IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD
The ethics and values held by Mary Egan Limited have their origins in Mary’s long history in the publishing industry.
My business story begins in 1987. My previous experience had prepared me for business although I didn’t know it at the time. I had trained as a librarian, an excellent grounding in research. And just before marrying my husband I had worked as the buyer in a bookshop. Books run through my blood – quite surprisingly, as my background was seriously blue-collar. The world of reading saved me from despair as a child and my love of learning and language saw me do well at school. So it is not surprising I now work with authors, editors, designers and publishers. I love books, the worlds they open up and the places they can take us to.
In 1987 a friend of mine started a directory publishing company. This was at the dawn of the digital publishing age and his first directories were produced the traditional way. Even Gutenberg would have recognised the process if he had turned up in the paste-up room! However, the computer and PageMaker had arrived and things would never be the same again.
My friend asked me to consider learning to produce his publications. If I did, all his work would come to me. This was an attractive offer as I was at a crossroad in my life – that awful stage where mothers, having finished having children, start to ask, what comes next? I had never touched a computer and had no idea what was hardware and what was software.
I never shrink from a challenge and this interested me. I purchased a Mac SE with a 9-inch screen (for $10,000!) and the software, and between feeding the baby and looking after the other kids and the household, I would sit down with training tapes and learn the software. I borrowed a typing-tutor program and set about mastering the keyboard too. I remember ringing the computer salesman all excited because I could type six words per minute. God love him, he was excited for me.
Within six months I was fully operational, reading every manual or text available on this new way of working. I then had to produce a whole magazine (about 56 pages) and typeset and design all the little advertisements to be scattered throughout the book. Simultaneously, the magazine was produced the traditional way. Happily, I finished first – by two days – and the work was mine.
So from 1988 until 1991 I worked exclusively producing magazines and designing much of the advertising. It was fun and challenging – the software and hardware were so limited. Still it surprised me how much could be done with patience and practice. During this time my husband was Executive Director of the Book Publishers Association, an organisation that looked after the needs of the book publishing industry. He was responsible for setting up the Copyright Council, and Copyright Licensing Ltd, both organisations that contribute much to the world of publishing today. He had also put himself through a computer programming degree in the days of punch cards. Earlier he had been a professional researcher. Books were in his blood too. His father had been a professor of English at the University of Auckland and was a many-time published author, as was his mother. So our combined skills became the basis of our business, Egan-Reid.
The year 1991 was a tough one. The fallout from the 1987 crash had finally rippled through to the ordinary man and woman. In our lives it meant Gerard was made redundant when the association was closed down through lack of funding brought about by business failures. It came as a shock as we still had five children at home, and although I was earning well, the work was erratic. On the first day of his redundancy we sat down and wrote a business plan to bring the skills I had learned in the magazine world to the book-publishing world where he had all the contacts. There was only one digital typesetter working in the book industry in NZ at that time. We did a quick budget and decided that to have a viable business we would need to export to Australia and the UK. These were pre-internet days.
So we went about setting up Egan-Reid. Within three weeks of redundancy Gerard was on the plane to Australia marketing our services. At first it was just the two of us. Gerard would go out and get the work and then both of us would do it. We set our goal to be the best ‘information packagers’ in Australasia and from day one we passionately set out to achieve this. Another early goal was to build the business so that one day it would be attractive enough for it to be sold. Both these goals shaped everything we did. However, neither of us knew much about business, so we made all the mistakes. Fortunately, we were good at learning from those mistakes.
Exporting a service is a challenge because what you are selling is yourselves, your ability to deliver and your track record. Books have no barriers to trade.
Our track record was good. In the world of NZ publishing we were highly respected. In 1992 we picked up the exclusive supply contract for 75% of Penguin NZ’s book production. Following quickly on from Penguin we picked up Oxford University Press in Australia and NZ and produced all of their dictionaries for the next ten years. Dictionaries are the most technically demanding of all pre-press work. We worked in SGML, the grandfather of XML, so when XML and HTML became the norm we took to it like ducks to water. Other clients followed: Elsevier Health Sciences, Hachette Australia, NZAid and many others. We started exporting to the UK in the late 90s and most of the growth in the last ten years was from that market. In 1999 we won an export award, the Minister’s Scholarship, and for the next five years we were one of NZ’s top 100 exporters.
High standards drove the business – standards of performance, standards of behaviour, always underpinned by research and development and staying one step ahead. We kept our word, we delivered on our promise and we kept our clients for years. We were clever, agile and determined. Eventually, we reached our goal of selling Egan-Reid Limited.
Mary Egan Limited is Mary’s latest publishing venture. She brings to the business many years of experience, based on a real and fundamental love of stories and a commitment to getting them to the appropriate readers.