In Conversation with Hardie Grant

Tell us about your business?

Hardie Grant is an independent, global publishing and media business. We’re probably best known for our book business. We publish mainly non-fiction (particularly food, wine, sport, humour, biography), but also children’s books. Our book business is international – we have offices in Melbourne/Sydney, London and San Francisco and commission books out of Australia and London. Our other two businesses are Hardie Grant Media, a content marketing network, that produces magazines, video, web content, PR and campaigns for a broad range of companies including Mercedes, the NGV, the Australian Education Union, the New York Times, Tourism Victoria, Nike and Dan Murphy’s. HGX is our direct to consumer business and includes the Halliday wine portfolio – book, events, magazine, and subscription website –in Australia and more recently in China.

Hardie Grant has a turnover of around Aus $80m, and 250 staff in Australia, the UK and the US.

Sandy & Fiona of Hardie Grant

And tell us about yourselves?

Sandy and I are partners at home as well as in our business, which we founded in 1997. Our two children, Nick (30) and Alice Hardie-Grant (28), now also work in the business. Sandy and I have both worked in publishing since graduating with economics and law degrees (respectively) in the late 70s/early 80s. I started in book publishing (in Melbourne and London) then at Text Media, where I worked with Eric Beecher and Di Gribble, and moved across to the agency/client focused publishing that I eventually established at Hardie Grant.

Sandy also started in book publishing, also in Melbourne and London, returning to Melbourne at the age of 30 to head up Heinemann and walk into the role of defendant in the famous Spycatcher trial. Further stints followed in London, where he was the CEO of Reed International, a publishing business with a turnover of Aus$500m and 3000 staff. We returned to Melbourne in 1997 to set up Hardie Grant, with no authors, no clients, and 3 staff! Now, in addition to working part time at Hardie Grant, I teach yoga and vedic chanting, and together we run our family cattle property in northern NSW.

Why did you decide to start Hardie Grant?

When Sandy’s Reed job finished up we stayed in London for about a year, but then decided it was time to head back to Melbourne, as our parents were ageing and the children’s schooling was a bit up in the air. Sandy had had a big international job in London, and wasn’t that excited about stepping back into a regional CEO role, so we thought, why not start our own business. We felt we’d both contributed pretty well to other people’s businesses; we could do what we’d done for them, but do it for ourselves. Besides, we’d be ‘secure’ in the job – no-one could fire us! We didn’t really have a huge entrepreneurial desire to start a publishing business. It just looked like a good option for us. But we did want it to become a mid-sized business, not just be a ‘small publisher’.

Who (or what) inspires your business?

Both Sandy and I have had some great mentors. Well mine has actually been Sandy. We actually met at work (he was my ‘boss’, 2 years my senior) and he continues to inspire me, as well as be a great balance to me – he’s very calm and intuitive. Sandy’s main mentors were both English publishers – Nicholas Thomson (Heinemann) and Paul Hamlyn (Octopus/Reed).

In more general terms, I think we’re both inspired in our business by the thought that we’re doing something positive for Australia’s culture and creativity, providing an opportunity for creative expression for writers, editors, designers, photographers, illustrators and publishers; an interesting work environment for everyone else who supports them – in marketing, sales, distribution, technology etc; and publishing in areas that people are passionate about, and that add to our understanding and experience.

Tell us what you are currently working on?

Fiona: I’m currently working on Hardie Grant’s Reconciliation Action Plan. This is a long-term process where the company undertakes actions to raise awareness and help to create change for Indigenous Australians. It’s under the auspices of Reconciliation Australia, and has been an incredible process so far. I highly recommend it. I also tend to help out with contracts, major pitches, and strategy. Sandy: Looking at some acquisition opportunities; working on a high-profile political autobiography; daily checking our international sales!

What are some top tips for those wanting to enter the publishing world?

Take any job you can to get your foot in the door. All publishing jobs benefit from knowledge of other parts of the publishing process, whether that’s editing, sales, marketing, product management or admin. Talk to people in publishing about what they do, what the issues are; take up any opportunities to broaden your experience – build your knowledge. Keep your mind open – everything you do will help you in some way; don’t be in a rush to go straight into your ‘dream job’.

Share it around…