There are many things to which the continued success of Kendall Hunt Publishing Co. can be attributed.
But to Chairman and CEO Mark Falb, the generational success of any business is due in large part to the people behind the scenes.
“The greatest asset that any company has are the people that are part of the company and the contributions that they make,” he said. “We, I think, have been very fortunate over the years to have a great group of (employees).”
Falb said more than 50 of Kendall Hunt’s about 320 employees are members of a Chairman’s Club.
“That’s for people who have been with the company 20 years or more,” he said.
The company prides itself on being a positive work environment.
“We try very hard to provide an employment opportunity for people,” said Falb. “I think it’s viewed as a great place to work.”
“I think they see the mission of what we do as being important,” added Chad Chandlee, the company’s president.
That’s not to say that nothing has changed in the 75 years since William C. Brown acquired the rights to a handful of books from a St. Louis publishing company.
For one, the current iteration of Brown’s operation — Kendall Hunt Publishing Co. — no longer bears his name. And the business has moved out of the world of proprietary publishing, focusing instead on service publishing.
But Chandlee said speed and adaptability seem to be the defining characteristics of Kendall Hunt’s evolution.
“Our day-to-day has changed dramatically,” he said. “Our people in-house, they just do different things. We no longer have a warehouse here. Less than 15% of our product is warehoused at all. In our old days, we had two years of product in the warehouse.”
Brown returned to Dubuque in 1944, opening up shop on Main Street. As the business grew, the location shifted from South Locust Street to the Dubuque Industrial Park on Kerper Boulevard.
The business continued to grow and diversify, becoming the 10th-largest higher-education publisher in the nation at one point.
Falb married into the Brown family, and quickly rose through the ranks of the company. He moved to Dubuque in 1978 and became president of the Brown Companies in 1982.
Eventually, Falb bought out the Brown families. He later sold the proprietary publishing division to another company, which sold its interest to McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
As a service publisher, Kendall Hunt staffers work with educators to develop materials.
“We work with professors that have not found a book that they like that’s proprietary,” said Falb. “(We) help them formulate that into a book for use, primarily into their own classes.”
Pace of change
The industry has completely transformed during Falb’s time in the business. And the bulk of that evolution has occurred in recent years.
“From 1944 to 1998, there was a pace of change that was dwarfed by what’s happened in the last 10 years,” Falb said.
Chandlee said the business has become “medium-agnostic,” meaning employees are willing to meet audiences anywhere. That could mean print products or texts that exist solely in the digital realm.
“We basically want to offer (the product) in every which way the student could want it and let the market decide which they want to buy,” he said.
“Speed to market” is key, according to Chandlee. And digital technology makes that possible.
“We do on demand now,” he said. “We take an order, nobody touches the order, it goes to the printer and it goes to the student. It’s faster, less expensive and more convenient to the student.”
Plus, educators aren’t locked into the same, potentially outdated material semester after semester.
“Professors have the opportunity now to change their content every semester,” Chandlee said. “We used to print two years’ worth of inventory and now we print to order.”