Can you give us a brief history of your journey to Silverchair?
I am a Brit but was born in Libya and lived as a child in Germany for quite a time. I went to university in Manchester and Oxford and, apart from a year teaching English in Italy, my work life has, until joining Silverchair, been with just a single company: Oxford University Press (OUP), the world’s largest university press. At OUP I started life acquiring and editing academic books; I also acquired higher education textbooks, and set up OUP’s higher education publishing department in the UK. In time I became responsible for academic, trade, reference, dictionaries, and higher education publishing, initially in the UK and then the US and then globally; these responsibilities meant that I got to experience the digital transition in academic and educational publishing at the sharp end, and I’m proud to have been involved in the development of some significant digital products at OUP. I lived and worked in New York from 2006 - 2010, and came to admire and respect the working culture here. It was tough to leave Oxford (back in September 2017) in good part because I was able to work with such an amazing set of colleagues. But after 27 years with the organization, I decided that I needed to find a new challenge.
Initially, that involved spending time in Italy, in a camper van and on a bicycle, and in Japan and India. I was having a terrific time but when Thane [Kerner, Silverchair CEO] spoke to me about working at Silverchair, I was tempted back into the world of work. Having worked with Silverchair during my time at Oxford, I had come to like the people at Silverchair, the platform, and the market opportunities. I was also attracted by the opportunity to do something somewhat different to what I’ve been doing, in that it’s a technology company (albeit one that operates in the academic publishing space). Technology is going to be ever more important in scholarly and research publishing, so I thought I would learn a lot as well as contribute.
You have worked closely with Silverchair for years, so you were familiar with many of our people and processes. What has surprised you about Silverchair since joining as President?
I am pleased to say that I haven’t actually been too surprised—I think for the reason you mention: I already knew many of the Silverchair people, and the platform, from my time at OUP, since I was part of the team that decided to move OUP’s research publishing to the Silverchair Platform. I had thought that I could find the scale and focus of Silverchair a challenge, since it is a smaller organization and a technology company, as opposed to a large publisher, but I seem to be adapting. I am really enjoying learning about the technology – both the Silverchair technology, but also learning more deeply about the technology ecosystem of research publishing.
Joining Silverchair has brought you from the UK to Charlottesville, Virginia - what's your favorite Charlottesville feature thus far?
Charlottesville is a ‘big, small’ city: it is full of open-minded and interesting people, and I love the location of the Silverchair offices on the Downtown Mall. I am also looking forward to getting out on my road bike to explore the beautiful countryside.
Having previously been in the role of Silverchair client, what have you learned that you think would interest our current and future clients?
There are even bigger differences between the Silverchair Platform and offers of the different providers in the platform space than I’d realized.
Silverchair is organizing a new industry event this year (Platform Strategies)—what do you most hope that attendees will take away from it?
This will be an industry event not focused on Silverchair, which is an innovation in our market: platform companies have traditionally had client-focused events, with a narrower focus on their own recent and near-future roadmap items—so it hasn’t been possible to get an informed picture of the entire space. We thought that there is a gap for publishers, societies, and technologists to come together to focus more broadly on platforms and issues around the creation and delivery of research and reference content to global audiences. Some of it will be more technology-focused (e.g. the CTO roundtable) and some of it is broader (e.g. "Scale and Survival: Is the Future of Scholarly Publishing Exclusively Commercial?" with a panel made up of two people from non-profit organizations and two from commercial publishers). We’re lining up some great speakers, so my hope for it will be that there is high-quality discussion and insights that will be of interest to all attendees, whether representing large or small societies, commercial or not-for-profit publishers, or other parts of the research and technology ecosystem.
What is your biggest goal for Silverchair over the next five years?
A great platform and happy clients. Silverchair has an excellent position as the leading independent content platform provider for the research and scholarly world, and our ambition is to maintain and deepen that position. The Silverchair Platform already does a great job of meeting the needs of societies and publishers today, and we plan to keep investing and innovating to make sure we stay ahead of those needs; our recent TDM layer is a nice example of this approach at work.
But Silverchair is also about more than its platform—we put a big emphasis on working positively with our clients, priding ourselves on our customer service, and the quality of our relationships: providing a workshop, not a factory environment.