Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

The Westchester Education Services Vision

June 14, 2021 Paul Crecca, President & CEO, Westchester Publishing Services Season 1 Episode 16
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
The Westchester Education Services Vision
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we'll be talking with Paul J. Crecca, President & CEO for Westchester Publishing Services and Westchester Education Services. He’ll be discussing his experience in education publishing, how that inspired him to launch Westchester Education Services, and the strategy that has made the company successful.

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester Words, Education Ed-tech and Publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi. And today I'll be talking with Paul, J. Crecca, President and CEO for Westchester PublishingServices and Westchester Education Services. He'll be discussing his experience in education publishing, how that inspired him to launch Westchester Education Services and the strategies that have made the company successful. Paul, thanks for being here today.

Paul Crecca:

My pleasure, Nicole, looking forward to doing this.

Nicole Tomassi:

Awesome. So let's begin with you telling our listeners about your background.

Paul Crecca:

Well , sounds good. I got my undergraduate degree from Rutgers university, a BA in accounting and actually an MBA in finance, both from Rutgers university on the north campus. So I was a commuting student during those years. I started my career as an auditor with , Ernst & Young which was Arthur Young at the time I joined the firm in 1979, gosh forbid, long time ago.From there I moved to Dun & Bradstreet where I spent 10 years, lastly, as CFO of Dun & Bradstreet international . From DNB , I moved on to Marvel Comics, which often gets a lot of attention, but as their General Manager and CFO . After three years with Marvel, I joined Haights Cross Communication, probably a name that no one will recognize , but it was an investment holding company for numerous publishing businesses, primarily K-12 educational publishers, including names, such as Sundance/Newbridge, Triumph Learning and Options Publishing. I was CFO of Haights Cross for seven years, and then lastly CEO for three years, it was with my Haights Cross, experience where I gained a deep background and experience in US K-12 educational publishing.

Nicole Tomassi:

So after Haights Cross, you then joined Westchester Publishing Services in 2014. And when you did, so were you already visualizing what would become Westchester Education Services?

Paul Crecca:

When I did join Westchester , with its reputation for top quality publishing services? Yes, I did have a glimmer that one day I would start an educational publishing related product line within t he Westchester brand. So yes, I did have that thought, you know, coming into Westchester in 2014.

Nicole Tomassi:

What it was about Westchester structure at that time that made you think that it could offer a solution for Westchester education services clients that no other vendor in the marketplace was offering or could match?

Paul Crecca:

Well, aside from Westchester's reputation for top quality publishing services, I wouldn't say it was anything about having to do with Westchester structure , really had more to do with, , my perception that there was a market need with not a lot of competition. And some background h ere is necessary. Up until the 2008, 2009, economic crash, US K-12 publishers, including im prints o wned by Haights Cross very often engaged third party firms known as packagers to create new pr oduct f or them following the specs that they provided. Before the 2008, 2009 crash, there were a good number of packagers in the market, which publishers could choose from. But following that crash when local state and federal monies for education were hit hard because local property taxes, state sales taxes, and federal income tax revenues were all down, publisher spending with third party packagers dried up and many went out of business. And from the research I had done an d d iscussions with many educational publishers and experts, e ven in 2016 packagers had not returned to the market. So I saw a gap, a m arket for product development, b y th ird-party v endors that was not being fulfilled.

Nicole Tomassi:

So from what you're telling me, obviously, you , you gave this a lot of consideration, you did a lot of research, and then there was your previous knowledge from Haights Cross. How did all that go into the strategy or mission that you had in mind for Westchester education services? Well,

Paul Crecca:

Certainly from my , experience with Haights Cross, I had many contacts across the education industry who I did speak with prior to launching Westchester Education Services. But from the beginning, it was clear to me that I was committed to focus on the supplemental educational publisher market , that we would not attempt to service the large basal publishers producing basal programs , often done by the, what I referred to was the mega publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill. That's not to say we were not going to seek engagements from those large publishers for supplemental materials using the classroom. Uh, but we just weren't able , we weren't going to be able to compete with large India firms specifically , uh, for basal type programs. But also , that our product development services, and this was part of the vision in the creation and offering of new client p roduct would be done almost exclusively by US-based education publishing experts. This critical work, the development of education materials, which would be used to teach us school classroom children, would be created entirely by us employees and freelancers. This I'm sure has everything to do with a very bad experience that I had back at Haights Cross when we engaged offshore vendors to create new product for US publishers for, for our imprints. And that just frankly, did not work out very well. So I was committed from the beginning that Westchester Education Services would really be an entirely US product development based organization.

Nicole Tomassi:

What do you think was the biggest challenge that had to be overcome with launching Wes ?

Paul Crecca:

Well, there were two , um, first was finding really the person to lead this effort, this new startup , uh, this new startup product lines startup division , um, after several months of networking with the people I've known new in the education space from Hage cross , um, it was very difficult to find the right person. So finally, we went out, I went out and engaged a professional recruiting firm , um, Bert Davis, executive recruiting, which is highly respected, well known and perhaps the top , uh , recruiting firm in , uh , in the publishing space. And ultimately they found and found in , I hired Kevin Gray, who was now the president and chief content officer of Westchester education services. The second challenge, which any startup business faces is building a following , uh , with your target, you know, your target clients , uh, Westchester already had a strong sales and marketing team. So with Wes , um, we would certainly leverage that, but I was also able to attract a nationally known and highly respected name to our effort to Westchester education services. Uh, and that is Marie Brown . Marie Brown was a product development icon. The way back into the eighties and her company , uh, was, was known for its quality , uh, creation of ELA content. She sold her business in 2012. Um, and after five years in retirement, I , uh , was able to convince Merita, come out of retirement and come on and join the Wes team as a consulting, managing editor for our ELA product .

Nicole Tomassi:

I , I remember those, you know, when she came out and , and to, and to join our effort. And it definitely was a great shot in the arm to have somebody as well-respected, as her , uh, aligned with our brand. Um , yeah, it's good to have friends. So Paul, every company of course faces unexpected obstacles, but when you're sitting there doing a business plan, you don't sit there and factor for a pandemic, at least I don't think you do. So walk me through how Westchester education services adjusted strategy , uh, over the last 12 to 18 months to continue supporting our clients during such challenging times.

Paul Crecca:

Well, there's no question that , uh, we were hit Westchester was hit Westchester publishing services was at Westchester agitation services was hit by the pandemic. I would say that , uh, bookings work for Wes was down as much as 35% as a result of the pandemic, but our business model for education services is based on, I mean, a relatively small number of in-house editorial and production staff employees, and maintaining a large, very large network, over 500 freelance professionals who can, who can fulfill just about any conceived K-12 project that clients might bring to us. We could not hire in-house the diversity of talent to satisfy all the, all the possible needs that our clients might have. So this model with, again, few employees on staff and, and using a large network of freelance talent allows us to scale the business very quickly and react very effectively to both upticks in the business. And also downturns, particularly something like driven by the pandemic.

Nicole Tomassi:

I know that, you know, as, as everything kind of, you know , came into a little bit better focus with the pandemic, that there was a shift in either the amount of , um, project bookings that were coming in or the type , uh, that allowed us to, you know , adjust the freelance resources or the freelance professionals to meet those changing needs. Well,

Paul Crecca:

Nicole, thanks for that very leading question. Um, absolutely. Absolutely. Uh, as anyone, or as you might guess, there was definitely a shift to online digital delivery of educational materials. As classrooms got pushed to home learning, obviously using, you know , hard copy materials, books, workbooks, et cetera, became next to impossible if you will. So the demand for online digital delivered content , um, exploded where I would have to say before the pandemic, the ratio might be 60% to print and 40% digital. It probably shifted to 70, 80% digital and the balance being very small demand for print related content purely because it was, it couldn't be used during the pandemic. And there wasn't enough , uh , good educational content in the market , uh, for digital delivery. So the demand for digital digitally delivered product certainly was that it benefited from the pandemic.

Nicole Tomassi:

Now we're about four years out since Westchester education services has launched. How do you think things are going

Paul Crecca:

Well? I certainly wish we didn't have the pandemic to contend with over the last 16 months. I certainly it's affected our growth rate has slowed our , our growth rate. Aside from that. Um, I'd have to say I couldn't be more pleased. You know, we've already taken the business beyond offering the core four subject areas, ELA, math, science, social studies to offering , um, ELT ELL, which is English language training and learning , uh, CRE culturally responsible education, SEL social and emotional learning. And we're now launching into career tech education or CTE. So , um, it's really been a growth engine for Westchester publishing services and the outlook is very bright. So once again, I really couldn't be more pleased at where we are today and what the future holds.

Nicole Tomassi:

And I think on , uh , unlike the downturn that you talked about earlier , um, with the housing bubble and the great recession in 2008 nine, and really it dragged on for a long time until, you know, until we came out of it, at least this time, there is a lot of federal support for schools and education and, you know , CTE education as well in addition to K-12 . So I think that's going to help , um, you know, the space do much better coming out of all this.

Paul Crecca:

If there is a bit of a silver lining from the pandemic, it certainly has opened the eyes of government and administrators around the country and around the world, frankly, to the special needs of students when they're not in the classroom and the special needs of having to educate remotely. And , and that certainly has brought to the front, the challenges that many students face in actually the learning process. So small silver lining in the overall negative effect of the pandemic.

Nicole Tomassi:

Absolutely very well stated going forward. What do you think is next for Westchester education services?

Paul Crecca:

Westchester publishing services? A couple of years ago, we launched a branch in the , uh, in the United Kingdom, which was modeled after our 50 year old publishing services book services company, which services, book publishers, such as McMillan and Harvard university press and names like that. But within the last six months, we have also launched an education services line in the UK. And the UK is also the branch, which will service the rest of world publishers , uh , throughout Europe, even touching into Asia and into Latin America. And we're already actually getting some exciting traction in each of those markets. Uh, certainly the , uh , demand for us and UK , uh, curriculum based content is strong in countries outside the U S and the UK. So we have a , uh, have a , a good opportunity to actually serve as well outside the U S and I look forward to the possibilities , uh, with the rest of the world and in the UK.

Nicole Tomassi:

It certainly sounds really exciting. And, you know, certainly, you know, having watched this division kind of rise up from an idea to where it is now , um, it's been really interesting to watch and I've enjoyed the trajectory and I can't wait to see what happens in the future with it. Paul, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with me and our listeners today about your vision for Westchester education services and how you made it a reality. It would be

Paul Crecca:

Remiss if we left this , uh , discussion without me giving credit really to the people who've made this happen, Kevin's team we've brought together and they've really stepped up, they believe in the vision. Uh, and , and they're really the ones that have made this happen. And it's frankly, without them, that this would not be the success that it is today. I mean, Kevin, Dave Ballis and all, you know, all of the team there really, really deserve all the credit. I mean, the idea is one thing, but actually the execution , uh, of , uh, of that idea is really to their credit. Well,

Nicole Tomassi:

Yes, and , and they deserve things and thanks to your leadership and being able to retain and bring in the kind of talent who share that passion and vision for quality educational content. It is a team effort, and actually it also, you know , kind of leads into what her next episode is going to be about because I'll be talking with Kevin. Um, and then in the next episode, after with Dave about how they executed on that vision. So thank you for that .

Paul Crecca:

Thanks, Nicole. It's been a treat telling the story about Westchester education service . Thank

Nicole Tomassi:

You again, to learn how west Chester education services can help your company with your content development requirements. Complete the short form on the contact us page of the Westchester education services website. That's at Westchester education services.com, and we'll get back in touch with you quickly. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Westchester words. You can follow us on your favorite streaming platform to be notified about new episodes as they become available, or to listen to previous episodes. You can also find all of our episodes plus additional content that's been shared by some of our guests on the podcast page of our website Westchester education services.com. You can also send us an email at Westchester words at Westchester, E D S V C s.com to share your thoughts or comments about today's discussion, as well as what content you'd like to hear Westchester cover in future episodes. I hope you'll join us for the next episode of Westchester words when I'll be continuing the conversation that started with Paul. By speaking with Kevin J. Gray president and chief content officer for Westchester education services until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.