New York: As the chairman of John Wiley & Sons Inc., one of the leading publishing companies in the world, Peter Booth Wiley not only carries his famous surname effortlessly, but also the business that was started by 25-year-old Charles Wiley with a printing shop in New York City in 1807. Minutes into the conversation, one realizes the effortlessness comes from a deep understanding and involvement in the business, which, he says, has been shaped partly by his early days as a history student and a journalist. “Understanding history helps in taking a long view, even in business. It helps you introspect and see beyond the immediate quarter,” says Wiley, who has authored five books including National Trust Guide/San Francisco: America’s Guide for Architecture and History Travelers and Empires in the Sun: The Rise of the New American West.
Wiley should know since this habit of introspection has helped him steer the company to become a publisher in law, social sciences and business management, scientific, technical and medical (STM), cook books and travel books. The company, which also entered the digital content field earned a revenue of $1.4 billion in fiscal 2006, and currently has more than 4,500 employees. “We have made mistakes in the past and lost money, too. The training company that we set up in 1980 was a disaster and we had to exit it after profits came to a zilch. But then, we have learnt from that mistake,” says Wiley.
Perhaps, it’s the discretion learnt the hard way that stops Wiley from foraying into the field of fiction. “Fiction is a high-risk business. We know our core strengths and we are not going to foray into areas where we lack competence. This makes us conservative, but in a good way,” says Wiley, who left journalism to join the family business in 1984; he succeeded his brother Bradford Wiley II, as chairman in September 2002.
Along with flexibility and adaptability to the changing business environment, Wiley’s game plan includes acquisitions, which have been strategic to the company’s growth. “We have always sought partners, who would bring in capabilities that we don’t have,” says Wiley. Over the past decade, Wiley has continued to strengthen the company’s core businesses with acquisitions such as Hungry Minds Inc., which has brought high- profile brands including the For Drummer Series, Framer’s travel guides and the Betty Crocker and Weight Watcher cook books. It also acquired Blackwell Publishing (Holdings) Ltd, which has helped spread its range and investments across categories including dentistry and veterinary science.
Though Wiley is against the idea of taking a plunge into the world of fiction, he has expanded his portfolio to pet care, cookery books and other such genres. He says this will strengthen, and not dilute the Wiley brand, which is known more as a social sciences and STM publisher. “It has helped us widen our portfolio, which is very important for a need-to-know publisher like us. So, whether you want to know how to get started with a computer, cook a meal or look for a medical journal, it’s ‘all Wiley, all the time’,” he says.
Along with expanding the business, Wiley has been focused on developing the best governance practices in his company, too. While, his family is still the majority stakeholder in the publicly-listed company, Wiley claims the business is managed by independent professionals and the family provides overall guidance only. “Keeping a business within the family deprives it of the talent pool available outside. In large and complex organizations, dealing with different business environments requires professional expertise and companies could hurt themselves if they do not look beyond themselves,” he says.
While strengthening the core business, Wiley has remained focused on new growth opportunities. He has been aggressively moving content online since he feels the “digital platform would play an increasingly significant role in the publishing business in future”. “Our aim is to grow and expand our must-have content and services across disciplines, formats, and businesses to deliver complete information solutions to all our customers,” says Wiley, who is in India to kick-start the company’s bicentennial celebrations.
With Asia emerging as both a dynamic market and an important source of content, Wiley is quite focused on the market. The company had a joint venture in India with a local publishing company, DreamTech, which has now been integrated with Wiley India Pvt. Ltd. The company’s immediate aim is “strengthening sales and marketing activities”. “India and China are very important to us. Both markets are the top drivers of growth and we have seen a compounded annual growth of 25% in India against 11% year-on- year growth in the US in the past 10 years,” says Wiley.
John Wiley & Sons has come a long way from a small printing shop more than two centuries ago to one of the top 10 global publishing houses today. And Wiley insists that it is not the end of the journey yet.
“We are, in fact, ushering in a new era of growth. The business has never been so exciting and rewarding,” says the sixth generation Wiley.