In June of this year, James P. McGinty will step down as Vice Chairman of Cambridge Information Group (CIG). Mr. McGinty has been with CIG for more than 20 years, playing a central role in the company’s development and investment strategy.
Mr. McGinty was named Vice Chairman and appointed to CIG’s Board of Directors in 2005, after serving for five years as the company’s president. Among his contributions to CIG are his participation in the acquisition, integration, and the general management of such well-known information brands and businesses Bowker, RefWorks and ProQuest, where he played an especially active role, serving for six years on its Board of Directors.
We spoke to Jim to get the scoop on his “retirement” and how he defines that term.
What led you into the library and information field?
In late 1968, I returned from my tour Vietnam. I was assign to Headquarters Marine Corps as a manpower analyst. We used the old IBM 360s to do what we now call information services. We used IBM punch cards to create a large HR database to help make policy decisions. I learned how important databases were, and I knew then that I wanted to spend my life in the information business.
How did you transition to Cambridge Scientific Abstracts from Dun & Bradstreet?
I joined D&B after the Marine Corps. I was fortunate to be there then, because D&B had been early adopter in the information business. They computerized in the late sixties. I held 7 or 8 different jobs over the 20-year period. My final job was running the north Pacific, out of Hong Kong. During that tour, the stateside job I was slated for was eliminated in a reorganization (some corporate things never change!). I had a chance meeting with my friend Bob Snyder, who was passing through Hong Kong. I told him of my situation and that I would be leaving D&B. He ask me to come home and help him with a small A&I company .The rest is history.
What do you feel is your most significant accomplishment, professionally?
I have a couple. I think that joining CSA and turning the company from a relatively small print/CD-ROM publisher into an internet-based information services company is probably at the top of the list. We bet the company on the Internet, grew from 65 employees to over 350, prior to integrating with ProQuest.
Another one would be bringing CSA information to Asia. We actually hosted our databases in Taiwan and on mainland China. That was a pretty big deal in late 90s. We did that while we were building the electronic side of the company. We invested very early in greater China, Australia and Korea – it really paid off.
I was one of the members of the start-up team in the development of RefWorks. It was an internal startup, incubated inside CIG. It was sort of an unusual way to develop a product/company. It, too, paid off and got us into the software business.
Perhaps my greatest achievement was to work with scores of good people, and watching them succeed – so many people I’ve worked with have gone on to be successful, some still with the company, and many with other companies. That’s what it’s all about!
The world is going more and more digital, getting information from ebooks, online databases, search engines and social media. Because of Eugene Powers’ vision, ProQuest was well positioned for this transition when it came into the mainstream. How do you feel ProQuest will adapt and change for the future technologies that come along?
What I see happening is the constant application of our technology to our content resources. Right now for example, ProQuest is poised to provide analytical services from the dissertations database. We are mining our transactions and learning more about our users every day. Many of our databases were initially put up to be read record by record, but now we’re able to structure them to provide other services.
Another example is historical newspapers. There is a tremendous amount of search and retrieval work that we can do with that material. We will be restructuring that data and information – we have vast amounts of it – and who knows what’s going to come out of that effort. ProQuest will constantly be applying technology to content resources, always with the same focus – making our users and customers more effective in what they do.
If you had one piece of advice for our information professionals, what would it be?
Maintain a dual focus. Focus on users (researchers, faculty, both grad and undergrad students) and their workflow. What do they do? How do they do it? What are they happy with? How we can address their pain points by providing some sort of information services? At the same time, focus on the librarian – our customer. Understand their organization, their environment, and their objectives. Our relationship with the librarian is key to our success. Never forget that.
That said, many times end users and librarians appear content with a certain process. Until someone shows them a better, faster, cheaper way to do what they’ve already been doing. Of course, that can make them uncomfortable, and jars them out of their complacency. We must do that, it’s the art form of our business – the all-important selling side.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Talk less, show more, and listen. That would be the big one. You can’t focus enough on customers and their needs. Everyone says they do it. But as you progress in a company and get promoted, it seems that the further you go up in an organization, the less time you spend with customers. If I had to do it all again, I’d spend less time in meetings with all those Power Points, and more time creating prototypes, presenting them to customers and listening to what they have to say
What are your retirement plans? What do you look forward to most?
The word retirement is disturbing – it connotes finality. I am stepping down from my position, but I’m not finished yet. I am still pretty active on two boards: Market Research.com, and the USMC Scholarship Foundation. I’m also involved in a startup, Lab Archives. I may do some more writing – another novel perhaps.
What support will you provide to the information industry after your retirement?
I’d be delighted to engage with anyone, especially former colleagues, where my perspective might help. Of course, I’ll always be available to industry and library associations on initiatives, especially on public policy issues, that impact the information industry.
What will you miss about the office?
I’ll miss the camaraderie of the people that I’ve worked with, those who have supported and tolerated me for many years, especially my boss and the CIG administrative staff.
What’s one weird thing about you we don’t know?
A couple of things: I have a nefarious past from my Brooklyn days… I’ll leave it at that. I think women’s fashion is great art form. I pay a lot of attention to it.