INTERVIEW

‘The team is key’

Pinar Erzin is founder and president of Accucoms

Tell us a little about your background?

I was born and raised in Ankara, Turkey. I studied at a private French high school where we covered all lessons in French and then I studied American Culture and Literature at the university. After my BA degree, I moved to The Netherlands where I learned Dutch and lived for more than 20 years. This is also where I started Accucoms in 2004.

Learning foreign languages was an important matter at our home; as my father always said to me and my sister: ‘one language means one person’. He continuously emphasised the importance of speaking different languages and communicating with other cultures. He said: ‘You have to eat with them, laugh with them and share with them.’ As I write these lines, I realise what an impact his words had on how I have built my company. 

In a nutshell, what does Accucoms do?

Accucoms represents publishers across the world, as their extended sales, marketing and customer service arm. We are a mini-multi-national with more than 60 people located in different parts of the world, speaking approximately 30 languages and we have very strong relationships with libraries across the globe.

We communicate with libraries and the users on behalf of the publishers we represent, to serve the libraries better, to generate new business, open new markets for our publishers and maintain their current businesses. Our head office is in Leiden, The Netherlands and currently we have teams located managing Europe, North and Latin America, The Middle East and North Africa, Turkey, India, South East Asia and South Korea. We also have plans to move onto some other territories we have not been active in yet. 

We do telesales campaigns, sales representation, market research and analysis, and customer services for all STM publishers. Recently we launched The Aggregagent, which is a solution for scholarly publishers to be able to sell meaningful collections. 

How did you become part of Swets?

Swets was my school for this industry as I started working there in 1999 as customer service for Turkey. I knew nothing about subscription business in the STM world. The late 90s were the years when Swets was flourishing as an industry leader in its subscription agency role. Soon after I joined, I became publishers relations manager for Europe and then general manager for Extenza Marketing Solutions. Extenza was Swets’ initiative to serve publishers with several services like marketing and sales, distribution and fulfilment and e-publishing.

In 2004, I left Swets/Extenza to incorporate Accucoms as an independent sales agent working on behalf of publishers. In 2005, Accucoms took over Extenza Marketing Solutions from Swets and focused on developing our relations with publishers further. At the beginning we were simply a telemarketing company chasing lapsed subscriptions, which I believe still is a very valuable activity. Gradually we established dedicated representation services in multiple territories. 

Interestingly and surprisingly, several years later, Swets and its completely new management wanted to acquire the company to develop its commercial publisher services further. After much consideration and discussion, we sold Accucoms to Swets in August 2011. 

Obviously, the relationship turned sour when Swets was declared bankrupt. You turned things around quickly though – how did you manage that?

Actually when I sold the company to Swets in 2011, I thought the circle was round, but apparently it wasn’t… We had a solid agreement between me and Swets management; they wanted me to manage and grow Accucoms further. The concern would take all administrative management off my shoulders so I could focus on developing the business. Accucoms would be kept as a separate entity under Swets ownership, maintaining its name, brand, company culture and management style. I must say nothing was sour between Accucoms and Swets.

Our marriage was a pretty happy one. The company left me with sufficient space to achieve goals and gave me full back office support and I focused fully on developing a very strong team and grew the business, strategically as well as financially. In fact, a year before the bankruptcy, Accucoms grew its profits by multitudes and Swets transferred all its commercial operations in Latin America and Asia to Accucoms. 

The Swets Information Services concern was going to be sold at the end of 2014 however and for reasons irrelevant to Accucoms’ business, the plans for a sale didn’t work out and we all were declared bankrupt by the end of September 2014. There we were, with our multiplied growth and the best international team ever, bankrupt and unemployed. 

How did we deal with the bankruptcy? For exactly six weeks, we didn’t sleep, we calculated, we forecasted, we talked to all competitors, potential buyers, bankers, investors and each other at most hours of the day! Oh and of course the trustee and his team, who were in fact left with a very complicated bankruptcy of a concern in 23+ countries. 

At the end of six weeks, we made an offer to buy Accucoms and on 6 November the company was born again. Normally I don’t care about job titles, but I like mine a lot. It says I am the founder of Accucoms. I joke about it as I founded the company a few times. However, as this the case, I have been supported by my relentless management team Egon Menardi, Simon Boisseau and Rakesh Malik. These men are co-founders and stakeholders of Accucoms. 

Was it immediately clear that Accucoms was going to be a success following the relaunch?

What do we call immediate? First few days? No it wasn’t clear. First few weeks? Yes, absolutely! You see, in October 2014 we went to Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) as a bankrupt company and unemployed people, with our own money. First of all, the support and commitment of my whole team was the most important reason for fighting through the bankruptcy. Then, what we saw at FBF was the full support of our publishers and all potential buyers who understood why we wanted independence… 

Throughout the whole six weeks I communicated with our team and our publishers continuously about the situation, our intentions and even our challenges. I asked for support and I got nothing but support. I can confirm that I am absolutely one very lucky person! 

As soon as we bought our company back, we incorporated ourselves anew, re-signed all our employment agreements with our staff and all commercial agreements with our customers within a matter of weeks. By the end of January 2015, I was surely breathless, exhausted, tired, but also knew everything was going to be fine. 

How have things changed now that you are independent again?

From November 2014 till November 2015, it was all about re-establishing ourselves, focusing on our core business, without inventing any new initiatives and adventures. Being independent has allowed us to focus on delivering a good service to our publishers and to think freely about solving some tough problems for them. 

Since the beginning of 2016, we worked hard to develop a new solution specifically for society publishers, university presses and other scholarly publishers. It’s called The Aggregagent. It is a registered product and solution that will take the ‘Big Deal’ and turn it into a ‘Good Deal’ both for publishers and libraries globally. It is about introducing a transparent business model, where small and meaningful collections with content of the highest quality will be made available for institutions, corporations, consortia and national buying groups. 

The Aggregagent will offer publishers full transparency and control over their own business, while helping them benefit from the power of many. Libraries will have access to small and large collections of the best societies and publishers, while administration and access will be fully organised for them. Being independent at this stage helps Accucoms to become a true solution provider. 

What do the next few years hold for Accucoms?

I think during the next few years, we are going to serve a very important cause for publishers, who want to grow their international market share without losing control over their revenues and branding. The Aggregagent will help publishers increase their global reach and readership, and launch new titles successfully. 

For libraries, we will become a source for top quality content that is easily available for their specific needs as large or as small as they wish to acquire. 

If there is one thing you have learned in the last few years, what would it be?

I am a Gemini, so there is never just one thing! 

Never think the circle is round, as you don’t know what’s coming. No one will solve your problems for you – you have to get up and do it yourself. Always. The team is key. Without a strong team, there are no customers, hence no business. Serving a cause is always better, more meaningful, more enjoyable and eventually more profitable, than doing business for short-term profit. 

 

Interview by Tim Gillett

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