After weeks studying magazine and book publishing, the NYU Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) students were excited to escape the classroom and go on industry visits. My group crossed the Hudson on the PATH Train to quiet Hoboken, NJ, home of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Separated from the hustle of New York City, Wiley is no less of a force in the industry—the focus on global research, global education, and professional development has created a culture that fosters lasting careers and personal growth.
Wiley executives greeted us in a plush conference room with a breakfast spread and some arrestingly beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline. Beginning the discussion was Peter Balis, Director of Business Development, Global Digital Books, and a professor in the M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program at NYU. Balis said he hoped the speakers would change our ideas of traditional publishing and share stories of their personal development. “I wanted to introduce you to the people who do things at Wiley that you might not think of as traditional publishing,” Balis said.
First in that lineup was President and CEO Stephen M. Smith, who came to the company 22 years ago and defines Wiley not strictly as a publisher, but as a “knowledge services company” that intersects information and technology in innovative ways. “We have to be more than what a traditional publisher has been,” Smith said, speaking not only of his company, but also of its innovative teams. “We’re delivering usable knowledge; actually doing something that could make a difference in the world.” He added that personal growth and satisfaction is also a key motivating force for the Wiley team: “It’s important to feel connected to a mission that touches your soul and who you are as a person.”
Smith was followed by MJ O’Leary, Wiley’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources. Speaking of her career path and various roles at the company—including serving as former Head of Sales and Marketing for the Wiley Global Education Group—O’Leary stressed the importance of flexibility. “Make some moves that are not traditional on the surface,” O’Leary suggested, citing her own experience of “falling into” a sales role and winding up managing the global HR team years later. Balis, too, encouraged us to keep our options open: “The road is potentially going to take a lot of turns,” he said.
The discussion continued with Dean Karrel, Vice President and Director of Professional Development Sales, who stressed the importance of basic values in the workplace, including following up consistently, maintaining honesty, and listening. “When you ask a question, let people talk and they’ll tell you what they need,” Karrel advised.
Next up was Alex Dalessio, Director of Technology Innovation, who described the different components of tech at Wiley, from visual design to exploring all avenues of the user experience. “We want to look at how people use, create, share, and buy information,” Dalessio said.
Cathy Giffi, Director of Strategic Marketing Analysis and an alumna of the NYU M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program, then explained the crooked path that led to her current position. She described her jobs, from Oxford University Press to the Sundance Film Festival, and repeated a theme that almost every speaker echoed: “It’s about finding the culture that’s right for you,” Giffi said. “It took me a little while, but Wiley suits my personality.” Giffi noted that being sure of what you want to do right out of school is nearly impossible, and moving around is completely normal. “You are not defined by your job description,” she said.
The last speaker of the morning was Anne Smith, Vice President and Director of Partnerships and Business Development, whose job is to investigate global opportunities and continue a mission of exploring how people learn and what interests them. “Be risky, be brave,” she advised us.
With encouraging words and a last look at the riverfront view, we then accompanied Balis on a tour of the Wiley facilities. During the company move from Manhattan to Hoboken in 2002, Wiley worked hard to provide every resource necessary. The results are notable—employees have access to a secure parking garage, a full gym, a cafeteria with options aplenty, and even a coffee bar. A stroll through the public riverfront park that basically acts as Wiley’s backyard concluded the field trip.
Each student walked away from Wiley impressed not only by its global reach and stature, but also by the very tangible sense of community. There is an admirable encouragement for personal growth. Overall, we each learned that your development as a young professional depends entirely on what you’re willing to try. We are limited only by the ingenuity and creativity we have to offer.
by Kayla Overbey