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My job explained: Publishing director

publishing directorJon Walmsley studied chemistry at Nottingham University and has gone on to become a publishing director. Read on to find out why he thinks chemistry gives you a great start for a whole range of careers.

What is a publishing director?

I run part of a publishing company, which means that I am responsible for everything we publish under certain subjects areas. This involves finding people to write the books or journals and then producing, marketing, selling and distributing the final product.

Was there anything or anyone that inspired you to study chemistry?

I think the main reason was that I enjoyed chemistry and was quite good at it, so when it came to deciding what to do next and applying for university, it seemed like a sensible subject to take forward. Chemistry fitted my way of thinking - it’s quite abstract and analytical.

What was university like?

I was brought up in Watford and went to Nottingham to study chemistry. Because none of my family had been there, it really felt like my own city. I felt daunted for the first night at university and after that I just found it exciting. It opened up areas of life I didn’t know existed before.

Nottingham was a brilliant place to study. It’s a very lively city, whatever you want to do, whether you want to watch test match cricket, first division football or go to the theatre or opera, it’s all there. There are also more night clubs per head of population than anywhere in the country, which makes it fun for students.

Can you describe a typical working day?

My days are pretty various, which is part of the attraction. I might have a day full of meetings where we’re planning what kind of things to publish or looking at what the competition is up to, or I might spend some time interviewing future employees. Another day I might not have any meetings at all, I could be flying to America, Berlin, Copenhagen, Asia or Australia. It’s very varied, with a just the right balance of being in the office and on the move.

What do you like best about your job?

The people aspect. I get to deal with a wide range of people, including those at the top of their profession whether they are academics or industrialists – people who are writing books or editing journals. Then the staff varies from commissioning editors to marketing teams. I get to work with different types of people from all backgrounds, which keeps things interesting.

Also you get a regular sense of achievement, which I don’t think all jobs give you. At the end of the year you have certain targets to review and if you hit them, it’s very satisfying.

Have there been any challenges in getting to where you are now?

There are different levels of challenge all the time, and I suppose if there weren’t, life would be boring. I’ve been through a few reorganisations of companies and I’ve generally found that if you keep a positive attitude, it can be more of an opportunity than a threat.

What qualities and skills do you think are important for your role?

You need to be flexible and try to see things from other people’s points of view. You also need to be decisive and want to make things happen, rather than waiting for things to happen to you and reacting to that.

What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?

Do chemistry. It’s one of the best general degrees that you can choose. It sets you up to do all kinds of scientific work, financial work, care work, police work… chemists do everything. Employers recognise that you have a great combination of logic and creativity, in that you can visualise things, so it’s excellent training for all sorts of careers.

What’s your favourite chemistry related invention?

Chemistry has a crucial role to play in environmental science from understanding and regulating the environment, to creating efficient, renewable and clean fuel sources. We literally could not live without it!