This month Tommi had his 20 year anniversary working for the company. In this post we ask him a few questions about the past two decades(!) of loyal service…
What was your first role at the company and what did it involve?
My first role at the company was working in subscriptions processing. In 1998 the Y2K bug was on everyone’s mind, and it became apparent that the programme that my father had developed to process subscriptions and maintain our mailing list was not Y2K compliant, and so my job was to make sure that all addresses and subscriptions were transferred to the new system.
How has the company changed over the last 20 years?
Wow, well it has changed and it hasn’t. The most obvious change perhaps is that we no longer publish journals, and we publish over twice as many books per year as we did in 1998. In 1998 we had only just started publishing our journals online, and although we were using email to communicate, it was through a dial up modem that only connected to the internet once per hour. Much of our correspondence was letters delivered by our local postman, and our filing was all in paper files in filing cabinets. In 2018 all of our books are published simultaneously in print and ebook formats, we are able to work from home and connect into our files online, and there are many days in which nobody has the need to go to the post office. Although the faces have changed and I no longer work with my parents, we are still very true to the original values of the company that they started. We are committed to being a supportive company, whether that is to new authors, established senior academics, or to ourselves and our colleagues. We still all fit around a restaurant table and we remain faithful to our goal of publishing high quality books, whether they be research monographs about language acquisition, edited volumes about sustainable tourism, or guidance for parents and teachers about bringing up their children multilingually.
Do you remember your first Frankfurt Book Fair?
Yes! I visited Frankfurt first in 1998. My immediate impression was sheer incredulity as we travelled down the never-ending “via mobile” from the main entrance to Halle 8.0 where the Anglophone publishers had their exhibits. I have now been to the bookfair 21 times, and whilst it has compacted a little since my first visit, I still remain awestruck by the sheer number and range of books that are published around the world, and enthused by the number of German teenagers that choose the bookfair as their place to come and hang out, dress up in outlandish costumes, and share their love of literature.
What has been your biggest achievement/success?
There have been many achievements and successes over the years and it is hard to single them out, but amongst the many hundreds of books we have published I remember commissioning Kate Menken’s “English Learners Left Behind” on the spot as she talked to me about her fascinating thesis. But really the achievement I am most proud of is that in an age of consolidation where the larger corporate publishers are working to hoover up the lion’s share of library budgets with the effect of homogenising research outputs into somewhat stale prescriptive formats, we are still managing to carve out our own little niche where we can continue to publish interesting work in a nurturing manner. Whilst I sometimes wonder what problems I might have on my desk when I come into the office I have never had a day when I’ve woken up and thought “I wish I didn’t have to go to work today”. I’ve worked with some of my colleagues for well over 15 years, and we have a very low staff turnover, which says to me that together we’ve succeeded in creating an environment where people feel comfortable and happy to work, and if that isn’t an achievement to be proud of then I don’t know what is!
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Oddly, these days it could very well be paying royalties. Although our royalties bill to our authors is one of the larger expense items on our accounts, and I always complain loudly to friends, colleagues, and passers-by in the street before having to sit down and manually sign cheques, it was strangely satisfying to work through the list of 478 authors that we owed royalties to in 2018, ticking them off methodically as each one was paid. As I have taken more of a managerial and finance role in the business in the last few years I feel a bit more detached from the regular contact with series editors and authors that I used to have, so paying the royalties each year reminds me of projects that I worked on years ago!
What’s your favourite place you’ve travelled to for work?
I have been lucky to travel to a good number of wonderful places, but two stand out in my memory. In second place is the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado where I attended a publishers summit organised by NetLibrary in the early days of ebook publishing. This is the hotel that Stephen King took for his inspiration for the Overlook hotel in the Shining, and the hotel took great delight in dedicating one channel on the TV to 24hr looped broadcasting of the movie. The chairs and tables in the corridors were often found in different and strange places in the morning, although whether this was a shrewd marketing ploy of the staff or something more sinister, I never found out…..
But my stand out favourite place to travel has got to be Japan. I really enjoy the ease of moving around both the country and the major cities, the food is always outstanding, the countryside beautiful, and the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto which I visit most often are so different that the contrast itself is fascinating. Our contacts at the major booksellers and importers are both friendly and professional, and so meetings are always productive.
What’s your favourite memory?
Oh crikey, what to choose from? I have worked with so many nice people over the past 20 years, both inside and outside of our office, and have a great number of happy memories of all of those people. I can’t pin down what my favourite memory is in a moment, but generally the memory of working successfully and (mostly) harmoniously with both of my parents has got to be the favourite. They taught me most of what I now know, and gave me the space and time to learn the rest myself, letting me make my own mistakes when they felt that was necessary. If I had to pick a moment it might very well be the evening when I sat with Dad in a pub in London and he tentatively suggested that perhaps I should consider coming to work with him and Mum…
Here’s to the next 20 years!