Macmillan move a marker of intent

Macmillan move a marker of intent

The bringing together of Macmillan Science & Education’s UK businesses in a single unified location is a prime indicator of the division’s future strategic direction, Dominic Knight has said.

Knight, who is executive director of change programmes at Macmillan Science & Education as well as the chairman of Palgrave Macmillan, is overseeing the transition to the new location at the King’s Cross “campus” off York Way in London.

The move will see 1,500 UK employees brought together in a set of newly developed buildings alongside a refurbishment of its existing offices at Crinan Street. Beginning now, 18 months after the formation of the division, the entire move will be complete by the end of 2014.

Knight said Macmillan Science & Education had spent its first year considering its vision and building its global strategy, thinking of ways to leverage its businesses internationally. The division is now moving “from being a business that is a very successful content business to one that does more than that, offering services to the communities we serve”, he said—although he emphasised that Nature, Macmillan Education and Palgrave Macmillan remain “big content businesses”.  The transition to more of a business to consumer model means the company has to change fundamentally, Knight said.

“There is more emphasis on collaboration, invention and fluidity. We used to be a very fragmented group. The new environment means we have to be doing work in a much more co-ordinated way.”


Such a major development is not without pain. Fully 85 of Macmillan Education’s 250 staff—including one at director level—have opted to take redundancy rather than move workplace from Oxford to King’s Cross; the number of those opting not to travel with Palgrave Macmillan from Basingstoke will be confirmed shortly.

However the vision of a new company culture is clear in The Glasshouse and The Stables, the handsome new buildings now being occupied by the first staff to move, those from Macmillan Education.

The offices are to be “radically open plan”: no one from c.e.o. Annette Thomas downwards will have an office, and there will be a strong focus on collaborative space—for every seated place there will be an equivalent by way of a collaborative and meeting space, whether open plan or in soundproofed booths. Meeting rooms—each named after a famous scientist, such as Faraday or Curie—are heavily set up for international teleconferencing. There is also Macmillan Science & Education’s own media suite for the production of podcasts, online videos, and media interviews.

Knight said the creation of digital products and services, project management and data analytics are among the key skills that will be shared across businesses as part of the division’s co-location, giving an indication of some of the directions the newly united business will be taking. “Within Digital Science we have [academic software] product ReadCube which enables scientists to manage their personal literature; we want to roll that out beyond science to the world of humanities and social sciences,” Knight confirmed.
Macmillan Science & Education also has a holding in Swiss company Frontiers, which “looks at scholarly processes in a different way”, offering an online platform for the scientific community to publish Open Access articles. “We might roll that out to humanities and social sciences as well,” Knight said.

Another venture likely to cross divisions is Sapling, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) interactive homework and learning solutions business acquired by Macmillan New Ventures a year ago.  “Sapling is . . . looking at moving beyond the textbook, whether online or in print, and [instead] looking at the working life of student and professor, [it is] a homework solution and a way of managing students’ progress. That’s the space that publishers should be looking at: the workflow,” Knight said.

Global focus

Staff at the Macmillan Science & Education campus will  be encouraged to think globally, with a “talent exchange” programme which will give anyone who has been employed by the company for less than three years the chance to spend a fortnight at one of its overseas businesses to aid their professional and personal development. Two hundred members of staff have applied for the first such opportunity.

Of the staff losses involved in the move to King’s Cross, Knight commented: “There will be 1,500 people [in the campus] when they are all in. In Macmillan Education there were 250; 85 people opted for redundancy. Of course we regret losing people, but I am very much focused on the future and I am positive. In the context of the whole it is not a large proportion.”

Nevertheless, for Macmillan Education itself the loss of staff has been hefty, although recruiting for new London-based roles to replace those lost by the move is underway. How has such a major staff exodus affected authors and customers? “We started planning early,” Knight says. “We have done our best to ensure staff feel well treated, so they participated in the handover in a positive way. We’re now in. Because of the planning, disruption to authors and other external stakeholders has been minimised—but yes, it is a big ask for any organisation."

He added: “Since last Monday [25th November] when we moved, I’ve had really heartening feedback, really nice emails, people saying, ‘I was sceptical, I’ve come in and it’s fantastic.’ So far, so good.”