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Paula Neary is CEO of Ribbonfish. She has over 25 years of experience in senior roles across academic, education, trade and STM publishing. Prior to working at Ribbonfish she was Director of Business Systems at Springer Nature and spent 12 years at The Random House Group as Publishing Systems Director, following an initial 8 years at Pearson Education.

In February 2017 I was offered the role of Chief Executive at Ribbonfish. I didn’t hesitate in accepting the role. After 25 years of working within large, global publishing companies, I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to experience life on the other side of the fence – on the vendor side. The position would still involve working with publishers, within the systems I was familiar with; but with the added opportunity to grow a smaller company, to increase the client base and extend its repertoire of services.

I had moved between roles and across businesses many a time, as my career advanced, but this transition seemed different. The team at Ribbonfish have decades of publishing experience. However, managing teams within a multinational publishing company seemed like a total contrast to leading a small team of experts – all working hard to win and retain business at a technology company.

Despite the differences, I realised quickly that managing a technology company has many commonalities with running a technology team in-house. The basics are the same: creating a structure, building a team, agreeing the values and ethos and setting the strategy. Whichever type of business you are in, you are always selling – you might not think you are doing this in-house, but you are. Previously, I was selling the technology roadmap to the business, gaining agreement of project budgets at technology investment boards, and now I am selling more overtly to people in similar roles to which I held previously. I understand their needs, we talk the same language, and it’s not as dissimilar as I’d anticipated.

On starting in the role, I focussed on three main areas; all of which would have applied to a leadership position in a publishing house and are a useful guide to anyone else getting started in a similar position.

Meeting everyone individually

One of the first things I did as CEO was meet each member of the team individually, to get to know them and to familiarise myself with their objectives. I wanted to understand their skill sets, what they liked about Ribbonfish and the things they wanted to see improved. These conversations are often best had at the outset.

In doing this I noticed some common themes and some strong personal assets. I’d describe the teams as passionate and proud with a sense of belonging. However, there was a definite trend for wanting clearer lines of communication. As a result, we now have regular Town Hall sessions and a monthly newsletter, we all use Slack for projects, and there is an AllCompany channel which we use to communicate on a daily basis.

Speaking to customers directly

There are so many ways of communicating with customers these days; from blogs and social media to email and newsletters. I wanted to speak to our existing customers directly to get their honest feedback to help steer the direction of the company. I was blown away by how positive all the comments were! I asked them amongst other things to provide three adjectives to describe Ribbonfish – some examples were: collaborative, innovative, delivery focussed and my favourite response was “delightful”.

This activity is always useful, not only for sales teams but for anyone within an organisation. It doesn’t matter how interesting your plans are for the coming year – most customers are going to ignore a 1,000-word email. However, everyone likes to be listened to, and direct feedback is core to understanding how a business can be improved.

Setting the strategy

The next task was setting out our core strategy and ensuring all our staff were familiar with it, along with our customer-base. We now have a clear vision of the type of work we focus on, combined with the direction we want to take to get there. Our aim is to focus on publishing and media and to be a leader in providing services and products to the publishing (and media) industry.

A lot of my time is now spent talking to potential customers about Ribbonfish, what we have already achieved and what we can do for them to facilitate growth or improve efficiency in their business.

When you take over a new organisation it will often take you some time to understand the magnitude of the input that is required. You are not expected to have total vision straight away, that can take a bit of time, but listening to both teams and customers early on helps to establish your priorities.

At Ribbonfish, I am proud to say that we are now able to offer services across the entire project lifecycle from consultancy, design, implementation through to service delivery of legacy and new applications. Our value propositions are:

  1. Consultancy services
  2. Audits
  3. Project implementations and Project recovery
  4. Salesforce Implementations: Sales Cloud, Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud
  5. Managed services

We are also building up our product portfolio, having just developed RightsZone a subsidiary rights system. More on that in our next blog post…

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