Richard Robinson Profile
RICHARD ROBINSON has been President of Scholastic since 1974 and Chief Executive Officer since 1975. Mr. Robinson was elected to the position of Chairman of the Board in 1982, succeeding his father, M.R. Robinson, who founded Scholastic in 1920 when he launched a single classroom magazine, The Western Pennsylvania Scholastic. Scholastic has had only two Chairmen in its 86-year history: M.R. Robinson and Richard Robinson.
Under Mr. Robinson’s leadership, Scholastic has become the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books in the world, with such renowned brands as Harry Potter™, Clifford the Big Red Dog™, Goosebumps™, and I SPY™ among many others. The company has grown significantly in annual revenues to over $2 billion, and has developed in-school distribution systems unmatched in the country. Today the company has over 9,000 employees with operations in 16 countries around the globe. Since the mid 1970s when Mr. Robinson became President and CEO, Scholastic’s position in school-based distribution through book clubs and book fairs has grown to make it a world leader in these businesses. The company has become an industry leader in providing research-based, proven educational technology programs, including the groundbreaking READ 180® reading intervention program. Scholastic has also expanded its media division including television, film, video, and software under the banner of Scholastic Media, successfully leveraging the company’s popular publishing brands across multiple media. In addition, the company Internet site, scholastic.com, is a leading e-commerce and content site for teachers, parents and kids that registered over $300 million in revenue last year. Under Mr. Robinson’s leadership and as a result of his desire to encourage and recognize outstanding achievements in the field of literacy, Scholastic proudly sponsors The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, The Early Childhood Professional Awards and the Bilingual Teacher of the Year Award.
Mr. Robinson has received numerous honors for his work, including the 2003 British American Business Award for Innovation as well as the “Partners for Children” award from Save the Children. In 2001, he received the Association of Educational Publishers EdPress Hall of Fame Award, the educational publishing industry’s highest honor; the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service to Education by Teachers College Columbia University; and the Best Friend Award, from LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program. In May 2000, he was honored by the UJA-Federation with their For the Love of Reading Award, and in November 2000, The Creative Coalition honored him with their Spotlight Award. Mr. Robinson was also honored for his efforts in improving literacy with the Robin Hood Foundation’s 1999 John F. Kennedy, Jr. Corporate Hero Award. In 1998, R.R. Bowker named Mr. Robinson Literary Market Place Publisher of the Year in recognition of his leadership in creating and marketing today’s top trade and professional books. Mr. Robinson was Chairman of the Association of American Publishers from 1996 to 1998, and President of the Publishers Lunch Club in 1982. He was recently appointed a Trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robinson is a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard College. He also studied at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge University in England, and at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Below is a highlight of the Q&A session between the Fellows and Richard Robinson.
Q: We've read that you worked in rail yards and lumber mills, have held various executive management and editorial positions here at Scholastic, and attended the Teachers College at Columbia University. How do you use your diverse past experiences as you head the Company?
A: I'd always wanted to be a writer since I was young, but I wound up doing a number of different jobs, working in a printing plant in Ohio at age 16, working as a railroad switchman, cutting lumber, building a throughway in New York, and teaching, among others. My work experience, particularly in my younger years, provided a wonderful education for me and helped me appreciate the variety of people in the world. All of my past work experiences have helped me connect with people with diverse backgrounds and interests. As an employer, it is always important to be aware of what motivates people and to understand how they feel about what they do. You have to care about what they care about. One needs to know these things in order to know how to connect, communicate, and respond to employees as individuals.
Q: What is special about Scholastic's corporate culture?
A: Scholastic partners with the education community with the common goal to help kids read and learn. We are allies with teachers, parents, PTA members and volunteers and we exist because of them. Scholastic’s corporate culture is unique because of the work that we do. We cannot be disconnected from the people that we serve. Our mission here has to be clear and our objectives defined so we’re all working toward the same goal.
Q: You've been CEO of Scholastic during one of the most dynamic periods of technological change. How have you guided the Company to produce technologically innovative products?
A: One of the things I feel most strongly about is the importance of adapting our company to the changing technology. Starting in the 1980s, teacher surveys began to suggest a need, and Scholastic moved strongly into Internet product development in the early 90s. There was a period when Scholastic lost money because we were too engaged in technology and were moving faster than the market demanded. Today the focus of our Education Group is twofold – education technology (e.g. Read 180) and print (e.g. magazines and paperbacks). Technology will continue to become a major resource in schools. Scholastic will continue to keep pace with these changes.
Q: Do you think leadership can be taught? And can everyone learn to lead? What are your thoughts on the “teachability/learnability” of leadership? What leadership skills do you primarily rely on in your position?
A: The best organizations share a common understanding of the organization’s mission, and the leader takes obstacles out of the way so that people can fulfill the mission. A leader has to look to the future and be right about what is truly important, and remind everyone of the simple goals. I don’t know [if leadership can be taught], but I certainly learned a lot from watching my father.
Q: Have you found it challenging to branch out and diversify the Company’s businesses and remain true to the Company's original mission and goals?
A: People want the same things—to improve their lives and the lives of their children. These are the things that don’t change because they are rooted in human need. Basic human needs don’t change very much; there are just different applications for different styles and cultures. Just as we did in the beginning, today we’re helping children, families and teachers meet their needs in different ways and on a broader scale.
Q: What advice can you give to us as we search to find our niche in publishing?
A: Align your talents and desires to what society needs and always seek to add value to any organization that you work for.