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BW Businessworld

'India Has A Strong Appetite For Knowledge And Learning'

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Ever since setting up shop in India, Harvard Business Publishing has worked towards establishing strong ties with India's B-schools, corporate world and book publishing industry. HBP works with faculty at over 90 Indian b-schools and about 50 Indian organisations are associated with HBP to train its managers. "India already contributes to about 5 per cent of the global revenue," says David A. Wan, CEO of HBP in an interview with BW Online's Sanjitha Rao Chaini. Wan stands on a solid 25-years of managerial experience and has worked on a global scale in publishing, consulting and consumer products. Formerly, President of the Penguin Group, Wan has also held three executive positions in Simon & Shuster, K-12 Publishing Group, Arthur Andersen, PepsiCo and Paine Webber. 
 
How has Harvard Business Publishing India grown since 2008, after setting up shop in India. Tell us a bit about the revenue generated in India?
As a not-for-profit organisation and part of Harvard Business School, we are driven by our mission to “Improve the Practice of Management and its impact in a changing world”. We set up in India to further our mission in a region that has a strong appetite for knowledge and learning. We are very pleased with our progress in India over the last four years. Our team has been able to develop some very deep relationships with our stakeholders and we have had strong impact across all our three markets - individual managers, corporates and management educators.
 
HBR’s South Asia edition now has over 10,000 leaders and aspiring leaders subscribing to it. Our website, hbr.org, has over 3.5 mn unique visitors per month, it has a disproportionately high number of engaged users from India. In fact, for the most recent quarter India was the second highest country in terms of visitor sessions on our website. Our books are extensively available and accessible through local pricing and distribution. We regularly conduct webinars for the HBR community in India with leading global management thought leaders.
 
We work with faculty at over 90 Indian B-schools through our locally priced site license model. In addition to providing content such as case studies, simulations, articles and online courses, we conduct case teaching programmes in India with HBS faculty and provide faculty with teaching and curriculum planning support. Today all good Indian B-schools use PCL (participant centred learning) pedagogies and this trend is accelerating. HBP’s corporate learning division also works with almost 50 Indian organisations -– these include Public Sector, Family owned businesses, MNCs, and other Indian companies, to provide blended learning solutions for developing their managers. India already contributes to about 5 per cent of the global revenue while furthering HBP’s mission in the region.
 
Do you feel the need to alter business models while dealing with India?
Yes, most certainly. In fact, for any company to succeed, it is imperative that the value proposition be tailored to meet the needs and demands of the local context and culture. For instance, we recognised that business schools in India have limited budgets due to the significantly lower fee structure as compared to western schools but at the same time their requirement for content is quite widespread. To meet this challenge, we adapted our regular business model to offer a site-wide license where schools can sign up for a significantly lower flat fee and have access to all our materials. 
 
Similarly, to meet the needs of our corporate learning clients in India and maximise impact, we offer tailored leadership development solutions that blend various forms of learning such as self-directed learning, classroom facilitation, webinars, simulations, and action learning,
 
On the HBR magazine and books front, India is the only international market where we offer locally printed and priced content in English language. As an ideas-driven organisation, we focus our efforts on making our content widely accessible.
 
What are the case studies emerging out of India? 
We are constantly working on sourcing management ideas from India and other emerging markets for our global audiences -– this could be in the form of books, HBR articles, blog posts, learning videos, etc. We have been reasonably successful in the recent past, but see us accelerating our efforts in this area. HBS through its India Research Center at Mumbai, is growing its case collection from India.
 
You are from the 1981 HBS batch, how has a manager's role changed across the years in your experience?
I have seen and experienced the evolution of the manager’s role from directing a team to being a real leader. As the esteemed leadership expert Professor Warren Bennis wrote: “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing”. In a rapidly changing and dynamic business world, the “command and control” approach to leadership is obsolete. Leaders must be able to successfully influence many more stakeholders beyond their direct reports. Organisations are much more matrixed than in the past and many managers find difficulty adapting to these structures. In addition, globalisation requires leaders to be able to work effectively across borders and cultures. Since my MBA student days at HBS, the faculty there has greatly advanced the thinking about success and effectiveness at all levels of management. For example, Professors Garvin and Datar attribute leadership success to three interrelated components — Knowing, Doing and Being — and how managers need to continuously improve themselves in these areas. The Knowing component refers to the frameworks, concepts and theories that make up the fundamental understanding of business. The Doing component is the ability to apply one’s knowledge into actions and execution. The Being component refers to values, attitudes, and beliefs — the commitments and mindset of one’s leadership purpose. HBS Dean Nitin Nohria describes the Knowing, Doing and Being dimensions of leadership success as the combination of “competence and character”.
 
You have been observing the global publishing industry for quite long. How do you think things have changed in the past decade? Good and bad.
The publishing industry especially in our area of specialisation — business and management -- is surely observing some very positive trends; with people assuming different roles and organisations expanding their portfolio to include new services/ products, there is increased demand for content on best practices, new ideas, etc. People are seeking information that helps them and their companies grow. The most significant change has been a gradual shift from legacy media formats like print to digital media in most parts of the world; it is important for every publishing house to leverage the digital platform, and tap into the growing e-books market. While many publishing companies have viewed the shift to digital media as disruptive to their business models, HBP views technology as enabling a much richer experience for our audience. With print publications, and even a lot of websites, it is a monologue. Technology now enables publishing to be more of a dialogue between editors and their audience. A lot of what we do on the website (HBR.org) and the kind of blogs we do on the site are aimed at getting our readers to participate. You just can't do that in print. This approach is very aligned with the participant centred pedagogy of Harvard Business School.
 
Are e-books a significant market by now? Or do we have to wait?
Suffice it to say that it is rapidly growing, and will only accelerate in the future. Currently, it constitutes about 15 per cent of our business, which is also the trend amongst all English books’ publishers. In India, it is nascent; but as more people begin to have access to E-Readers, Tablets and smartphones, the market will only grow. Other factors which will help the E-Book market grow rapidly are the increasing availability of digital titles through a choice of retailers and increasing comfort levels with technology in the Indian market. While the digital format doesn’t require us to deal with physical inventory of the books or supply chain issues, we have to now maintain a balance between free and paid-for-content.
 
Business books publishers are perhaps facing an identity crisis globally. Several general trade publishers are also coming out with dedicated imprints for business (for instance, Penguin Portfolio). Will you lose relevance and meaning in this process?
No. Most other trade publishing imprints are not the distinguishing feature when readers are thinking about purchasing a business book. The imprint is subsidiary to the author. The Harvard Business Review Press imprint is arguably the only trade publishing imprint where readers recognise and value the brand equally as the author. In addition, the other trade publishers do not provide multiple platforms that are integrated in presenting the author’s ideas for reach and impact. We purposely work with our book authors to engage readers via blog posts and online forums on HBR.org, webinars, articles in HBR and of course, the book itself.
 
How do you look at the future of business books publishing, say, in the next decade?
I believe that business books will evolve from a static artifact of content to being a component of an integrated learning experience for readers. For example, we are already developing apps and tools that complement a number of our books (print or eBook) so that the reader can better grasp the frameworks and concepts that the author is describing, and more importantly, help the reader apply the concepts. I also envision greater use of social media tools to build and sustain a community of practice for the author’s ideas. On the demand side, I am optimistic that there will be a continuing desire among business professionals to advance their skills, strategic thinking and leadership capabilities.
 
There is talk that the quality of non-fiction editing is falling or becoming too text-bookish or sensationalist. Do you think this is right, if yes, how can we fix it?
I wouldn’t try to assess the quality of non-fiction editing overall. However, at HBR Group, including HBR Press, we invest in collaborating with our authors in what we describe as 'transformational editing'. Most other trade publishers focus their editors and investment on acquisition rather than developmental editing. For both our magazine articles and books, our editors work intensely with our authors to ensure that the end product successfully serves our readers and can answer two fundamental questions: (1) So What?-- What is the essence of the idea and why is it important? (2) Now What? -- How do I apply the idea to make myself or my organisation more successful?
 
How do you look at India as a publishing market?
Culturally, education has always formed an integral part of the Indian society, and now with the rapid pace of change, the need to continue learning well beyond formal education at the school level, is seen to be of the highest potential for publishers. An increasing number of executives are taking charge of their learning and development needs and investing on books and materials which can help them perform much better at the workplace and this is a significant trend for us.
 
Companies in India are also investing in developing their people across all levels of the organisation to enhance their effectiveness, and build a strong leadership pipeline. Our b-school clients have strong appetite for quality content such as cases, simulations and videos. The market is also gradually getting accustomed to paying for quality content which again bodes well publishers. Like most other markets, we are also observing a gradual shift from a legacy media format like print, to digital media. We are very optimistic about the Indian market and look forward to accelerated growth across various media and increasing our reach to ensure that we improve the practice of management.
 
(With inputs from Jinoy Jose P.)