Recently, Robert (Bob) Fryling announced he will be retiring as publisher of InterVarsity Press (IVP) in June 2016. Bob Fryling also serves as a Vice President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Out of his leadership experiences, he published The Leadership Ellipse in 2009. Recently we sat down via Skype for an interview in which we discussed his career, his tenure at InterVarsity Press, how IVP relates to its parent organization, changes he has seen in publishing, and what publishing accomplishments he thought most significant during his time at InterVarsity Press.
This interview has a bit of a flavor of an “inside conversation” due to the fact that Bob Fryling and I are both employed with InterVarsity/USA and have had a long association, Bob Fryling in the publishing division and I in Collegiate Ministries. I have inserted clarifications in a few places where a reference might be particularly unclear to an outsider. Otherwise, this is a very lightly edited transcript of the conversation. I should also mention that Bob on Books is a private endeavor, and not an official social media outlet of InterVarsity Press or InterVarsity/USA. With that, here is the first part of the interview:
You’ve had a pretty interesting career before you came to the publishing world. Could you recap for us your career before you came to InterVarsity Press?
I started off as a Campus Staff Worker in New England responsible for thirteen campuses in New Hampshire and Maine. I spent a lot of time driving on the turnpike. That was a great experience. I had large state schools like the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire and smaller schools like Colby and Bates. It was a great way to learn about ministry and to be involved with InterVarsity. I became a team leader and then Area Director in New England and then Regional Director for the Northeast. In 1980 I moved to Madison and was national Director of Campus Ministries. I lived in Madison for seventeen years with two stints as Director of Campus Ministries and with a stint as Director of Human Resources in between. I started our NISET [National Institute of Staff Education and Training] program and led a lot of our management training. I came back to Campus Ministries when asked by Gordon MacDonald when he became President. I served in that role for a total of 14 years. I moved to the Press in 1997. It will be nineteen years by the end of June of 2016 as IVP publisher.
What was the biggest change or transition in moving from the collegiate ministry world to the publishing world?
A number of interesting things. I wasn’t asked to speak as much! As Director of Campus Ministries I spoke often at student and regional staff conferences. Somehow the publisher’s role was not seen as a ministerial role in the same sense. I had a lot to learn about the publishing industry. The publisher role was more of a CEO role. I was able to be in more of a leadership role without having to process things through three or four levels of people spread across the country. We have a lot of process at IVP but having most of the people in the building makes the process easier and the pace of decision-making was much, much faster because we have to get books out on time and sign authors. It was figuring out how to marry a ministry and a business. With Collegiate Ministries you don’t have the sense of the business aspect in the sense of time or urgency or money, although there is fund-raising, but it is not the same thing as making financial decisions every day as to how your business is going to turn out. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of bringing together both parts and that business is a ministry, too.
One of the things I’ve heard about InterVarsity Press is that you’ve won some awards for being a great place to work. I wonder if you could talk about that and what makes it such a good place to work?
I can answer the second part first. We have a lot of great people here. People come because they appreciate the books that we publish. We have been recognized by the Best Christian Workplaces Survey, I believe it is six straight times, and one of the questions that is asked is, “what do you most appreciate about IVP?” Usually the top answer to that across the whole company are the books that we publish. People are attracted to that. People are affected by the books. You can’t edit books and mark up books that don’t affect you as to its content. So that’s a big piece.
We have a strong leadership working team. Five of us have been together for eighteen years and so we’ve been able to benefit from each other’s gifts. We are fairly transparent in our leadership. We have a daily sales record so everyone in the company knows where we are on our sales on a day to day basis. We give quarterly financial reports and we share everything about what’s going on. I think people feel a high sense of ownership for IVP, a great deal of loyalty, great communication, and fine people. It sort of all comes together.
One of the things that may be indicative of this is that we have office meetings on a regular basis but we only have them when we need them. So we try to avoid perfunctory meetings but when we get together, everyone is expected to be there, so there is this sense of real community. We celebrate anniversaries, we share announcements, there may be times when we have authors that visit and usually those meetings are a morale boosting time and celebration time when we are together. We have special Christmas parties, we honor people when they leave, when people get married, when they have children. We try to celebrate each other, we try to celebrate our authors and our books and that creates a very positive environment.
In Part Two of the interview, which will appear tomorrow, we will discuss how InterVarsity Press has responded to trends in reading and publishing, how IVP continues to support the collegiate ministry of InterVarsity, what Bob Fryling sees as IVP’s most significant accomplishments under his tenure, and his plans for retirement.