. Lasser
Acquires Hungry Minds, its largest acquisition to date
Peter Booth Wiley succeeds Brad Wiley as chairman. Moves headquarters from New York City to Hoboken, N.J.
Revenue tops $1 billion and company makes its largest acquisition, Blackwell Publishing