Peter Long is the CEO and owner of MCH Inc., one of America’s leading compilers of institutional data. MCH specializes in compiling marketing data for the education, healthcare, government, and religious markets, which as a group account for 33% of the GDP of the United States. The company is celebrating its 95th year of operation and Long family ownership. Peter began his career as a management and information technology consultant for Coopers & Lybrand (now known as PWC). He serves on several non-profit Boards and has been awarded the prestigious Bob Stone Direct Marketer of the Year award by the Kansas City Direct Marketing Association. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on marketing and database topics.
1. Now that the school year is underway, what has surprised you the most about what your customers are doing and what’s happening in your market in general?
We represent around 1,000 or so companies that are involved in the K12 education space in one way or another. Our customer base is pretty diverse and wide-ranging from: furniture makers, student travel companies, companies supporting school music and sports, supplemental publishers, software publishers, school supplies and many others. This pandemic crisis has not been like the 2008 financial crisis or any of the other prior financial recessions. With this crisis, it seems that you are either experiencing a feast or a famine existence. Some of our customers are up 100% or more and are spending a lot of money to grab as much market share as possible. Segments like technology are booming. But other customers are seeing sales levels drop down to almost zero. Whole segments like student travel (as an example) have just been decimated. We are also seeing whole new segments being created as a result of the pandemic, like new opportunities in personal protective equipment.
So, there has definitely been a significant paradigm shift but not necessarily one that we expected. We are struggling to keep up with the customers who are on the power side of the curve and keeping our fingers crossed for those who are in bad shape. I don’t see this situation changing – for instance, what’s happening to the student travel market – until there is a vaccine.
2. Do you think education will go back to what was considered normal before?
From my perspective the industry has been undergoing profound changes for the last 10 or 15 years. For Example, if you think back even a decade ago association tradeshows like NSSEA, NAEYC, IRA and NSTA were just juggernauts, with tens of thousands of educators attending and 500+ exhibitors filling giant convention halls. This has not been the case for a while now – even before COVID. If you really step back and look, you begin to realize that many of the old and longstanding groups and industry infra-structures are being disrupted. I now see a profoundly different and new group of educational vendors creating new markets, storming on to the scene with impressive growth and results. The pandemic has definitely helped to accelerate the shifts and changes that were already underway in the market. These changes are permanent. As we say here at MCH – American kids will never experience another snow day again!
3. What does the “new normal” look like for MCH?
We are coming up on our 95th anniversary as a company. Over our almost 100-year existence, we have had to pivot the company direction a number of times to stay relevant. We currently need to pivot again if we plan to stay relevant going forward. We have been a data, list and email marketing company for the last 40 years, but now it’s all about real-time information gathered and data solutions delivered through seamless integration into any and all platforms. People want immediate access to data, services and solutions and they want it 24/7 – 365 days a year. For the first time last winter, we processed and fulfilled online orders on both Christmas day and New Year’s day, all while we were officially closed. Thankfully, we are doing very well and our business is up significantly this year. But we know that we need to continue to invest heavily in new tech to truly deliver on the promised concept of real-time delivery of data into any system, at any time, and then seamlessly keep all that data updated and synchronized in everyone’s systems going forward.
MCH is pretty excited about the future, but the pandemic is a setback to be sure. Our biggest concern at the moment is what will happen next year as state and local coffers begin to dry up because people aren’t eating at restaurants or spending money in ways that enable governments to collect sales and other kinds of taxes. It appears we have a growing financial crisis that will be painful to the education market if headcount reductions and cost cutting in schools needs to be undertaken in many large metropolitan areas. There could be some big challenges ahead for all of us.
4. How long do you expect your employees to work remotely (or were most of them already working remotely)? What are your plans for using your office space going forward?
At the moment we have a hybrid model. For some employees, working from home is great — they have no commute, work longer hours and are more productive. For others it’s a disaster. If their environment is too small, if they lack proper high-speed internet or they live in a busy house with too much going on, they are dying to come back in. We just finished a major investment in our office space right now, remodeling to transform it for the future. We have more spaces for collaboration, better social distancing layout, shared office space for workers that will remain more virtual, etc.
Personally, I miss the office. I like to pop my head into people’s offices to see what’s going on. Doing a dozen Zoom calls a day is not the same. When this pandemic is final over, I think we’ll have more people working at home, but we’ll still have a significant group working in-house as well. The name of the game will be flexibility and finding out what works best for each person.
5. How has your leadership style changed — or not — during this period? How are you managing your team differently?
I am very lucky. I have a really strong management team now. That took a long time to achieve, but our day-to-day operations are in good hands. So, I don’t know that my management style has changed much, but the pandemic has created a situation where I need to really trust my team to get the job done. I see my role now as less operational and more strategic: making sure we are looking down the road and know where we are going, and then keeping us headed on the right path to get there. The world’s most famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky used to say: you need to skate to where the puck is going to be. So, I consume a lot of content; I read a lot of articles and books; I listen to interviews, podcast, Ted Talk, etc. The key is to figure out where things are going to be after all of this is over and getting ready to be there with the right products and services. That is the million-dollar bet, so to speak. With the pace of change continually accelerating, a few missed opportunities can really cost you the game.
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Oaklins | DESILVA+PHILLIPS is an investment bank for clients that operate at the intersection of content, technology and services. This includes enterprises operating within the media, advertising & marketing, education, healthcare, information services and technology sectors. Over 24 years, clients have included Advance Publications/Condé Nast, Deutsche Börse Group, Elsevier, Hachette, JP Morgan Partners, Microsoft, The New York Times, Time Inc., TPG and Wasserstein & Co., among others. The firm is the TMT practice co-head and industry specialist in Oaklins, the world’s most experienced mid-market M&A advisor, with over 850 professionals globally and dedicated industry teams in more than 45 countries. We have closed 1,700 transactions in the past five years.At Oaklins, we are passionate about M&A. It’s what we do, every day. We give nothing but our very best to do justice to the extraordinary effort our clients put into their businesses. Our partnership with our clients works because we both believe in never settling until we deliver excellence. Coming from every corner of the world and with a diverse range of backgrounds, together we are one global team. The world’s most experienced advisor on mid-market deals.Oaklins is the collective trade name of independent member firms affiliated with Oaklins International Inc. For details of the nature of the affiliation, please refer to www.oaklins.com/legal.
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