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Kurt Sanford Replaces Marty Kahn as ProQuest CEO
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Posted On July 25, 2011


In a decorous transition, Marty Kahn handed over the CEO reins of ProQuest to Kurt Sanford, a 14-year veteran of LexisNexis, on July 13, 2011. Kahn will move on to the post of vice chairman of ProQuest’s Board of Directors, so he won’t be far from the action. Sanford, in addition to his CEO duties, will also have a seat on the ProQuest board.

When Cambridge Information Group (CIG) acquired ProQuest in December 2006, it merged its CSA (previously known as Cambridge Scientific Abstracts) unit with the acquired company to form what we now know as ProQuest. Martin (Marty) Kahn was named CEO of the new company. At the time, Kahn expected to hold the CEO position for 3 years. That stretched to 4 1/2 years. How would Kahn describe his tenure as CEO? “Intense,” he said, which could well explain that year and a half extension of his planned departure.

During Kahn’s stint as CEO, ProQuest acquired Dialog, ebrary, BNI (British Nursing Index) IBSS (International Bibliography of Social Sciences), Congressional Information Service, and University Publications of America. It added numerous sources to its many databases. It developed and deployed new platforms for both its traditional ProQuest databases and for Dialog. It instituted the web-scale discovery service Summon, which continues to expand. It recently added Hoover’s Company Records content to its list of discoverable information.

After such concentrated activity, you’d think Kahn would be sufficiently exhausted to bow out completely. But no, he sees his new role as more strategic and less hands on. He will return to New York to concentrate on the big picture, both for ProQuest and for parent company Cambridge Information Group. Plus, he intends to get involved in some charitable institutions, but which ones he hasn’t decided.

The new ProQuest CEO, Sanford, will take on the operational side of things. Sanford is will suited for the role. Most recently, he was president, Global Operations, for the LexisNexis legal business. He came to that position from being LexisNexis’ president and CEO of U.S. Corporate and Public Markets, a 2004 career move covered by a previous NewsBreak. Prior to that position, he had been CEO of LexisNexis Asia Pacific and senior vice president for LexisNexis Large Law Firm Markets in the U.S.

Although Sanford’s recent jobs have been largely in the legal area, and he has a law degree from Boston’s Suffolk University Law School, he also earned an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and worked at Bain & Co. before joining LexisNexis. Still, this is likely to be an adjustment for Sanford, on many fronts. He’s moving from a publicly held company to a private one. He’s moving from a company focused on legal, risk, and government information to one with a broader product line. ProQuest is active in many markets, including schools, academia, genealogy, library discovery services, and cultural archives, that are not part of the LexisNexis core business. And although ProQuest acquired two databases from LexisNexis in December 2010, Sanford was not involved in those negotiations.

Not everything is different. Both ProQuest and LexisNexis are established companies in the information industry. There is customer overlap, particularly in academia and corporate markets. Both have an extensive international component, both in terms of content and customers. Particularly with the latter, Sanford’s global job experience—and the fact that he’s lived in Asia, an emerging market—should be a boon to ProQuest.

The challenges facing ProQuest revolve around the fact that it plays primarily in the library market. This will require some adjusting to the realities of the current economic environment. Libraries are under threat. As Kahn commented, “It’s heartbreaking to see school libraries close because it’s very hard to rebuild them. Without libraries, we’ll be a poorer society.” ProQuest’s aim is to help libraries and librarians to provide services needed by library users. Summon, for example, helps patrons find what’s already been purchased for them with library funds.

At the same time, ProQuest leaders worry about what Kahn deemed “the unaffiliated, the unserved, who don’t have access to ProQuest information. Although there’s no plan to go around libraries, there is a need for these people to gain access to information. It’s ProQuest’s intent to help libraries reach these people, recognizing there have been dramatic shifts in how and where people look for information.”

Sanford will be faced with integrating some of the newer acquisitions and exploiting the synchronicities of new and existing products and technologies. Ebooks from ebrary have started to become part of ProQuest databases, starting with ProQuest Academic Complete. The Dialog platform transition is ongoing. Additionally, ProQuest is moving ahead with web-based collection management systems. Ensuring compatibility of platforms, accommodating a variety of approaches to research, reaching out to new constituencies, and reacting to new definitions of search will require both technological and philosophical adjustments.

As the new CEO, Sanford will need to bring a disciplined management style to ProQuest without altering its basic mission of concentrating on quality content and satisfied, even happy, customers. ProQuest content is both primary and secondary. It consists of many different types of formats. It ranges from the historical to the very current. Its users can be 6, 16, or 66 years old. How to fit all this together in a seamless fashion—while still meeting financial goals—is far from trivial. Bringing in a fresh voice from outside ProQuest, but someone who is well versed with the operations of an international information company, will result, one hopes, in a bright future for ProQuest.


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

Email Marydee Ojala
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