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Leila Salisbury does things by the book


The last four years have been trying times for leaders. When the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, business leaders had to make tough decisions about how to adjust to the market downsizing without hindering their ability for long term growth. Not only have leaders had to deal with the difficult economic landscape, many have also had to confront disruptive technologies. For some companies, this confluence of challenges proved to be too much. Just look around and see how many music retail or DVD rental stores still exist. Well-known brands such as B. Dalton, Blockbuster and Tower Records are some of the many that have disappeared from retail centers in the last few years.

I recently visited with Leila Salisbury, director of the University Press of Mississippi, who took the helm of this organization in July 2008, which was about two months before book sales took a nosedive. In addition, the industry was going through a massive shift to digital publishing. University Press of Mississippi (UPM) was founded in 1970 as a nonprofit organization and publishes scholarly works and books that “interpret the South and its culture for the nation and the world.” UPM has a full-time staff of 17 people, and it has published more than 1,000 titles and distributed more than 2,500,000 copies worldwide.

Salisbury was born for this job. When she was a young teenager, she told her parents that she wanted to work as an editor for a university press. Salisbury grew up in Lexington, Ky., was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Davidson College, and earned her master’s degree in English from the University of Kentucky. She started her publishing career as assistant to the director of the University Press of Kentucky. Salisbury noted, “My first boss took me seriously from the first day and worked with me under the assumption that publishing was my calling.” After several years on the job, she had the opportunity to move into a more external facing position as a publicist. This required her to interface with the media regularly, and she shared, “I became more outgoing because the job required it, and one day I realized that I loved what I was doing so much that I wasn’t nervous and it really didn’t even seem like work.” Salisbury served as marketing director at the University Press of Kentucky before taking the leadership role at UPM.

During the recession, many publishers decided to wait on spending on technology; however, Salisbury was convinced that they needed to ramp up their investment if they were to thrive and stay competitive. She said, “One of the scariest things I did was to sign an agreement to license a digital asset management system in October of 2008. We were losing money and cutting expenses, but I felt so strongly that we needed to have this system in place to publish e-books.” This turned out to be a very wise investment and helped position UPM for its current success. At the end of 2012, their entire portfolio of titles will be available on e-books, and over 12 percent of their sales now come from e-books.

To navigate these turbulent waters, Salisbury sought out mentors and industry experts to help keep her informed. She said, “I seek mentors in areas that are new to me and look to connect with people who inspire.” Salisbury shared one of her favorite leadership quotes by Colin Powell who said, “Have a vision. Be demanding.” She knows that it is crucial for her to know and communicate the mission and vision of the organization and to have high expectations for both herself and her team members.

The week of Nov. 11-17, 2012, is the inaugural University Press Week sponsored by the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), which will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the AAUP. University Press of Mississippi, which will be participating in this historic event, is a real asset to our state, and I know that Salisbury and her devoted team will continue to make a difference in promoting scholarly works and Southern culture throughout the world.

Up Close With Leila Salisbury

Title: Director, University Press of Mississippi

Favorite Books: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald; “Pride & Prejudice” by Jane Austen; Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov; and, All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren. Favorite business book: Good to Great, by Jim Collins.

First Job: “I was a clerk at a children’s bookstore. I remember I once had to dress up in the Curious George character costume. ”

Proudest Moment as a Leader: “I am very proud of our team and what we have accomplished in the last few years. Our 2012 fiscal year end concluded our second best year ever for the second year in a row. I am heartened to know that we have the resources to continue to grow and thrive in the future.”


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About Martin Willoughby

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