Profile: Mandy Hill – MD of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press
Mandy Hill took up her role of Managing Director of CUP’s Academic Product Group in September 2014. She has kindly agreed to be interviewed about her first year at Cambridge University Press.
Q: How would you describe your job?
A: The Academic Product Group at Cambridge is a global business, with teams in countries around the world. We are working in an environment in which customers’ needs and expectations change rapidly. The competitive landscape is also undergoing a period of fast transition. Within this context, my role is focused on determining the direction our business should take, to ensure that we fulfil our mission, meet customer needs, and create a sustainable future.
Q: What were your first impressions of CUP when you arrived?
A: My initial impressions were based on the extremely warm welcome I received from everyone: the people here are fantastic. I had always known that the publishing here was world class, but the more I have learned, the more impressed I have become. Everyone here has a sense of pride in the Press, which I believe is well-deserved.
Q: Did these impressions differ much from how you viewed the Press before you were part of it?
A: Before joining, I had a sense that, digitally speaking, Cambridge was slightly behind some of its competitors. Now I am here, I can see a lot of great work is being done in this area. In the next few months we shall be announcing launches of products that I know will change the market’s perception of our digital capabilities.
Q: What are the challenges of running the academic division of an international and internationally-renowned university publisher?
A: Our customers have very high expectations of our products and services, and rightly so. One challenge is that sometimes people can be unwilling to accept there are things even a university press can’t deliver. Running a global business also presents some very practical challenges: e.g., trying to include teams from the US, UK and China in the same meeting! And the pace of change is phenomenal, which means everyone is working at full capacity, all of the time. Our teams care so much about what they do that getting colleagues to take time out can become an additional challenge.
Q: What are the rewards of your job? Do some of these exist specifically because CUP is a university press (i.e., not an ‘ordinary’ commercial academic publishing house)?
A: My chief reward is that I love my job. CUP is an amazing organisation, with a uniquely prestigious heritage. It is our responsibility to ensure it has an equally successful future. I work with brilliant people – in this I include customers, colleagues, authors and editors – and every day brings something unexpected and wonderful.
Q: In so far as you are able to share them, what changes are you planning?
A: There are a few key themes: we’ll be customer-driven, digitally outstanding, aim for optimal efficiency and work to a carefully-planned programme. We shall focus on getting even closer to our customers (librarians, readers and authors) in order to ensure our products and services deliver their needs. This approach will become embedded into everything we do. Regarding our digital offer specifically, we shall ensure that ‘digital first’ is at the heart of everything we do. I’ve emphasised efficiency because the more efficient we are, the more space and money we shall have for the ‘value-add’ work required to ensure our products and services meet customers’ expectations and really fulfil our mission. Finally, we are reviewing the make-up of our publishing programme.
Q: Drilling down a little, how are you preparing Cambridge Academic for the next 3 – 5 years?
A: There will not be any radical changes: by this, I mean we don’t plan to leave any major fields of publishing. Instead we shall shift the emphasis of our work subtly to ensure we fulfil global research needs to the maximum of our ability.
Q: You’ve mentioned customers in most of your answers. Would you like to expand a little on what customer service means to you?
A: Our relationship with librarians continues to be central to our work. This is especially true because we are a university press. The academic world which we all inhabit is changing and the roles of the library and the university press have to change with it. It is important that we engage in this together to ensure we get the best possible results for our users. Authors are also our customers: if we can’t attract the best of them, we won’t have a business. This has always been the case, but is even truer today in a world that offers alternative choices for authors, including Open Access and self-publishing. We recognise that authors need to be able to demonstrate the ‘impact’ of their research; we can help with this. We shall be improving the services that support authors throughout the publishing process. The demographics of our author base are altering fast. Great research is being done around the world and we want to publish the best of it. We are increasing the size of our team in China and have put in place an author development programme in India.
Q: Tell us a little about your previous career.
A: I started my publishing career straight after I graduated from Bath University (in Biochemistry). Initially I worked for Elsevier as a production editor, and subsequently in its journals editorial team. Then I had a brief spell at a medical communications agency, quickly realising that the world of pharma-sponsored publishing was not for me. I moved to OUP and worked there for more than 15 years.
Q: Your job sounds as if it takes all your waking hours. Do you have any time for hobbies? How do you like to relax?
A: I am married with two cats (Dougal and Ermintrude) and love gardening; we are currently planning to create a vegetable garden, which will keep me very busy when I am not in the office. I wouldn’t describe myself as at all sporty, but I do go to the gym regularly as a way to keep fit and clear the cobwebs at the start of the day. I was never a football fan until I met my husband, but then realised if I didn’t watch it with him we would lose quite a lot of weekends together – so I am now a Manchester United ‘fan’!
Q: In conclusion, do you have any special messages for your readers?
A: I was asked recently if I was happy to have made the move from OUP to Cambridge. I loved all of my time at OUP, and will always have huge respect for the people there and its publishing. However, I could not be happier to be here and believe this is the best publisher to work for right now. Everyone knows about our heritage; however, what excites me is the brilliant future I believe we have ahead of us. I can see it emerging already. I genuinely feel that university presses should be distinct from commercial publishers, even if we share a lot of common ground with them. I’m looking forward to working with our customers around the world, our parent university and the staff at the Press to understand how to become the world’s undisputed leading university press.