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Magazines > Information Today > December 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 11 — December 2003
FEATURE
Execs Agree That Customers Are Key
By Dick Kaser

On a trip to Ohio this fall, I thought it might be interesting to visit the three big information companies based there, talk to the top execs, and maybe learn what it is that keeps the businesses going in these troubled economic times.

All three companies agreed to set up interviews with key executives:

• Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) got me an hour with president Bob Massie.

• LexisNexis set me up with Bill Pardue, one of its top CEOs.

• OCLC gave me an hour with CEO Jay Jordan.

Like all good men in suits, they took the press opportunity to pitch their companies' latest news. But the interviews really got interesting after the immediate PR opportunity passed.

Each took the request to discuss his company's success seriously. And I came away with a complete list of notions they all hold in common and that read like a management primer for corporate success:

• Customer orientation

• Ongoing investment

• Good fiscal policy

• Strong financial performance

• Constant improvement

• Strength from ownership

On the last point, about the importance of who owns the companies, each exec agreed, but for different reasons. CAS is proud of its ownership by a professional society. The organization perceives that this gives it a long-term view that in turn drives its success. OCLC is proud of its ownership by a professional cooperative, a very unusual construct that's viewed as giving the organization strength and insight into the needs of its member libraries. LexisNexis is proud of its ownership by Reed Elsevier. In management's view, this provides the enterprise with the wherewithal in troubled times to bring the business back to its feet by investing in improvements.

Each bragged that his enterprise was performing well financially (even in these brutal times). But when it came to saying exactly why, a magic formula did not emerge.

The interviews, when taken together, seem to conclude that to be successful in the information business, it's imperative to relate to your customers, who at this time range from information professionals to knowledge practitioners.

When you hear these guys talk openly about their businesses, I think you'll see the customer orientation shining through. And it's clearly not just a platitude.

They've convinced me.

I think Jay Jordan really cares about not only libraries but their patrons. I think Bill Pardue really cares about information professionals and lawyers. And I think Bob Massie really does like to see chemists smile while they're using his service.

The rest is pretty much in their own words.


Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of content. His e-mail address is kaser@infotoday.com.
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