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Leadership transition


Chuck Savitt

In 1984, Catherine Conover, Walter Sedgwick, Barbara Dean, and I came together and had the inspiration to found Island Press. 

At the time, conflicts over natural resources, threatened species and ecosystems, public health, water quality, and air pollution were rampant. We saw many great policy and research organizations doing important work to protect nature through community-based development and advocacy work. None, however, was devoted to capturing the ideas, solutions, and thought leadership that grew from this work, and nobody was shaping it into useful policy and management tools that could be shared broadly with others. Our decision to form Island Press sprang from the need to develop that body of knowledge to inspire, inform, and provide the tools that could help those trying to solve such problems.
As we moved ahead, we were guided by our belief in the power of ideas to inspire and guide change, and in the book as a unique tool for developing critical thinking and analysis. And, from the beginning, we were enabled by the close partnerships that we were able to form with the philanthropic community, our authors, and a diverse group of environmental organizations. 
Four leading environmental funders—the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Agua Fund—agreed with us, committing the funds we needed to launch Island Press. Over the years, they were joined by dozens of others, including The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Summit Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, The Marisla Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
We have published more than 1,000 titles and sold more than 3.6 million books, in partnership with our authors—leading scientists and emerging thought leaders such as Edward O. Wilson, Gretchen Daily, Russell Train, Bruce Babbitt, Jane Jacobs, Daniel Pauly, Peter Calthorpe, Jane Lubchenco, Michael Soulé, and scores of others. 
Our close partnerships with long-standing conservation organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, NRDC, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and IUCN have been invaluable. We have also been fortunate to work closely with new organizations, such as the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, the Society for Conservation Biology, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and the Society of Ecosystems Restoration. All of these partners, along with the work of the Island Press staff and Board of Directors, have given rise to new areas of study, spurred many to take action in their work and personal lives, and influenced policy in improving our stewardship of the environment and in our efforts to create a healthier, more-sustainable world.
Island Press has always been recognized for its unique ability to identify the best thinkers and recognize the new ideas, trends, and information needs of the environmental community. We have convened major stakeholders to create partnerships that accelerate the development of ideas and to translate those ideas into policy and practice. This vision—supporting the development of important ideas to create publications that are able to advance those ideas in targeted and strategic ways—sets us apart from most other publishers.
We are an organization with a unique position and value proposition, made up of individuals with a special combination of skills, relationships, and commitment to our vision. These attributes and that drive have made us a key institution in the environmental science, policy, and sustainability community. No less a source than the New York Times has reported that “Island Press has become the publisher of record in all aspects of the environment.”
Today’s publishing world is quite different from the one into which we launched Island Press. It presents both new challenges and new opportunities, ones far different than those we faced thirty years ago. Five years ago, I recognized the need to bring in someone who combined deep experience in non-fiction publishing with an understanding and experience in the role that digital publishing and media will play in our future. As a result, I decided to step down as Publisher to become President of Island Press and look for someone to lead our publishing into the future.
I was fortunate at that time to find David Miller. David had more than 25 years of publishing experience, much of it within Addison Wesley Longman (now Pearson Education). He had a strong record of success, first as an editor launching their list on personal computer technology, then as publisher of their trade publishing group, and finally as president of their international, general, and professional publishing groups. Then, as an entrepreneur, he had successfully started several publishing-related businesses, including one that delivered digital content for college courses.
I know that a changing business and financial reality requires new skills and approaches and so over the past few years I have been working very closely with our current and past Board chairs to broaden and strengthen our already dedicated Board of Directors and to find the right time to transition Island Press to this new world.  I believe that we now have the key ingredients—a good financial situation with positive cash flow, strong staff leadership, and a talented and committed board of directors—necessary for such a transition. 
Therefore, I will be stepping down from the leadership of Island Press as of April 30, 2016.

David Miller, Island Press President

David Miller has agreed to step up to become Island Press’s second president, and I have agreed to stay on to help with that transition. I will continue as president through our spring Board of Directors meeting, and then as Senior Counsel through the end of June. I will, of course, make myself available to David and the Board after that time for advice and assistance as needed.

David has now been with Island Press as a key member of our management team for five years. He has proven to be terrific partner and leader within the organization. He has brought business and management skills along with a personal style and values that have fit well with our team and with our mission. 
We are fortunate that an organization the size of Island Press has someone of David's experience, values, and commitment at this important juncture. He has both a unique set of skills and a vision for the future of publishing that Island Press needs. He shares my appreciation for the power of books and authors to effect change and he understands that publishers need to seize the opportunities that the digital world presents. Most importantly, he cares deeply about our mission and the people who work here. He has helped me to bring in talented people with new thinking and to build a culture that is challenging, collaborative, and fun. I feel that I have accomplished fully what I set out to do to secure the future of Island Press, and he has my full support as well as the full support of the Board.
I know that I can move on to other challenges confident I have left Island Press in good shape and in good hands for another thirty years or more. I am extremely proud of what our staff and board have built over the past three decades. The challenges facing the environment have only grown greater, but I am certain that Island Press will continue to play a critical role in helping to develop the next generation of thought leaders and new ways of translating their ideas into the change the world needs.
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