Hacking away at hierarchies: Lessons from Houghton Mifflin

MaryCullinaneHow do you break down the walls between print and digital at a 180-year old publishing company best known for Curious George, textbooks, and J.R.R. Tolkien?

Mary Cullinane took on the role of Chief Content Officer at the 180-year old publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2012, at a time of major shifts in both publishing and education. In the 19th century, Houghton Mifflin published Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne, but in the 21st century, the Boston company had changed hands several times and gone through a pre-packaged bankruptcy filing to shed about $3 billion in debt. Cullinane’s role is to create new K-12 education products across all platforms – both traditional textbooks and digital products for desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. She previously served as the worldwide director of innovation at Microsoft’s education division.

In her first two years at Houghton Mifflin, Cullinane has overhauled a content development process that hadn’t changed much in decades. Cullinane did it by removing boundaries between print and digital products, hacking away at hierarchies, and renewing the company’s focus on the customer.

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