Sharing knowledge: Keiran Rogers and Greg Browne on the Small Press Network mentorship program
The program, which has funding from Creative Victoria, was created ‘to help mentees build their skills across all areas of publishing so that they can build a sustainable enterprise’, said SPN general manager Matthia Dempsey. ‘Many small publishers enter the industry because they have a particular passion for a subject or understand a niche audience, but they do not necessarily have all the foundational publishing skills necessary to ensure their business is sustainable.’
One of the mentees was Keiran Rogers from Affirm Press, who was matched with Greg Browne from Macmillan Education. Rogers and Browne wrote about their experience.
Keiran Rogers, sales and marketing director, Affirm Press:
Affirm Press is very supportive of the Small Publishers Network as an organisation but doesn’t always engage with its activities as much of what SPN do is focussed on quite small publishers.
However, when SPN chair Michael Webster approached me for the SPN mentorship program I was very keen, mainly because of the quality mentors he’d managed to recruit—such as Macmillan Education managing director Greg Browne and Hardie Grant Publishing chief executive Sandy Grant.
The program is rather informal. A mentee is partnered with a mentor to discuss whatever it is they wish and to meet as often as they like. Greg and I have met three times in total over a period of three months.
The initial meeting was to detail each other’s businesses. In the second meeting I ran through Affirm’s five-year financial plan with Greg to get his outside opinion on what looked achievable and best industry practice around financial management. Our third meeting was specifically on stock provisions, stock turns and clearance strategies for aged stock.
Despite having been in publishing for 15 years I have not always been as heavily involved in this detail of the back-end of publishing, so to have someone completely unbiased and in no competitive position to run plans and procedures past has been immensely helpful. I went into the program looking for reassurance as much as learnings.
It has been very pleasing that Greg and I have found ways to help each other in these business discussions, and have future meetings planned.
I think there is a need for generational change in several big and medium-size Australian publishers, and a program such as this—which bridges the gap between experienced and non-experienced publishing professionals—is a great idea.
Greg Browne, manager director, Macmillan Education Australia and New Zealand:
I had no involvement with the Small Publishers Network prior to the current mentoring role. However, I have always admired Michael Webster’s commitment to Australian publishing and to developing the next generation of industry leaders. When he discussed the mentoring program with me, I was immediately motivated to make a contribution if at all possible.
His proposal that I work with Keiran Rogers of Affirm Press was a bit of a surprise. My background and experience is heavily weighted to large corporate educational publishing roles and I doubted that I could be of much use to Keiran. After three meetings, I am still doubtful about my ability to provide useful advice, but I do know that I spent several hours of conversation covering many interesting and critical aspects of managing a publishing business. If Keiran got as much out of the talks as I did, then the program is definitely worthwhile.
Perhaps it was because we come at the challenges of publishing from different backgrounds that we were quickly able to focus on common business issues. Our conversations covered issues like managing inventory, cash management, the challenges and risks of rapid growth, the opportunities that come with digital disruption, how important it is to employ the right people and to create a great working environment—issues for all publishing businesses whether they are large or small, trade or education, old or new.
The discussions were informal, frank, confidential, open-ended and not restricted to any set agenda. The kind of discussions that we rarely have in our daily working lives. Maybe because we are not in a competitive situation, Keiran and I were able to be more open, but in any case I believe that in the kind one-on-one of setting provided by the mentoring program there can be a positive sharing of experience and knowledge that doesn’t conflict with the real need for not disclosing sensitive company information.
My experience of the mentoring program is very positive. As an industry veteran, it was great to be sharing knowledge with someone much younger who is intent on growing a business over the long term. I would strongly recommend the program to prospective mentors and mentees.