An interview with our President, Annie Callanan

Annie Callanan, President of the Publishers Association and Chief Executive of Taylor & Francis.

Annie Callanan is Chief Executive of Taylor & Francis and the recently inaugurated President of the Publishers Association. At the beginning of her tenure, we asked Annie Callanan some questions about digital innovation, publishing and her #MyThreeBooks choices.

What inspired you to pursue a career in information technology and how have you ended up in publishing?

My career started on Wall Street at an M&A firm that became not only a pioneer in the development of database technologies but a leading data publisher with an expanding focus on the strategic application of technology in finance. This early exposure greatly influenced my understanding of digital publishing as well as the power of applied technologies to advance business value. Subsequently throughout my career I became most passionate about opportunities that leveraged data, technology and human judgement to improve health and safety outcomes, catalyse knowledge, solve real world problems and improve lives.

You take up the mantle of President of the Publishers Association at a time of great national and global crises. What are your priorities for the year ahead?

Obviously, the crisis around COVID-19 and risks around Brexit cannot be ignored and I will do my best to help guide us through these challenges. My main priority, however, will be to assert the positive impact publishing has on society’s well-being and sustainable progression. Publishing is first and foremost about acting in service to those who are creative, innovative and prepared to share their unique view and wisdom with the world. Publishing, at its core, is an attestation of the ideas, creativity, knowledge and assertions of our culture and how we see ourselves fitting into it. It is clearly a profession to celebrate and safeguard. If, at the end of my tenure, I have managed to bring greater clarity and appreciation around what we do, it will have been a success.

You’ve occupied a range of executive leadership positions at global digital technology companies in the US and the UK, and now you are at the helm of one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly research during a global pandemic. What piece of leadership advice or ‘mantra’ has stayed with you through this crisis?

As a former combat medic, I’m often asked for advice on how to cope with the current reality and I recently came across a sobering post from a fellow medic serving in one of the pandemic’s epicentres which felt very relatable. In it, he bravely shared feelings of ‘crippling anxiety and self-doubt’ at the sight of new patients; but he found that the only response possible was to ‘turn down the thermostat and start trying to do what must be done.’ It is a simple, yet profound message. We each have a critical contribution to ensure our collective tenacity gets us through this crisis. The world’s best minds will not lose focus in their quest for a cure as an anxious world is waiting. Every action and each step forward will make a positive difference to a world that has no choice but to keep going. As individuals and as leaders we each have that choice too and we must keep going.

Academic publishers were among the first to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, providing free access to vital research and prioritising rapid publication of COVID-19 materials. How can publishing technology, and the pursuit of knowledge contribute to solving the world’s problems?

Academic publishers have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to scientific, technical, medical and human-centered scholarship that is substantiated with an evidence-base at its core. At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, publishers responded immediately by collaborating to make access to all relevant research freely accessible, and this collective output has catalysed rapid iteration and knowledge sharing as the world searches for a cure. The current crisis has also demonstrated that in an environment where anyone can digitally mass produce and proliferate ‘fake facts’ and disinformation, there is no substitute for verified and trusted knowledge in shaping policy and solving real world problems.

Educational publishers are also helping to foster and promote education at a time when lifelong learning has never been more critical to personal and professional success. And literary publishers are finding new and creative ways to provide diversion, hope, inspiration and joy as we live through this period of disruption. Through the unique infusion of technology and human judgement the publishing profession is helping us cope and make sense of the circumstance we are living through.

What advice would you give to young women just entering the workforce?

Be prepared to get your hands dirty. Engage in learning and say yes to as many things as you can. Work hard and stay positive. Develop and drive your own plan for self-improvement and skills development. The miracle of advancement will not just happen. If your ambitions align with a leadership goal, make the decision to be open about that aspiration. Even if your talent is nascent, it will develop over time. Be tenacious and never give up, no matter the challenge.

Finally, don’t allow yourself to be marginalised. Believe in the importance of your own unique voice and let your perspective be heard. I surmise one of the reasons my voice projects so loudly today is that I often found myself speaking ever stridently when priorities I was advancing were being neglected or ignored. Of course, getting louder is the worst possible response to being underestimated, as any parent of a child having a temper tantrum will tell you.

And, finally, we launched the #MyThreeBooks challenge in April. Name one book you loved as a child, a book you love right now, and one you can’t wait to read.

  1. Book I loved as a child: “Winnie-the-Pooh” (A.A. Milne—NOT Disney’s version!)
  2. Book I am reading now: “The Psychology of Happiness” (Peter Warr)
  3. Book that I can’t wait to read: “The Mirror & The Light” (Hilary Mantel)

Find out more about what Annie Callanan’s priorities will be as President of the Publishers Association. Read her inaugural speech, given at our virtual AGM, here.