Today, Judy Verses starts as Elsevier’s President for Academic & Government (A&G). Verses is a well known leader in the scholarly publishing sector, having previously run Wiley’s scholarly publishing business, from which she stepped down in September 2021. Executive moves between major competitors are always interesting, but this announcement is particularly newsworthy, because it is the result of a significant restructuring for Elsevier. With the completion of this new market-based structure, Kumsal Bayazit has now, after three years as Elsevier CEO, truly put her stamp on the company.
Since her arrival, Bayazit has expanded the size and diversity of Elsevier’s executive team. In doing so, she has added executive level leadership for each of its three major markets, starting with Health and earlier this year Corporate. With the arrival of Verses for A&G, Elsevier now has three senior executives with the title of president each focused on a separate major market. Ultimately, this new structure marks Elsevier’s emergence beyond a publisher with a single type of product to provide greater accountability as a platform company with differentiated customer needs.
The change that I am watching most closely in this new structure is how Elsevier’s product organization is being distributed. This is the team that is responsible for developing Elsevier’s platform businesses for infrastructure, workflow, and analytics — reflecting its corporate strategy of moving beyond its legacy as a publisher. Up until now, Elsevier has organized its research products development under a chief product officer.
In the new structure, product work is organized for customer and user communities. So for example, product development for Elsevier’s flagship product for physicians, ClinicalKey, lives in its Health organization. So, it is important to note that, while these customer sector structures include sales and marketing groups, they are not just sales but product divisions as well.
Within A&G, there are currently two product managing directors, one for Researchers & Librarians (i.e., ScienceDirect and SSRN) and a second for Research Leaders & Funders (i.e., PURE and SciVal). Each has integrated responsibility for commercial and product development work. When the Interfolio acquisition, announced just over a week ago, is completed, it is expected to join the latter portfolio.
This approach will be successful to the extent that it can address some of the longstanding integration challenges Elsevier has faced. Given the substantial capital investments that Elsevier has made in infrastructure, workflow, and analytics acquisitions for the A&G market over the past decade, leaders understandably hope to see commensurate revenue and profitability growth in its products. Much of the potential to add value will come in integrating its extensive product acquisitions in ways that add value for customers and begin to make a more direct impact on profitability. Thus far, for example, Elsevier has not yet realized the potential value from integrating Mendeley and PURE, or bepress and SSRN and Aries. Dividing responsibility in this way within A&G should provide a higher degree of attention to the product portfolio and the opportunities to integrate portfolio properties in ways that better serve users and customers.
To be sure, none of this is straightforward. One of the great opportunities in this approach is the potential to bring data about research and researchers to leaders and funders, so there will need to be extensive backend data coordination across the two A&G product portfolios. And, one thing that is not clear is how much of the inaction on integration is due to marketplace issues, to whatever extent customer concerns make realizing the value of integration a challenge. Time will tell if this structure can deliver the value through integration that has up to now remained somewhat elusive — or if it will continue to evolve.
In terms of Verses herself, she brings experience not only with a variety of technology and platform businesses but also on open access. In recent years, some of Wiley’s early leadership on open access seemed to come, perhaps coincidentally, where Elsevier stumbled. Most famously, while Elsevier continues to be locked out of Germany, Wiley struck a notable transformative agreement with Projekt DEAL. Wiley’s creativity and opportunism on such deals took place under Verses. It seems clear that Elsevier is very much hoping that Verses will further develop the customer-centric flexibility and innovation that Bayazit has promised the academic library community, not only with transformative agreements but also with the big deal itself, as seen in its recent NERL agreement.
Ultimately, even with this restructuring, Elsevier remains a matrixed organization. Its actual publishing work is staying outside these market segments, as are global functions such as operations and technology. With Verses now in place, the executive structure now appears to be complete. Will Bayazit and Verses together be able to reposition Elsevier as a dominant open access and platform provider that is allied with its academic and government customer community?