Nelson B. Heller, Ph.D.
2009: Hall of Fame
Read Nelson Heller's AEP Blog entries about his career in educational publishing.
- Part 1: His greatest influence and the advice he would give to those choosing educational publishing
- Part 2: His greatest challenge and his proudest accomplishment
- Part 3: The greatest challenge facing our industry in the next five years
Nelson Heller is president of EdNET at MDR, a D&B company. EdNET publishes a weekly e-mailed industry news service, sponsors the annual EdNET: Educational Networking Conference, and offers periodicEdNET Virtual Roundtables with panels of experts regarding key issues impacting educational sales and marketing.
Nelson Heller started The Heller Reports in 1988. In 2002, the business was acquired by Scholastic Inc. and QED. Nelson joined MDR when QED was acquired by MDR in February, 2009. In its early years, in addition to EdNET, The Heller Reports offered periodic internationalEdNET Trade Missions and published two valued technology-focused newsletters: Educational Technology Markets, andInternet Strategies for Education Markets, covering business opportunities in the education markets. The Heller Reports pioneered electronic education market B2B publications with a news alert service, archive and virtual community for educational industry executives.
Dr. Heller has been quoted in the numerous business publications and has spoken at or keynoted at many domestic and international conferences.
He previously served as research vice president for the SFN group of companies including Scott Foresman, Silver Burdett and Southwestern and, before that, was president of Educational Programming Systems and the Technology Assisted Learning Market Information Service (TALMIS).
Dr. Heller is recipient of the “Making It Happen” education industry award. He holds a BEE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and graduate degrees from MIT and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
by Vicki Bigham, Bigham Technology Solutions, Inc., and Anne Wujcik, MDR
As indicated in the video, I first read The Heller Report in the pioneering days of ed tech in the late '70s and early '80s. When funding for my administrative technology position dried up, Nelson was one of the first people I reached out to, and he offered me a complimentary registration to my first EdNET in exchange for taking on a new project idea he had.
That was 1991, and he asked me to coordinate something called "The Educational Technology and Telecommunications Markets Business Video Theater", a continuous program of videos on exceptional programs, important R&D and visions of the future. That particular idea did not take hold, but most of his other ones - the exhibits reception, the 30-second intros, and others - have! That was the beginning of my ever-expanding work with Nelson and EdNET and later the virtual roundtables. That was the beginning of this long and wonderful relationship!
Nelson is a curious man - he is ever the learner, curious about people, ideas and products. We witnessed him demoing his avatar in Second Life when many in the EdNET audience had no idea this virtual world even existed. Nelson has jumped into social media and is exploring its application for the benefit of MDR and the EdNET community. He wants to understand and personally work and play with new products and devices. And those who speak with Nelson always feel as though they are the only two people in a room. When you speak to this man, he is totally engaged in your conversation, listening to your thoughts and words, and genuinely interested in what you have to say.
Nelson is an insightful man - he always has the provocative question. He can pose the question on the minds of the education business community, often before they can adequately articulate it for themselves. He watches trends and studies new ideas but never makes rash predictions. Rather, his reflective and deliberate consideration of market trends, nuances and opportunities has guided businesses in our space for decades now. For that, he is trusted and respected.
Nelson is a passionate man - passionate about this industry and tireless in his work. He has nurtured so many individuals and firms to succeed. He is equally passionate about family and friends and loves to have fun. Just ask those AEP women who traveled with him to China for the Beijing International Book Fair! When I ask his thoughts on retirement, he smiles and says, "this is retirement." He absolutely loves his work, the people he meets and interacts with and making contributions to education.
Nelson has contributed so strongly to educational publishing. He is all about networking and helping others network. He has made that the platform for EdNET and instituted the ideas and tools other conferences now seek to replicate. He is always the one to suggest, "let's go around the room and introduce ourselves to one another or share a key thought", whether it be a small dinner group or a reception full of strangers, as he did in London at the EdNET Global Forum, a gathering of British and U.S. education executives. He pulled people together in our post 9/11 shock when he launched the first EdNET Virtual Roundtable to help people grapple with the unknown. And in smaller but equally significant ways, he has over the years continuously reached out to any who might need support or encouragement, whether it be a company in need of a partner or individuals questioning the next stage of their career or out of work and searching for their next opportunity. His legacy lies in his active support of partnering to accomplish business objectives and in his facilitation of dialogue among business executives, educational administrators and policymakers with the shared goal of improving education.
Little did I know what I was getting into some years back when you offered me that comp registration in exchange for helping you with an EdNET Conference. It has been one crazy, fun, gratifying and meaningful run! Thank you, Nelson. I am so pleased to join Anne and so many others in congratulating you on this much-deserved honor.
I first met Nelson in Chicago in the mid -80's, when he was in the business development role at Scott Foresman that Dick Roberts spoke about in the video you just saw. By 1989, when Nelson was launching the Heller Report newsletter and EdNET, I was working in NY, but Chicago was home and Nelson and I kept in touch. Over the next several years I did a number of research projects for him that eventually grew, the way projects with Nelson are wont to do, to my becoming editor of the Heller Report newsletter, following in the footsteps of a real journalist, Roberta Salvadore, who sadly we lost this year and who had developed and nurtured the newsletter during its first four years.
Over the years I watched as Nelson's venture grew from a one-man, one-room operation to an organization with a stable, if virtual, professional staff and a real back-office operation.
At the same time what the company did and how we did it evolved - responding to and often, under Nelson's insightful guidance, slightly ahead of market conditions. We tracked the first wave of distance learning when that meant understanding satellite technology. We taught ourselves about the telcos and made sure that they were at EdNET to meet the leaders among the content owners and developers we worked with. We experimented with videoconferencing at several EdNETs. When the Internet began to emerge as an educational tool, we launched a second newsletter, Internet Strategies for Education Markets, with Rita Oates at the helm. We moved our print content online, building a searchable database of news and industry announcements. We tested new event formats and launched the EdNET Virtual Roundtable series of audio conferences. When QED acquired Nelson's company, we were able to evolve our marketing strategies and devote more resources to EdNET, culminating in last year's 20th anniversary celebration. We fully expect that this year's acquisition by MDR will usher in even more growth.
But a story of growth and change is not unique to Nelson's organization - that's the business of successful companies. What I see as unique to Nelson and worthy of celebration are two unchanging missions.
First, his unwavering dedication to building the EdNET community. And here I use EdNET in the big tent meaning. It's an evolving place where anyone who serves the education market is welcome, a place to meet, in person and virtually, to learn, to share ideas and ponder the hard questions, to debate strategies and marketing approaches and together find a way to better meet the needs of the teachers and students and parents we all serve, while growing successful, innovative, strong companies.
And that's the second of Nelson's underpinning missions. Throughout these 20 years, as I've watched Nelson play - satellite dishes to Kindles to gearing up a for a Second Life excursion under the watchful eyes of 500 EdNET attendees, he's never taken his eye off the goal of building successful organizations. While I sometimes get too focused on the technology or caught up in the classroom side of a product or service, Nelson never fails to ask - What does this mean for you and your business? How do we optimize the opportunity or respond to the challenge that this technology or policy change or these economic conditions represent? What does this new development, whatever it is, mean for the future of your company and the bottom-line? And as we work together to find answers to those questions, everyone benefits.
Thank you, Nelson for an extraordinary 20 years! I am so pleased to be able to share this day with you and join in congratulating you on this much-deserved honor.
by Nelson Heller, MDR
Nelson's speech included a PowerPoint presentation. Below is his speech, organized according to slide.
- Thank you AEP, Anne, Vicki and everyone else. I'm a real softie and will probably be in even more tears before I finish. These breakfasts always make me feel really proud of our industry and how grateful I am to be a part of it. So much of what I've accomplished in my career I owe to the energy, courage, entrepreneurial spirit and friendship of so many of you here this morning. I started out shy and in electrical engineering so my route to education was indirect. In 1988, I lost my job and backed into starting The Heller Reports and EdNET. If you haven't attended an EdNET, "The View From the Catbird Seat" is our annual industry forecast session. Over the years, and with help from so many of you, I've gradually found my voice – and Catbird is a big part of it So I'm going to respond to this wonderful honor with a Catbird presentation, The Accidental Guru – a Journey and a Love Story. I always thought of the Catbird Seat as a lofty perch giving a better view of the horizon.
- I'm getting the award – but I feel more like the hood ornament.
- So let's have a peak inside.
- There's Vicki - our beloved "Snoop" columnist, conference manager and I've lost track of what else. Here's the real Vicki,
- I'm one of those white shirts, along with EdNET's speakers, advisors, sponsors, judges, keynoters and staff – and Vicki masterfully makes us all work together.
- There's Anne, a friend, sounding board and counselor for decades. Here's the real Anne,
- Classroom teacher turned journalist, funding and policy analyst, and market researcher who's kept me tuned to the kids, teachers and the classroom.
- There's Andy Lacy, my boss, a gifted leader and rainmaker,
- and, though I doubted it, has made a rainmaker out of me.
- There's Fady, MDR's General Manager.
- The Catbird Seat needs a ship and Fady's the Commander, an entrepreneur at heart, looking to the future while manning the bridge.
- And my wife Pam. Early on Pam managed the office, books, subscriptions and the conference. Then and now,
- She's my personal GPS - always there when life says "recalculating route," to pick me up and get me back on the road. I wish I could list all the others whose hard work makes EdNET purr. I will just say I've been blessed. When I think about how the last 30 years got me here, so much of what I've learned has come from you.
- Even more interesting to me than the technology has been the search for viable business models as the old ones lose their edge. At the start I wondered if a newsletter might help get more consulting gigs. I sought advice from a friend who'd previously published a newsletter - Kathy Hurley, now a Hall of Famer herself. Do it she said, "you'll become a guru." I was stunned. Who me?
- But I imagined a bed of nails instead of the leopard skin. Not long before this, at an SFN management retreat, one of the execs enlivened dinner by roasting me. Commenting on my frequent analyses of educational technology threats and opportunities, he observed "A day without a memo from Nelson is --- a Sunday" and awarded me a book,
- Which I still have it on my bookshelf.
- The lead story of the first issue was that Anne Arundel County had committed $30 mil for school computers. I was terrified we'd published the biggest story of the decade and would have nothing more to cover. But, thanks to you, we never ran out of news - and I loved the editing, writing and, especially, talking to you.
- You fed my inner learning junkie – and challenged me to figure out what it meant. We scrambled to make EdNET happen in time for the first Heller Report issue.
- For the first day we didn't have a room for the group to lunch together. So we made it look intentional with two "more intimate" lunch groups and had them take turns introducing themselves. It was a home run - and our signature 30-second intros session was born. For me EdNET is really professional development for the participants. I'm Jewish, so sometimes I feel researching my annual Catbird is like preparing a Rosh Hashanah sermon.
- Which is a very scary proposition. But I'm not entirely alone in this, because I've got help.
- From Rabbi Wujcik. Even with help it's a big job and I often wonder if I've got what it takes to keep pulling it off.
- Even Einstein tailed off after Relativity. But I've learned part of the secret is to look confident.
- Even if I don't feel that way inside. For all the hard work, EdNET has been good to me. There have been some real highs –
- Like running the first international EdNET in London in 1998.
- We had the welcome reception at the US Embassy. The atmosphere was primly dignified and very British. Against advice I invited everyone to take turns introducing themselves. Sound familiar? There was deadly silence – then a brave voice, then another, then people couldn't wait for their turn - and I was on a high I can still feel. We faced some painful lows too.
On September 11, 2001 EdNET was underway in Washington when the hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon a few miles away. Congressman Johnny Issacson happened to be a panelist. He said, "We mustn't hand victory to whoever did this by abandoning our own agenda - so let's talk education." Something else beautiful came out of it too: three weeks later our telephone roundtables were born with, "Grappling with Post 9/11 Education Markets," in a virtual format that required no travel.
- The greatest joy for me all these years has been to have a seat at the table – your table - as you've worked to grow, adapt and live with technology. For that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you for letting me share your journey. It's been – and still is - a privilege to be in your company. IN closing I want to ask you why we're really here for breakfast? For me there are two reasons. First, we're here for the kids, the next generations.
- Like my grandchildren Joshua and Naomi – to prepare them to build happy productive lives and a strong nation. For the second reason I've borrowed an ad for Patek Philippe.
- It reads, "You never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation." With a little editing it becomes,
- "We don't really own educational publishing. We're merely taking care of it for the next generation." That guy on the left is us. And the one on the right, is the new talent we need to build this dream. I want you to do two things for me. One is to be helpful to our unemployed talent. Even if you can't offer a job, you can be a listener and counselor. It's cold and lonely out there – and I've been there - and you can make a real difference. Second, we need more explicit talent development in our industry, to recruit and nurture the people who will carry educational publishing forward. For several years I've worked with AEP, on a talent development initiative, called EPIC. Our training programs were successful but they took too much effort to be sustainable. So, working with Charlene, I've proposed we instead initiate an award to spotlight exceptional talent development, so we can all learn from it. In a minute Charlene's going to tell you more. As for me, EdNET is alive and well at MDR and The Heller Reports name is having a happy retirement.
- And, you know what? I'm starting to feel this guru business isn't all that bad!
This award is beyond humbling. The voice is an event greater gift.