Speaking at the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) annual meeting held September 30, in New York, newly appointed executive (as of Oct. 3) director Brian O’Leary previewed the organization’s forthcoming strategic plan. In a 15-minute talk, O’Leary, a longtime consultant and BISG board member, praised the plan he is now tasked with implementing as the group’s leader, and spoke confidently about BISG’s future.
“When I was talking with the executive committee about taking this position, one of the things that really influenced me most was the coherence and credibility of the strategic plan you're going to see in a couple of weeks,” O’Leary told members, calling the plan a set of initiatives members “can take to the bank.” He said the plan’s broad strokes are all “member-facing,” measurable and “pretty darn doable.”
In his first address to BISG members since being named the successor to Mark Kuyper, who abruptly resigned from BISG in August after just a year on the job, O’Leary acknowledged the challenges the group faces, and stressed the importance of focusing on the organization’s fundamental work.
Paraphrasing fellow BISG board member Peter Hildick-Smith, O’Leary acknowledged that BISG “can't be everything to everybody,” and conceded that the group in recent years had been “pulled in a lot of different directions” that were “not necessarily driving us closer to the vision that we all have, and our mission, which is to create a more informed, powerful and efficient book industry.”
O’Leary sketched for members the broad strokes of the plan, including the group’s core values, and its objectives. Among the BISG objectives he outlined: to establish BISG as the “information hub” for the book industry; to maintain a growing and diverse membership base; to foster the “development, refinement, and use of standards” across the global book industry supply chain; and lastly, undertaking research that will “shape the conversation” about the current state, and the future of book publishing.
O’Leary made clear, however, that the research component of BISG, which he acknowledged had, over the years, become a “hallmark” of BISG’s work, was not the group’s priority. “Standards are more closely aligned with where we are right now,” he said. And, he stressed the need to focus on growing and maintaining a diverse membership.
“Not just because you want to be growing and diverse, but because that's a critical component to solving the problems that we need to solve,” he explained. “At the level of the board, committee chairs, the makeup of committees and working groups, if we don't have diverse representation, our solutions are not going to be best in class.”
Which is not to say that BISG is abandoning its research work. “I'd love to be able to figure out what would be of service to the industry,” O’Leary said, regarding BISG’s future research projects. “But first we have to execute on the first three [objectives]. We need to deliver the goods, and if we don't deliver the value you need as members, what you need as a part of the book industry supply chain, then all the other ideas don't matter. So that's the thing I'm most committed to.”
O’Leary’s talk came after a morning in which BISG treasurer Maureen McMahon (president & publisher, at Kaplan Publishing) briefed members on the state of the BISG union, and described it as an organization in a “rebuilding year."
In addition to resolving back office issues—specifically, recent difficulties managing membership dues—McMahon reported that the group had also “hit reset” on staffing, and had downsized its office space, moves not only designed to save money, but to give O’Leary flexibility in creating the organization he needs to execute the new strategic plan.
But, despite what he characterized as “a tough year” for BISG, it was also a productive year, added Wiley v-p Peter Balis, in which membership actually rose (from 178 to 184 members), with new members ranging from EBSCO, to the University of Nebraska Press, and the W3C. And there was much to look forward to in the coming year in addition to the strategic plan, including a partnership with Outsell, and work on an improved website.
Among the highlights of the day’s program, John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Content Group, was awarded the BISG Award for Excellence for “leading his company and driving the transformation of Ingram Content Group.”
Ingram later participated in a panel discussion, and spoke of his philosophy on transformation. “The big thing, it is a mindset,” he said, noting that at Ingram the company has developed a motto: brave, not stupid. “It can be a pretty fine line between being brave and being stupid, but I think what I'm getting at is that you have to be aspirational. Which means you're setting targets that you may never get to. And, that's really OK, because you're likely to get so much further down the road with aspirational targets in my opinion.”