For Boyd Hayes – Dartmouth College grad with an English major, then 20 years working in sleep laboratories at Dartmouth, Stanford and Harvard – it was a long and winding (and unlikely) road to his station as Chelsea Green’s director of information technology.
You know – the guy who understands all that stuff about servers and bytes and information sinks – stuff you’d never understand if you spent the rest of your life trying. Stuff that somebody had better understand, or the whole business comes to a screeching halt.
Though he had never imagined himself as a computer geek, part of being involved in physiological research is developing your instruments, so his sleep-lab tenures wound up serving him well. “That means using computers, interfacing sensors and things like that. I wasn’t interest in computers at first, but that became my specialty.”
Four years ago, Hayes was struggling to start his own consulting business when a 15-year-old surrogate child “dropped into my lap.” Financial stability shot up to the top of his priorities.
Associate publisher Lynne O’Hara had been Hayes’ boss at a company where both worked earlier, and had kept in touch. Chelsea Green had long been making do with part-time consultants, but “they needed somebody a little more regular.” O’Hara called Hayes and asked if he’d be interested in part-time work keeping the publisher’s computers functioning.
Hayes laughs as he recalls comparing himself to the crafty Brer Rabbit in Walt Disney’s Song of the South: ‘Please don’t throw me in that briar patch!’ I was thrilled.”
That was in May.
“I’ve always been interested in books and publishing,” he adds, in a small room surrounded by mysterious metal boxes emblazoned with blinking lights, cables, etc. “I really like being involved with Chelsea Green because they’re publishing important stuff. If I had to go through all the books, I’d be here for years.”
No time for that. When he came aboard, Chelsea Green’s Internet connection was Paleolithic; Hayes set up the wireless router that brought broadband into the picture. Data transfers that once took hours suddenly took minutes or even seconds. That means, among other things, that he can do much of his work from home and doesn’t need to be in the office every day.
“I’m learning that as I go,” Hayes says. His long list of projects includes developing better backup and security procedures, security procedures, electronic processing of sales and shipment, training employees, and developing a better phone system.
“I love this computer stuff,” he says. “I read the magazines; I keep up with the technology; I love gadgets, new software. “It’s been great; I just love it here. The environment is so friendly; people are nice; people are smart; people are interesting to talk to. Everybody’s busy and working hard, but they’re not so busy that they can’t talk to you.”
Obviously, a book publisher deals primarily in words. But you need more than words to attract people to the words: images, designs, handsome catalogs, ads, a Web site with some pizzazz.
Meet graphic designer Janet North – “no relation that I know of to Oliver North,” she says with a wry smile. An employee since 1999, she is “one of the more senior people.”
It’s North’s eye for design that draws potential buyers in, makes them want to look closer, suggests that these are books worth reading.
Can you stand one more right-place-at-the-right-time story? North had been working in a high-stress position at a nearby pre-press house, and had decided to jump without a parachute, so to speak. “I didn’t really have anything planned,” she recalls. “I was sort of leaping, going on faith that I would find something.”
One of her employer’s clients was you-know-who. “When Chelsea Green found out I was leaving, they said, ‘Would you like to come and work one day a week?’ ” North says. I said, ‘That would be great.’ ”
You know the rest of the story: first, two days a week, then four days a week, and finally full time.
“It’s such a perfect fit for me, because what Chelsea Green stands for is what I stand for, for the most part,” North says. “And it’s great to feel like you’re making a difference, putting out products that can change somebody’s lives. If you change one person, that’s a start on changing the world.”
A resident of East Barnard (“a lovely little town; you can’t get there from here”) with husband Fred Schlabach and their son Micah, 4, North is another CG outdoors freak: hiking, cross-country skiing, “being active.” She also likes to read.
As for Chelsea Green’s agenda, “I think it’s a sane way of looking at life and seeing the alternatives to being destructive, and pushing the envelope,” North muses. “I’ll use a religious term: It’s sort of an upside-down kingdom; Jesus threw everything on its head, and said, ‘This is the better way.’ I believe Chelsea Green throws it upside down and says, ‘There’s a better way to living, an alternative that people need to know about.’
“It is radical,” she adds. “You need all types. We have people pushing on the right ; if you don’t have anybody pushing on the left, you can’t get to the middle.”
The importance of everything we’ve looked at so far – editing, publicity, design, tech support, etc. – is pretty self-evident. But no company could function for long without what might be described as infrastructure, and that’s where business and distribution manager Sandi Eaton comes in.
“I oversee the fulfillment department and the warehouse, and make sure things run smoothly there,” Eaton explains. “I do all the accounts receivable and accounts payable; the month-end reports and year-end reports, the financials – pretty much make sure all the operations run smoothly.”
A nine-year Chelsea Green veteran at age 43, Eaton had met publisher Margo Baldwin at a Vermont Book Publishers Association meeting in Norwich while working for Countryman Press in Woodstock. The sale of Countryman to W.W. Norton& Co. led to the usual personnel shuffle, and she wound up working for Whitman Communications Inc. just across the Connecticut River in Lebanon, N.H. Whitman was handling fulfillment for Chelsea Green, and when Baldwin decided to bring that function under the company umbrella, she brought Eaton over as well.
Eaton quickly learned what her fellow co-workers already knew: Everybody enjoys working together. “This is an office of mostly women, and we don’t have that cattiness here,” she notes. “People truly get along. I think being small has a lot to do with it.”
Though she describes herself as not very political, and is drawn more to the company’s food and gardening books, count Eaton in as one more employee for whom the corporate philosophy coincides with her own.
“As far as sustainability goes, I believe in that, and I wish things were different,” says Eaton, who lives in White River Junction with her husband Dan, an electrician, and their daughter Danielle, a high school sophomore. “Do I live that? As much as I can, living in town. It’s pretty hard.”
But her employer definitely lives that, Eaton says – from printing books on recycled paper down to such minutia as buying biodegradable soap for the washroom.
“Chelsea Green definitely practices what we preach,” she stresses. “That’s important to me, and I have to put that all back on Margo. She practices what she preaches, and expects that of the employees as well.”
At most companies that deal with the public, there’s one person out in front – the first person you meet coming in the door, the first to put a face on the place.
Meet Natasha Bernet, Chelsea Green’s customer service representative. There’s a lot more to her post at the front desk than answering the phone and greeting visitors.
“I also take the book orders, process all the orders,” Bernet explains. “I’m in constant communication with the warehouse (in Brattleboro, Vt.). That’s interesting, because I get to talk to a lot of interesting people.”
Necessity brought Bernet to Chelsea Green; illness had kept her out of work for six months after she lost her job at the local outlet of a national firm that specializes in shipping. Then she saw a newspaper ad the publisher had placed – for a job that called for the skills she had.
“I shared my shipping knowledge with them, and they were rather impressed,” she recalls. “And here I am.”
How much did she know about the company before she was hired? “Never heard of it,” says Bernet, a Woodstock resident who will turn 28 in October. “But I like to learn new things. It impressed me from the very beginning, and I really enjoy all the interesting things that go on.”
Being on the front line “is challenging,” she admits. “I do the best I can.”
The work atmosphere is “incredibly friendly,” says Bernet, who found a lot of empathy as she struggled back toward good health. “I’ve been through a lot, and I really feel the support.”
As for the publisher’s mission, “I think they do a wonderful thing,” she says. “We’re small, but we reach a lot of people. And more power to ’em.”
Yet another lover of the great outdoors, Bernet enjoys walking and whitewater kayaking. She dances, loves all kinds of music, and reads a lot. Her favorite authors include Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
The information Chelsea Green publishes “needs to be out there, and it’s great that they have the courage to do that,” Bernet adds. “I think this country is falling apart. It bothers me, but I don’t know how to talk about it.”
Bernet is philosophical about the magnitude of the global problems for which her employer tries to offer solutions.
“Every little bit helps,” she says.