I’m half Armenian, half Greek, and Irish through marriage. Both my parents’ parents immigrated to this country when they were very young and didn’t speak English; so they taught themselves English when they got here. They were both very hardworking people. My father came from that tradition and instilled it in us.
He grew up, went into the Army, then college, and he came out and started his own business. It was a small restaurant, and he had us working in the restaurant – my brothers and sisters and I – literally before we were really old enough to work. I think I was maybe 14 the first time I got on the train and went into Boston, into the city, and I was so scared — and there he was waiting at the door of the restaurant and that was it.
We wore white uniforms, and he paid us for our work. When we were just getting out of junior high school and into high school, he told us that if we didn’t want to work in the restaurant, that was OK – but we were going to go to school, and we were going to get part-time jobs while we were in school: We would always work while we were getting educated. There was no time off from work. And so it’s funny, it’s like that’s who I am today: I still work and work and work because I don’t know any different.
That’s really my story in a nutshell. He just instilled that in us. There was just no choice: You’re going to work while you’re in high school and manage your studies at the same time, because there are no free rides.
Now as an adult, I was lucky enough to fall into a business I love. So working long weeks is a pleasure, not a hardship. I started in marketing, which gave me the opportunity to work and learn all facets of the publishing business. I worked closely with editorial. I went on sales calls and developed customized solutions for customers. I wrote audience development plans and launched extension products such as events. I had a lot of lunches with internal department heads to understand the pain points, the successes, and so forth. I’m a firm believer that if you want to be an effective leader in publishing, it’s important to know how all the parts work together, how to connect the dots to make it a profitable business.
There was just no choice: You’re going to work while you’re in high school and manage your studies at the same time, because there are no free rides.
My personal journey changed along the way when the business-to-business media trade went through a huge transformation as the Internet Age began. Employees’ skill sets had to change in order to embrace the way people were changing how and when they wanted content. And, of course, advertisers and sponsors wanted to go to market differently. Our core products had to evolve rapidly. It was a huge challenge to redirect sales, marketing, editorial, services and the community-building teams in all areas of the new media – as well as hiring people with different skills and changing up the product, all at the same time. It was a complete business process overhaul that I had to execute in a very short period of time. My experience in all the various functions of the business along the way helped me do it. And, it is still always changing. While running Networld, social media began having a serious impact on publishing. Moving the team forward in this area early on has been crucial to revenue growth and audience development.
I started in the business when there were relatively very few women at the top. I was raising two children at a time when you would be viewed differently if you left the office for any reason – for example to go pick up sick children or take them to appointments. The flexibility just wasn’t there as it is today for young mothers working in the business. In order to balance, you had to outwork your colleagues and volunteer to work on projects that were outside your scope to show your dedication. I was lucky at Reed Business U.S., in that I had several male bosses who saw my potential and opened doors for me along the way.
My proudest moment was when I became the second woman Publisher in a house of about 40 male Publishers at Reed. My lowest point was when I had to shut down some print magazines. I’ve always been a magazine junkie. Magazines were still important to the readership, but the advertising support was dwindling as readers moved online. It felt like I was letting some people’s “lifetime work” slip away. That exercise came with some of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.
Along the way, I found mentors in the business — not only people who were smart, but people who had emotional intelligence and big personalities that commanded a following. I watched them closely and realized that if you want to build a loyal team, accept that all team members are different and use that to your advantage. Work constantly to help people be better — and keep the organization moving and energized. I had a boss that once told me the real job of a Publisher is the caring and feeding of stars. It was the best advice I ever got. The other best advice I've been given: Make your customers your priority and stay close to them no matter what position you hold.
As a woman leader, I tell other women:
Give yourself credit. I still see women having a problem with that. At the same time, the smart ones recognize that you have to walk a line. People are generally attracted to leaders who are humble, and they disengage with those who might appear arrogant. This doesn’t change over time.
Always, always be available to your team. I joke with my team, always reminding them I’m a full-service Publisher. The message is that I am ready to jump in at any time, to help, to problem solve, or to do whatever it takes to win.
Take every industry meeting. No meeting with people outside your organization is a waste — even if you think it might be. You never know when good ideas or other connections from that meeting will surface months or even years later. And you will meet people along the way who will help you advance.
It’s possible to have a career and a family at the same time if you want. I raised two wonderful children with great support from my husband of more than 35 years, while working in a demanding business. And I hope that I have helped others along the way. It takes hard work and focus, but look around at the many women who have done it so well. And women can be fiercely loyal. The most important thing to remember is that you have to choose how much and when you are willing to sacrifice. Don’t say to yourself I need to have X title by the time I reach a certain age. Do what works for you at your own pace. You will be happier and accomplish more.
In the organization I run now, we had no real female decision-making power when I arrived. I’ve since identified some qualified women within the organization and transitioned them into decision-making roles. My CEO has been extremely supportive of this change throughout the company, and together, we have had great success.
At Networld, really my biggest challenge was that it was so hard for me to foster a cultural change at the company after growing up in the North and spending my entire adult life there, then working down in Kentucky. Bostonians are sort of abrupt and blunt, and Kentuckians are anything but. So I would look at people’s faces in my office and realize I just didn’t know what they are thinking right now. I had no idea, whereas in the North, in Boston, you just know it; people are telling you exactly what they’re thinking.
So I’m sitting there thinking, I don’t know if I’m saying the right thing or the wrong thing but this person looks scared to death, sitting at the desk just looking at me.
The other thing that has changed is the pace at which we move. I remember when I took this job, my husband said, “You cannot just go barreling down there like you usually do.” He said it’s a southern company, and I said ok, ok, and so a year later after the numbers had not moved I said, “How’s that working out for ya?” And so now they’ve met me halfway. They’re moving at a faster pace; I’ve slowed down a little bit, and somewhere in between, we came to a middle ground and the company started to grow. I think that’s just what it takes when you work in a different geographic place than where you’ve grown up.
So now I make 12 to 14 trips a year down to Kentucky – and of course I’m available around the clock. With all the technology we have today, it’s like I’m right there. And the funny thing is, they’ve really become like my second family. It’s amazing. The people there, I love them. They’re just so kind, and they’re smart and they’ve taught me a lot, that culture. They taught me to have a little more faith and to have these things that I kind of took for granted from my upbringing and the fact that all I ever did was work, work, work. You know, they sort of slow down and smell the coffee a little bit, and it’s kind of nice.
I think one final piece of advice I would give to women in the business, or anyone, is to only work for people you can respect. People who are on the same page, together, can accomplish big things.
Kathy has held various business-to-business publishing positions centering on brand strategy, execution and growth. Her career began at IDG Publishing on the flagship publication, Computerworld. After a 10-year stint there, she joined the tech group at Reed Business Information as Marketing Director. She became Publisher of Purchasing Magazine in the manufacturing group, launching online conferences, events and custom media. As Group Publisher, she added new magazines and news sites to her portfolio. She now serves as President of Networld Media Group, overseeing more than 10 online B2B news sites, multiple executive conferences, and the Interactive Customer Experience Association.
Narrative written by Tricia English in collaboration with Kathy Doyle