OCLC today named Jack B. Blount as its new president and CEO. He is only the fifth person to hold the job in the giant nonprofit library cooperative’s 45-year history.
Blount, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” with extensive technological experience, will replace Jay Jordan effective July 1. Jordan will retire after leading the cooperative for 14 years.
Blount (pronounced “blunt”) takes over the lead of the organization at a critical time, as it not only continues to aggressively build out its existing services such as the WorldCat bibliographic database but also to pursue the rollout of its new Web-scale management services.
Blount could not be immediately reached for comment. But the company did release a statement from Blount, in which he praised the organization’s staff and mission and said he was looking forward to “offering new research and services.”
“Social networking, mobile computing, cloud computing and big data present enormous challenges of cost and complexity to libraries and their communities that can best be simplified, managed and enabled by libraries working together through organizations like OCLC,” he said.
Blount, 60, was chosen after a search by the OCLC Board of Trustees, a community advisory group, and the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. Details of his compensation package were not released. According to the organization’s most recent 990 tax filing (2010), Jordan had a base salary of $688,000.
Blount’s most direct tie to the library world comes from his three-year stint (2002-2005) as the president and CEO of Dynix Corp. where he was charged with turning around declining sales and revenues and where he helped implement the company’s ultimate merger with Sirsi in 2005 to form SirsiDynix. He also oversaw the release of the Corinthian integrated library system.
But Blount has 35 years of experience leading other technology organizations, large and small, that are not so explicitly tied to libraries, including the Alpha Bay Corp., based in Salt Lake City, UT, which Blount founded in 2005 and ran through May. The company is an enterprise software company that provides retailers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application that does things such as track inventory, manage assets, and prevent thefts, among other functions.
Alpha Bay’s website describes Blount’s experience as “deep technically, encompassing efforts in enterprise software, personal productive software, Internet, telephony, data networking, wireless networking, and hardware. Mr. Blount’s corporate experience is cross-functional in nature, including sales, marketing, and operational.”
“Our search produced several outstanding candidates for this important position,” said Larry Alford, chairman of OCLC’s Board of Trustees and the chief librarian for the University of Toronto Libraries, in a press release. “Jack Blount’s extensive leadership and management experience, background and expertise in technology, global outlook and demonstrated commitment to and appreciation of libraries will serve the cooperative well as he assumes leadership of OCLC.”
However, there was little indication in comments from OCLC officials or in Blount’s track record what his approach might be on such key issues as the organization’s Rights and Responsibilities policy or the implementation of the WorldShare platform.
Blount has a degree in mathematics from Southern Methodist University, and he has worked for IBM, Novell, Borland and JD Edwards, to name a few stops in what Bloomberg paints as a peripatetic career.
While at Novell, he expanded international operations, spending most of his time during several years in Europe and Japan. He has sat on the boards of more than a dozen technology companies, launched three software startups, and taken two software companies public, according to his Alpha Bay bio.
Blount’s international experience as well as his experience in corporate acquisitions will likely stand him in good stead during his time at OCLC, which has reported operating losses the past two fiscal years ($6.7 million in FY11). The operating losses were the result of planned investments in WorldShare and other services and holding the line on price increases to members for three years.
During Jordan’s time at the helm of OCLC, the cooperative has grown enormously, now serving 72,035 libraries in 170 countries, with about 25 percent of its revenues coming from overseas. Jordan presided over a decided shift toward a less U.S.-centric focus for the cooperative, whether forming strategic records deals, such as the agreement reached with the Chinese Academic Library and Information System (CALIS) in October 2011, or presiding over numerous acquisitions, such as the $6 million deal for Germany’s B.O.N.D. GmbH & Co. in April 2011. In a recent interview with LJ, Jordan was asked if his successor should have some background in a for-profit company:
Yes probably. I don’t know if you have to have that….Personal[ly] it was an advantage to me. I’ve been involved in many mergers and acquisitions and negotiations around the world so I probably negotiated…with 30 or 40 different nationalities and it wasn’t the least bit intimidating. In fact, I loved it. That experience stood me in good stead. I wouldn’t discourage somebody from having a business background. Whether that’s absolutely a sine qua non I don’t know.
Acquisitions are apparently a significant part of Blount’s thinking. In 2009, Alpha Bay engaged the William Blair & Company as a financial advisor to help drive growth through partnerships and acquisitions.
“As a serial entrepreneur, two of the most critical and effective business strategies I have learned to employ for rapid growth are timing and leverage!” Blount said at the time.
Tony LeVecchio, an Alpha Bay board member, added at the same time: “Blount’s experience at Novell and JD Edwards, where he led the strategic acquisition of over a dozen technology companies, complemented by his recent successful turnaround and strategic merger of Dynix Corporation, demonstrates his vision and success in acquisition growth strategies and his ability to convert those acquisitions into successful, long-term growth.”
According to a 2006 interview in eWeek as well as a 2007 presentation (see below beginning on slide 16) in the Journal of Defense Software Engineering, Blount also embraces outsourcing as a way to save money and find development talent. And with his embrace of “agile development processes,” he is not shy about ruffling the feathers of engineering teams, the people OCLC will be relying on extensively for the roll out of the WorldShare platform’s functionality. In the eWeek interview, Blount said:
When I’ve gone into companies … and taken over development responsibilities and explained what agile [development] was and why we were going to do it, I’d say that between 30 and 50 percent of the engineering staff either resigned or threatened to resign because they would not work in that environment. Most only wanted me to know how violently uncomfortable they were with it. But within a very short period of time, what I’ve found in four companies is that once they use it, they become absolute advocates of it.
Sandra Yee, the chair of the executive search committee for the OCLC Board of Trustees and the dean of the Wayne State University Libraries and Library and Information Science Program, said Blount was the man for the job.
“After careful consideration and consultation with our community advisory group and search firm, we are confident that Jack Blount is well prepared to lead the OCLC cooperative into an exciting and dynamic future.”
(Gary Price contributed to the reporting on this article. See his InfoDOCKET post.)