Dutch magazine EW, spoke to Nancy McKinstry, CEO & Chairman of the Executive Board at Wolters Kluwer, about her childhood, work and personal experiences, digital transformation, and the importance of lifelong learning. This is a summary of an inspirational and personal conversation.
What kind of childhood did you have?
A true countryside childhood, in rural Connecticut in the United States. It was a great environment. I played with the kids from the neighborhood, in the woods. I was the youngest of three children.
My mother was a teacher and went back to work when I started kindergarten. Even then I was already learning things that I was later able to bring to this job. Reading, the thrilling feeling that you’re discovering another world – because that’s what you do when you read – is something I’ve always found really exciting. I owe that to my mother.
The hunger for knowledge that my mother gave me has really helped me in my career, and it’s also something we cherish here at Wolters Kluwer.
What book made an impression on you?
The Little Engine That Could, a well-known children’s book about a little locomotive that can do more than it thinks. Even as a child I enjoyed doing things that were difficult. I did like a challenge, and that little book contains a life lesson: You can set yourself goals and it gives you great satisfaction if you achieve them.
We have four values here, and one of them is: Aim high and deliver. One of the colleagues with whom I worked for a long time always said, ‘If you want to go to the moon, you might end up on the roof. But even that’s always higher than the ground.’ I believe that setting high standards has been essential in transforming this company from print to digital. When I became CEO here in 2003, 75 percent of our revenue came from print. Now digital & services is 91% of total revenues.
You became CEO at Wolters Kluwer in 2003. What did you do first?
I already knew the company, so I saw that we had to come up quickly with a strategy that would put us on the path from print to digital. That strategy consisted of three goals. First, we had to do something about our portfolio, because we had very diverse interests. So they had to be streamlined, parts needed to be disposed of and we bought companies that could help us.
Secondly, we had to modernize. We hadn’t done much of that – we’d mainly just been buying companies. So we set ourselves the goal of reinvesting eight to ten percent of our revenues in our own products. If you ask me what the most important decision was, that was it. We still reinvest in that way, which is how we have brought organic growth to the business. And finally: human talent. We’ve revamped our workforce into a group that’s highly skilled technologically.
You started to manage…
Yes. I’d done that before, but not at a company as big as Wolters Kluwer. The Executive Board supported my plans, and it was clear that they were going to need time. The most important thing is that you’re able to explain where you’re going, and then to get everyone heading in the same direction. We knew what we had to do – that wasn’t the problem, but implementing it was. We have become an intellectual property company specializing in expert solutions, especially in the medical, legal, and tax fields. We work with the top experts in those fields, people who are really good at their job. We combine their know-how with our own knowledge and technology and in that way offer tools: solutions for problems our customers face every day.
What makes someone a good boss?
A good boss is clear, motivational, level-headed, and someone who criticizes but also compliments. That’s how I try to do it. I believe very deeply that you have to respect people.
Will you ever change the name of your company?
We did talk about that some years ago, when we adjusted the logo. The name is not easy to pronounce – it comes out differently all over the world. We were thinking of something like WK. But it was all too complicated and so now we say: It’s our name, and it’s our heritage.