Embracing E-Books

Scholastic CFO Maureen O’Connell has streamlined operations at the children’s publishing company while pushing ahead on the technology front.

The challenges of a post-apocalyptic world or a quest for immortality might present difficulties for some, but not Maureen O’Connell. As CFO and chief administrative officer at New York-based Scholastic Corp., O’Connell oversees activities that reap substantial profits from fictional works, such as "The Hunger Games" and the Harry Potter books, that bring such scenarios to life for children and teenagers.

Of course, O’Connell’s challenges at Scholastic—a leading children’s book publisher that sells and distributes a range of titles in the U.S. and more than 140 other countries—have been quite different than those of the fictional characters in these works, but perhaps no less compelling or action-packed. The company sells one out of every two children’s books in the U.S. and also runs school-based book fairs and book clubs. It is active in educational technology and services, children’s media and the global licensing of its brands.

One major change O’Connell made was to consolidate Scholastic’s manufacturing, supply chain and purchasing efforts in its largest divisions into corporate groups. She also oversaw a shift to a distributed work-flow format, which has been particularly helpful for the company’s customer service operations, she says. “Now we can digitally assign work to our customer service operators wherever they are, and see how they are doing and check on productivity” in real time.

This, in turn, allowed Scholastic to report revenues of $1.9 billion in 2011 and garnered it a 20% increase in third-quarter results relative to a year ago, reflecting the popularity of "The Hunger Games" franchise with both teen and adult readers. In addition, O’Connell says cash flow has exceeded net income for the last four years, while working capital improved significantly, by $91.8 million, and inventory declined $53.3 million, or 14.8%, on a net basis.

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