Cover Story: What's So Hot About Hachette?
"I think publishing is the greatest team sport invented," says David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group (HBG). "We work hard to have fun and celebrate success, and deal with problems as a team. That's what we try [to] foster here."
Teamwork: To Young and others at Hachette, it's much more than just a vague notion. It's a guiding philosophy, a strategy cultivated during difficult, transitional times, and one that has helped the company grow. It's also one of the main reasons Hachette has been selected as this year's "Best Book Publishing Company to Work For."
A Little Communication Goes a Long Way
When Time Warner Book Group was acquired by Hachette Livre in April 2006, executives of the newly christened Hachette Book Group quickly realized that effective communication would be key to a smooth transition.
"When we went through that process, we had to redesign everything," says Young. "I think we've been very clear and work hard to make sure all employees understand what it all means to them."
Right after the acquisition, which involved a major internal reorganization and a move to new headquarters (though, Young says with obvious pride, no attrition of staff), the company established a Pulse Committee, which allowed representatives from every department in the company to meet regularly, share information and evaluate progress. Young also set up CEO Inbox, a forum inviting employees to share comments, suggestions and concerns (anonymously, if desired) directly with the CEO.
"It's quieted down a lot recently, but you can imagine when we were first acquired and were moving our business from 6th Avenue to Grand Central, there were a lot of questions," Young says. "I think we make ourselves very available and listen carefully to the issues that are raised by our employees."
This ethos of openness and inclusion has carried over into day-to-day operations at Hachette, according to Vice President of Human Resources Andrea Weinzimer.
"I don't know many places where you can walk into a CEO's office just on a regular basis if you so desire, and be welcomed," she says. "And by ‘you,' I mean any employee at any level can make an appointment with [Young] and talk to him."
New-hire breakfasts hosted by Young; informal lunches (where Young meets with representatives from various departments); annual meetings offering detailed accounts of goals, strategies and financial standing—all are further examples of internal connectivity and openness, Weinzimer says. According to Young, even the president of parent company Hachette Livre, Arnaud Nourry, has been known to walk the floor at all—employee meetings and sales conferences, taking the time to interface with attendees.
"There's a collegial culture here, and I think that's why people love being here," Weinzimer says. "People enjoy one another and enjoy their interactions with each other, and appreciate how their managers feel about them. In fact, when we do employee opinion surveys, across the board we hear that ‘my manager cares about me, as an employee, but also as a person,' and that they can go to their managers and talk about issues and be respected for who they are."
Pride in Product ... and Parties
Effective communication, Young and Weinzimer say, does more than just instill confidence. It also makes a real difference in how people feel about the products they produce. This is especially important with large numbers of employees working away from New York—at a large distribution center in Lebanon, Ind., as well as in Nashville and Boston. The company prides itself on its ability to balance autonomy with a unity of focus among its various divisions.
"As an organization ... I think the whole company knows what we are trying to achieve," Young stresses. "We don't do anything in isolation, we go out and communicate the ‘why' of what we are doing, and I think people appreciate that, even if they are not working on [a given project]."
Staff across the board, Young says, "are interested in the business of book publishing, whether they are directly working in editorial sales or not."
Twice a year, employees are given free, hand-picked books from the company's catalog; when the fourth installment of author Stephenie Meyers' "Twilight Series" for young adults was released this year, every employee got a copy of the book. The company also encourages its authors to do book signings for employees and promotes tie-in activities connected to book releases.
When a company initiative spawns a big success, that becomes a reason to party—not that folks at Hachette have any trouble finding excuses to throw a bash.
The success of Meyers' books—which Young calls Hachette's "Harry Potter moment"—and a National Book Award for Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" have both been occasions to celebrate this year. This comes in addition to a host of annual company events: Cinco de Mayo parties in Indiana, ice cream socials in Boston (where senior managers can be spotted wearing aprons and wielding scoops), and, in New York, an annual picnic in Central Park. Held indoors this year due to rain, the "picnic" nevertheless included a popcorn relay, Wii room, karaoke, poker and board-game championship.
"We were worried about it [being indoors], and it turned out to be such a blast," Weinzimer says.
It Pays to Listen
Celebrations tailored to each work site are only one element in an approach to employee well-being grounded in responsiveness. Listening and responding to employees resulted in the development of a comprehensive flex-time policy, which includes telecommuting and reduced work-schedule options in some circumstances. Schedules also can be temporarily changed to accommodate seasonal activities, and family leave and back-up childcare options are offered.
"It's not just for parents; it's for anyone who wants to do different things in their life," Weinzimer says of flex time. "It allows people to have lives outside of here. Obviously, the work has to happen, and we recognize that, but if we can work with you on that type of thing, we will."
Extensive job-development programs include tuition reimbursement and summer seminars offering networking options for junior staff. A highly regarded mentoring program exists alongside formal management training. When work is done, there's Pilates and yoga and on-site fitness centers at the New York and Indiana locations.
The company has a matching gift program providing a 2:1 match for up to an annual maximum of $2,000 per employee for charitable donations, and organizes company involvement in literacy initiatives in Boston. Weinzimer is especially proud of employee-generated clubs and events that Hachette supports, such as walk-a-thons, craft fairs, parenting groups and a "very competitive" employee bake-off.
Young and Weinzimer agree that the company's size is important to its ability to support a range of activities. "We are smaller than some of the other houses—although we are a force to be reckoned with—but because of our size, we can be a little bit more flexible and you can get involved in a lot more than you might in a larger-structured environment," Weinzimer says. "If there's a company initiative you're interested in, there's no reason you could not raise your hand and be involved."
"You spend more waking hours at work than anyplace else really," Young says. "What I want to help create at any place that I run is enjoyment. I think we are very lucky to be in the publishing business; I always talk about what a privilege it is being in a genuinely liberal and emancipated business, but by God, we should have some fun doing it as well, and that's what we try and do."