Zicklin Leadership Series — Peter Jovanovich

December 7th, 2011 Newman library saw Peter Jovanovich, President of Alfred Harcourt Foundation and a veteran of the publishing business, for the last installment in this semester’s Zicklin Leadership Series.

Frank Fletcher introduced Mr. Jovanovich and Professor Donald Vredenburgh conducted the discussion.

DV:  What’s it like to be in the publishing business? Is it really like a jungle?

PJ:  All business these days is like a jungle. One must balance demands of customers, employees and governments.  For a manager it’s like being hanged, drawn and quartered every day.

DV: Why have there been so many mergers and acquisitions in the publishing industry?

JV:  Publishing is no different than another industry. There have been profound changes.  Technology is driving at lot of it. Look a payables department from the 1950’s.  It was huge. Now many fewer people, can do much more.  However, we’ve reached a limit in publishing.  The Justice department won’t allow any more consolidation.

Peter Jovanovich with Professor Donald Vredenburgh

DV: Have you found it important to vary your leadership behavior in different positions and in your career?

PJ:  I was probably too impatient when I was young.  I pushed employees and product beyond where they could go.  In time I found it important to find the people who could go farther and to cut them loose.  With customers, it’s harder.  Predictions on where customers will be has been consistently wrong.

Travel with some sales people. See how they do a sales call. Customers will shatter your vision of the “customer of the future.”  I’ve learned to be more patient with what customers are telling you.  I learned more in a single year selling books to professors in Rochester, than I have in 3 decades since.

DV: What are the characteristics of effective leadership?

PJ:   It’s what you do, not what you say, that has the most profound impact on the behavior of your employees.  It’s actions that count.  The less management, the more respect.  Layers of hierarchy just add cynicism.

DV: What are the challenges and rewards you’ve had in management?

PJ: There haven’t been much in the way of rewards. Though all the changes and consolidations, there’s been a lot of layoffs and roll-ups.  Standing before a warehouse of blue-collar workers who had worked there all their lives and telling them they don’t have jobs anymore.  That’s tough.  Shareholders are voracious.  There’s only so far you can push your people and keep squeezing.  We are at a point of diminishing returns.  A reward was creating a product that no one had thought of and that customers actually wanted.  And then having the sales staff knock the ball out of the park. That was great.

DV:  What job-market advice do you have?

PJ: Don’t go into publishing.  There is widespread antipathy towards the financial industry.  There will be new regulations and changes. The changes will constrain opportunities in the financial industry.  Offer something that sets you apart — not just number crunching.  Perhaps a skills set marketing to new customers.  Companies desperately need top-line growth.

DV: Any tips for interviews and hiring?

Peter Jovanavich with students

PJ:  Keep your mouth shut.  Listen.  Talk only 5% of the time.  A lot of people don’t interview well who are extremely talented.  Far too many managers rely just on the interview and ignore references and background.

DV: How should someone in a lower position become visible for leadership potential?

PJ:  Sometimes you don’t want visibility  Be prepared for anything you say anywhere being repeated and becoming public knowledge. The best performers are not necessary the ones who speak up and dominate a conversation (on the contrary).  The best way to gain visibility is to achieve something.  Or have the courage to say something that isn’t popular or runs contrary to conventional wisdom. Be careful though. Be well reasoned and grounded in facts.

Many thanks to Mr. Jovan0vich  for joining us for lunch and sharing his experiences.  As always the staff who made this possible have our sincerest appreciation.

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