Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sixty years of dedication : a profile of Gordon Graham

In 2006 I was fortunate to meet Gordon Graham in his LOGOS office. The result of which was the following article, written for the SYP magazine InPrint (Issue 118) in 2006:

One could fill an edition of InPrint several time over with articles chronicling the transnational publishing career of one Scotsman. 2007 marks his 61st year of involvement in the publishing industry: a remarkable feat demonstrating his commitment to publishing, and making him one of the most enduring figures within the industry.

Thankfully, his work and influence continue and I had the privilege of an afternoon in the company of Gordon Graham in the office of the journal he founded on his 'retirement' in 1990: LOGOS, the quarterly journal of the international book world. Any article on Graham would, to some degree, have to reflect a man combining quiet dignity with a sharp intellect, earthy humour, and an overall calm, measured and unassuming character - qualities all the more remarkable given his outstanding contribution as soldier, publisher and founding editor.

This visit will remain for me one of the highlights of my time in this industry, and for the purposes of this article I can, of course, focus only on Graham's prolific publishing career. (This is at the expense, unfortunately, of such details as his upbringing in Glasgow and his graduation from that city's university into the turmoil of World War II, where he was to receive the Military Cross and Bar, for active service with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in Burma.)

Gordon Graham began his postwar career as a freelance newspaper correspondent in Bombay where he established a strong client network, supplying articles for such publications as the Christian Science Monitor, the Cotton Trade Journal in Memphis, the Melbourne Age and the Glasgow Herald, all of which provided a steady income: 'At that time I had no intention of entering publishing!' This was to change when, in 1950, he secured a part-time appointment as a College and Trade Traveller for the McGraw-Hill Book Company for whose magazines he was the correspondent. He was to spend the next ten years combining life as a newspaper correspondent with that of an academic rep covering all 48 universities in India (and ultimately taking in the territories of Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and the rest of Southeast Asia.)

In 5 years, Graham increased McGraw-Hill's turnover in the Indian territory from $70,000 to $700,000. As aresult, in 1955 Graham received a telegram in Athens (he and his family were driving back to India from Britain) offering him the position of International Sales Manager, to be based in New York. His initial response was to decline it: his preference was for journalism and he was by then well established as a correspondent. However, as Graham also noted, 'Newspaper work was writing in the sand. Books were more secure,' so he decided to take up the offer.

In February 1956, Graham and his wife and daughter departed India and embarked upon a new stage in his life with McGraw-Hill in the US. I asked Graham what the most important stage in his career had been, and he cited this move from Bombay to New York: he was in charge of world sales and it was his first time as a publishing manager. He was to work in the US until 1963 when, promoted again to Managing Director, he finally returned to the UK. This, Graham told me, was also the most challenging stage of his career:
'Not least because a lot of people thought I was American! In the 1960s US publishers were seen as a threat to the UK publishing scene and there was a certain coolness towards me. It wasn't a welcoming atmosphere, and I had to charm everybody.'

Such was Graham's success during the next decade with McGraw-Hill, that 1974 was to see his career move on to an even higher plain when he became Chairman and Chief Executive of Butterworths, England's premier law publisher, a position he was to hold until his retirement from corporate life in 1990. What essential qualities had assisted his career path?
'The ability to motivate people. Essentially I see management as running in four directions: those who report to you, your peers, your boss and yourself. All vital. It's important, for the first three, to make all your colleagues relax around you.'

I asked Graham what he missed least about corporate life. He replied,
'The figures! I'd never seen a business plan until I moved to New York, and I'd never seen a profit and loss account, so I enrolled on an evening accountancy course and learned from scratch.'

Graham's retirement from Butterworth's was to be the catalyst for his next venture: the founding of LOGOS, the quarterly journal for the professional book community. This journal is unique in that it isn't essentially academic, although scholars do contribute, and from experience it is recommended reading on publishing courses; certainly it is held in high regard at Stirling University's Centre for Publishing Studies, which awarded Graham an honorary doctorate. Nor is it a news magazine: it carries no advertising, and has no national or regional bias. Instead, LOGOS is a forum where book professionals worldwide communicate with one another; indeed, the first fifteen volumes published articles from fifty-five countries.

Contributors are encouraged to express personal views, share experiences, and construct thoughtful analysis; in effect allowing readers to develop an informed opinion about likely future developments. For those interested in the history of publishing during the last 40 years, any of Graham's published titles* would be relevant references. For those interested in contemporary international publishing, from the perspective of leading professionals around the globe, LOGOS is the journal to consult.

As our meeting drew to a close, I wondered if Graham had any thoughts on being a young publisher today, and what advice he could offer to those starting out in the industry?
'There's certainly a lot to be said for starting out in sales and, as a rep, you get to know the product, the business and the market well. In terms of a publishing house, the ideal would be to find a niche publisher: it's a secure market and if it's just the right size it offers a perfect vantage point to see and learn all of the business.'

Can there ever be a strategy for a successful and fulfilling career in publishing?
'Be in the right place at the right time. Be receptive to ideas. Keep emotion out of business. Accept jobs because of where they might lead. Never discuss salary.'

Gordon Graham is often lauded as one of the most successful publishers of his generation, but I don't agree. Through his continual involvement, ready encouragement of - and interest in - the next generation of publishers, an ethical concern, and his value and belief in internationalism, Gordon Graham represents the true spirit of a successful [and ever-] Young Publisher.

Titles by Gordon Graham:
As I Was Saying, Essays on the International Book Business (1994), Hans Zell Publishers.
Butterworths: History of a Publishing House (1995), Butterworths.
The Trees are All Young on Garrison Hill (2005), The Kohima Educational Trust.
From Trust to Takeover (2006), Wildly, Simmons and Hill Publishing.
Immigrant Publishers: The Impact of Expatriate Publishers in Britain and America in the 20th Century (2009), Transaction Publishers.

[Update: Gordon Graham retired from his editorial duties on LOGOS at the end of 2008, and the journal continues under the ownership of the Dutch publisher Brill.]

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