I’ve been reading about Carly Fiorina, the deposed CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Yesterday’s New York Times said she’d been brought in to change the culture and tried to go too far. “Changing the culture” is on our minds, as Berkshire goes from being a small town content developer to a next-gen publishing company with global ambitions.
Publishing in New York has always been a glamour business–star authors, literary leanings–while ours has been more like an academic department, and many of our employees have come from the academic or nonprofit world, or straight out of college. Like us, they’ve loved dealing with global topics and contributors, and felt that we were doing something good in the world, especially after 9/11 when we found ourselves publishing on just the right topics: Fundamentalism, Crime and Punishment, and Modern Asia.
We were all essentially editorial in our outlook, leaving other people to deal with promotion and marketing and distribution. But that’s all changed.
We too are in the process of changing the culture, to one where editorial and IT work smoothly together, and where marketing and sales are not seen as somehow sullying the purity of what editorial does. Quite the contrary: when we produce great product on important topics, everyone in the organization should be part of getting it into as many people’s hands, or screens, as possible. That’s part of believing in what we do.
But it isn’t easy. It requires, for many people, a change in perspective, a change in their thinking about the nature of business. Too many well-intentioned people, concerned about the environment or social issues, see businesses and commerce as essentially destructive. And I’m not claiming to have understood this quickly myself: I was as idealistic and ignorant about the world as anyone. My fascination with business, and with the possibilities for industry leadership that are part of creating a successful business, is a relatively recent thing. There are bad businesses, sure, but businesses aren’t bad. In fact, Great Barrington needs businesses like ours, and the world needs successful and innovative publishers.