Richard Bevan, CEO at Emerald Publishing, reflects on the company’s 50 years in scholarly communications
What is your background?
I graduated with a BA in economics from Lancaster University and went on to gain FCMA (Fellow Chartered Management Accountant) status. I spent 27 years in retail, holding senior executive and director positions in finance and operations at M&S, Tesco, Asda and served on the main board at Fenwick Stores.
I joined Emerald in December 2008, as group finance and operations director, and was appointed CEO the next year. I had knowledge of the business for some years prior to this, due to my friendship with Martin Fojt, then chairman of Emerald Publishing and son-in-law of Emerald owner, Keith Howard.
The plan was that Martin and I would lead the business in the delivery of its future ambitions and goals. Unfortunately, in February 2014, Martin died from a sudden and unexpected heart attack. We have had to rebalance and refocus since, but are firmly on track. Outside of work, I am married to Liz and have two grown-up children. I have a love of sport, progressively as a spectator, and enjoy a range of music.
Does your experience in consumer retail influence the way you work?
In pursuing and enjoying a successful career in retail, there are a number of key attributes and skills that I’ve felt pertinent to my leadership role at Emerald. At the same time, I believe that adaptability, resilience and personal drive lie at the heart of my leadership style.
Three specific areas of experience I’ve sought to embed at Emerald are:
• A customer-first mentality for each of the communities we serve, with a progressive focus on the end user experience. We have progressively been strengthening our strategic marketing capability with stronger commercial alignment across the business;
• The adage that ‘retail is detail’ supports my bias towards data analytics and a progressive shift towards clearer performance metrics and insight-driven decision-making at Emerald; and
• Driving efficient and effective business change is a key requirement of any organisation seeking to sustain and grow its market share in the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world we all operate in. This includes the adoption of an agile mind-set underpinned by focus, transparency and execution.
Is there any common ground between the two industries (or any notable differences)?
Common ground: people are key to both business, with the quality of front-end relationships being the ultimate barometer. Emerald has fantastic staff throughout the business.
At the same time, as in most industries, the right blend of quality, choice and value in regards to our offer will remain key. We are a naturally responsive business, and one that is investing in its capacity and capability to be truly flexible and progressive in the customisation of this blended offer.
Notable differences: when I joined Emerald, there were a number of notable differences, including a lower intensity of competition and a more limited sense of pace and innovation, partly reflecting the history and nature of the sector. But the gap has narrowed significantly in recent years, with the pace of publishing and innovations within it having greatly increased and notable disruptors emerging, meaning my background and experience has proved very helpful indeed.
Emerald is celebrating 50 years in business this year. How is it marking the occasion?
Our 50th anniversary is a time for Emerald to look to the future. We’ve been on an exciting journey in recent years, growing from one company into a group of businesses and expanding our offering to help our communities meet new challenges and opportunities.
At a time when expertise and evidence is being challenged in some quarters, we remain passionate about helping people in the worlds of research and practice cut through the information overload and make decisions that count, based on research that matters. With this aim, we are seeking to build a group of companies that really brings research to life.
The new Emerald Group brand has therefore been created to incorporate all companies in the business, including GoodPractice and Research Media, as well as future acquisitions. This prominently includes the established global publishing business, which has been renamed Emerald Publishing (formerly Emerald Group Publishing) and will continue to provide access to a growing collection of more than 300 journals, 2,500 books and more than 1,500 case studies.
We have created new websites for emeraldgroup.com and emeraldpublishing.com, to introduce the aims of the business, and enhanced our emeraldinsight.com research platform to improve the user experience.
In addition to the rebrand and new websites, we have other exciting things going on to mark our 50th, including the launch of a new website, emeraldat50.com, and the publication of a book dedicated to our anniversary that both chart the business’ journey from 1967 to this day.
We held celebrations with our staff across all of our global offices to launch the brand at the very beginning of 2017 and we’re looking forward to celebrating our 50th birthday with our communities at events across the world in 2017.
Over the years the business has supported many charities, and we are proud to have raised over £150,000 in the past six years. This year, we’re challenging our global community to raise £50,000 for our charity of choice, Heart Research UK, which is also celebrates its 50th anniversary. The charity has a special significance to us as a business due to former Emerald chairman Martin Fojt’s unexpected passing from a heart attack in 2014.
Emerald staff are also volunteering for a Right to Read scheme with local schools, helping under-privileged children gain vital access to reading support.
What would publishers 50 years ago have thought if they could see the industry today?
In many ways, a publisher of 50 years ago would have the same preoccupations as one of today – how to help discover, promote, nurture and disseminate research which will have an impact both on future academic work as well as policy and practice. But with global information output now doubling every nine years – and the huge digital transformation which continues to reshape the way we access and share information – a publisher from 1967 would be fascinated by the industry today.
Understanding how users behave and learn in this volatile, digital world is one of the most important undertakings of a modern publisher. Developing the most compelling experience online for users is a major and skilled task. Indexing and discoverability are fundamental concerns.
The emphasis within the publishing industry on these emerging and changing skills is completely different today to how it was 50 years ago.
A publisher from 50 years ago looking at the industry today would also recognise the value that today’s publishers continue to provide to the scholarly communities they serve. This extends through the facilitation of peer review as a foundational element of the research process, the development of trusted, high-quality publication venues serving the research disciplines, global dissemination and permanent, discoverable archival of the scientific record. There would also be a strong sense of pride in the role that publishers play in developing a robust digital infrastructure that supports scientific progress.
What is the most significant development in the industry in recent years?
There have been many: open access; alternative metrics; SciHub and Research Gate. But, overall, I’d say that big data is the most significant, as it has such fundamental and far-reaching implications. The way that publishers can describe and disseminate data, enrich and link content, make data searchable, and personalise user experience with data signals is the tip of the iceberg. We don’t yet know the potential of machine-readable data on a large scale, but it will be transformational.
Looking ahead, what one thing will have the biggest effect on academic publishing?
The ability of publishers to understand, experiment with and communicate their value.
The publisher’s role in the scholarly community is evolving and traditional structures – peer review, editorial curation, subscriptions, book formats, the concept of the journal issue itself – are being re-evaluated.
These are valid and exciting developments and ones necessary to explore together with the creators and users of research content. There are fantastic opportunities here for innovative publishers to hone new solutions that help customers maximise their impact, learn and apply new knowledge.
Interview by Tim Gillett