Me and My Job: Lee Morgan
1. What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I’m sales director (academic) for Compass Independent Publishing Services. We have a team of six area managers covering the UK and Ireland, plus two sales directors—one for the trade division and one for academic—and a managing director and finance team based in Edinburgh.
2. What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
I graduated from Salford University in 1992 with a Social Sciences degree, then worked for Heffers Booksellers in Cambridge for two years. I joined Routledge Publishing in 1994, and spent four years as a sales representative and then campus sales manager. In 1998 I joined Rotovision in Brighton as its first UK sales manager, and moved the next year to Sage Publications as UK sales manager, before becoming head of sales in 2002. In 2004 I left Sage to help set up Compass Academic with Alan Leitch—a brand new sales agency representing academic publishers in the UK and Ireland. I have been with Compass ever since and am now on the board.
3. What does your average working day entail?
Before the pandemic, every day was different, which is why I love my job. I manage a team of reps in their day-to-day activities, especially in relation to Compass’ academic clients. I also manage all head office relationships on behalf of our academic clients, presenting new and backlist titles to the likes of Gardners and Waterstones. I also have my own small regional territory covering Devon and Cornwall, where I visit the key independent bookshops and colleges to present titles from across the Compass stable. I am also part of the management team, so contribute to our strategies and budgets. Every day can be different, and the variety of the role keeps me energized.
Since the pandemic started, much of the face-to-face aspect of my job has changed, and new skills have had to be learned. I miss the close interaction with customers and colleagues, and look forward to the time when I can visit them all again.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variety and the fact I’m always learning new skills. I love visiting customers and selling new titles, bringing unknown authors to their attention and recommending something new for them to sell. Having those close relationships and trust with my customers is key to success, whether in a bookshop, head office or college.
5. What achievements are you most proud of?
Setting up and developing Sage’s first UK sales team from scratch. It brought the sales team into the organization and made it more responsive to the changing UK market. I’ve done the same at Compass Academic, and bringing in a new team and getting them ready to visit customers was extremely satisfying. More recently, when Alan Jessop, MD of Compass’ Trade division, fell ill I took on his responsibilities and quickly had to learn about trade clients and customers to ensure sales did not falter. In 2017 we undertook a strategic review of the business which resulted in streamlining the sales operation into one team where all reps sell both trade and academic lists. This was a big change for Compass, but we implemented it very well and quickly with no disruption to our customers, clients or sales.
6. What are your biggest challenges?
Clearly the global book trade has undergone major disruption over the past couple of years, and the impact of coronavirus has been compounded in Europe and the UK by post-Brexit issues. There are still too many unknowns to predict long-term and permanent implications, but it seems very likely that not all of the online sales migration will be reversed; that it will be a long time if ever before UK city centre numbers return to their previous levels; and that ebook sales will see a further resurgence. Book sales are holding up robustly, even though a significant proportion are now being realised through different channels.
These changes offer new opportunities to work with local independent booksellers, specialist suppliers and other relevant accounts. Compass has always been good at that, and we feel our model provides the flexibility to meet these new challenges. We are now developing our own state-of-the-art digital sales system, which will allow us to present our publishers’ books from anywhere to anyone. It will also release valuable selling time back to our team by massively reducing back-room administration, and will ensure the Compass team are ready for the new post-pandemic world.
7. What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
In my very early career the ending of the Net Book Agreement—younger readers will need to Google this!—was a major change I didn’t expect. More recently, meeting customers over Zoom or Teams has changed for good how we sell, and even when things return to a new normal I think we will all be selling differently. We’ll be using technology more, but those face-to-face meetings will feel so special.
8. What is the best thing about working with independent publishers?
I work closely with a lot of independent publishers, and Compass itself is very much an independent company. The best thing about all these businesses is the relative lack of bureaucracy and formality, and the ability to take decisions and make things happen quickly.
9. How do you switch off from your work?
I spend my free time mostly at home with my wife, three children and three dogs. I enjoy long walks in the country and a good beer from a good independent free pub. A good real ale, an open fire and my dogs after a long walk is how to relax.
10. What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
Get your foot in the door at the first opportunity in any role, and then you can work out how to develop and progress from there.