Hall of Fame Portrait: Nelson B. Heller, Ph.D., Part 1

On December 3, 2009, AEP will induct Nelson B. Heller, Ph.D, MDR; Michael Ross, Encyclopaedia Britannica; and Pleasant Rowland, Rowland Reading Foundation and American Girl into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame. Here in his first installment, Nelson B. Heller, Ph.D., President, EdNET at MDR, discusses the people who had the greatest influence on him and the advice he would give to those choosing educational publishing as a career.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why?

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had many mentors so it is very hard to single out just one. Names that come to mind include Dick Roberts, Corp VP at SFN where I had my first job in K-12 educational publishing; Dick Morgan, president of Scott Foresman and, later, of the Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Joint Venture and, still later, of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, for whom I first worked and later was a consultant; my wife Pam who worked alongside me at The Heller Reports for many years and from whom I continue to learn; Andy Lacy, former president of QED and now Senior Leader, Professional Services at MDR, whose broad vision for The Heller Reports as a part of QED and now MDR provided a broader canvas for me and the firm; and Vicki Bigham and Anne Wujcik, my stalwart colleagues at The Heller Reports, who taught me so much about schools, teachers and the people in our industry.

I know I’m leaving out some important ones – and apologize profusely here for it – but if I must pick one special relationship I think it would be the one with my late father-in-law, George Wartey. George was a self-made man who grew up working for his no-nonsense dad in the family’s Waterloo, IA, wallpaper, paint and general store and went on to try his hand at half a dozen or more industries and kinds of work. He managed a Western Auto store, sold fireworks at July 4th, operated another wallpaper and paint store, managed a part of the St. Louis Armory during WW II, was a field rep wholesaling children’s gym sets and, eventually, head of a division making aluminum dye-casting machines in a large international corporate conglomerate. He was always a patient listener when I was stressed or confronting major career decisions, always had a positive outlook about what the tides of fortune, amplified by hard work, might bring, always had useful suggestions when I asked, but was never intrusive, and always gave me courage to believe in myself and move ahead. In countless situations his calming, “Not to worry!,” his sound business and personal advice, and the warm twinkle in his eyes made the difference that got me back to working on fixing what needed to be fixed.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in educational publishing?

Educational publishing, for me, has been a “feel good” profession, combining the gratification of working to improve education, the lives of students and, ultimately, our country and the world, hopefully to give us the talent we will need to confront the great challenges in our future. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and work alongside some wonderfully talented, decent, smart and good hearted people who’ve become great friends. For someone starting out now I’d say make personal professional development a mainstay of your career and be sober about business models without forsaking the courage to try new things. It isn’t easy but for me it has been wonderfully satisfying.

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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. 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.

Read more about Nelson Heller and the Hall of Fame.

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