In the middle of the Global Financial Crisis, Alison Green, Pantera Press CEO, raised a business idea with her father John M Green FAICD, deputy chair of QBE Insurance. The result was a social-purpose publisher championing Australian writing — and literacy.
In 2008, we officially decided to be insane and start the business everyone told us not to. I had no publishing background and John had publishing experience at board level (UNSW Press). He had been writing as a business commentator for many years and also secretly writing fiction inspired by his career in finance. When he finished his book (he’s since published four), we learned his journey had been easier than most debut authors as, particularly during the GFC, publishers weren’t taking risks on untested writers.
The aim of Pantera Press is good books doing good things. The idea is that as well as publishing new authors, we are committed to using some of the profits to promote literacy, a culture of reading and to foster debate of important ideas and issues.
There had been a conversation going on around our house for a while. My grandparents, John’s parents, having fled war, came to Australia not speaking English. They came with nothing and for them, having access to education was so important. That has always been a big piece of our history and home. At school, we’d sell chocolates or cupcakes to raise money for kids in Africa who needed help, but it never occurred to me there was an issue here in Australia. We have a huge literacy problem in this country.
We knew we needed to have an innovative model and a social-enterprise approach. We’ve had a number of partnerships (including with The Smith Family) and our most recent is with the Sydney Story Factory, a program for critical thinking and future success for kids under the guise of a creative writing program. We spend a lot of time supporting and promoting major and regional writers’ festivals.
We have a new imprint, Lost the Plot. The aim was to find a way to connect with readers on a global platform and engage with the millennial audience. Lost the Plot was my brother Martin’s idea.
My mum, Jenny (sculpturist Jenny Green), does our accounts. We have 12 people and recently hired our first non-fiction publisher. We have authors who are making money; some are award-winning bestsellers. We want to be making a much bigger impact than we are. It’s about continuing to build the business so we can do that.
John M Green
Reading sounds intuitive if you’ve grown up in a home surrounded by books and had parents read to you — but if you didn’t, it isn’t.
When I was at Macquarie Group, they started the Big Buddy Reading program. A bunch of us investment bankers went there once a week. The little girl who I read with was eight. She started the year with a reading age of five and finished with a reading age of 11. At the end of the year, we invited the parents. Her father came up and said ‘I bet you’re thinking, why hasn’t this guy done it for her? It’s because I can’t read’. And your heart hits the floor. Here was a guy in his 30s and he couldn’t read to his child.
If you had asked me 11 years ago if I would ever contemplate being involved in a family business, I’d have said you must be nuts. When Ali came to the kitchen table and said she had this idea, we said, ‘let’s give this a go and see how it works’. We knew it would take quite a few years to build up something that would have a meaningful place in Australian culture.
It’s like a well-functioning board, except we know each other really well. We don’t take votes on things, but like to do everything by consensus.
The chemistry is great. We talk a lot. Ali is a very tough publisher, but we work really well together. There was a time when Jenny and I were going on an AICC [Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce] innovation trip. I was writing my third novel and hadn’t quite finished it by the time we were leaving. Ali said ‘Where’s the manuscript?’ So I had to cancel and Jenny went instead. There’s no special treatment!
In a way, it’s like a well-functioning board, except we know each really other well. We don’t take votes on things, but we like to do everything by consensus. Sometimes, though, you have to go with your gut. So there is a give-it-a-go mentality. Lost the Plot was like that. One of the great things about this [enterprise] is that we learn from each other. In a business like this, you really have to focus on the micro details. Strategy and execution remain very important, all the basics are the same, but small problems are bigger problems.
It is really important to have interests outside the corporate boardroom because it forces you to think about customers and about community in a different way.
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