Angela Bole is Chief Executive Officer of Firebrand Group. Prior to this, she was Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), a position she held for 9 years.
With over 20 years of book industry experience, Angela has spent her career creating and nurturing best-in-class products and services. In 2019, she was named a Publishers Weekly notable person of the year for her work moving the causes of independent publishers forward. In addition, she has served on the boards of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). During her service to BISG, she was awarded both the Community Builder Award and the Industry Champion Award.
Angela has a master’s degree in Book Publishing from New York University and a bachelor’s in English with a minor in Gender Studies from Indiana University Bloomington.
Congratulations on your new position as CEO of Firebrand Group! For those who don’t know, what is Firebrand Group?
Firebrand Group, consisting of Firebrand Technologies, NetGalley, and Supadu, provides leading software and services to help publishers achieve success. Firebrand Group is owned by Media Do International Inc. (MD-i), the US-based subsidiary of Japan’s Media Do Co., Ltd, one of the largest ebook distribution companies in the world retaining the largest share of Japan’s ebook market.
What motivated you to take on this role?
I'm very excited about figuring out ways we can streamline the three individual companies and work together to help publishers through each stage of their workflow. Firebrand Group solutions not only help publishers with efficiencies but also with how they can publish and sell their books. There is so much opportunity for growth and collaboration with these companies and I'm motivated by that and excited about the opportunity.
Supadu only joined Firebrand Group a year ago but very quickly I came to understand the importance of the ‘Firebrand family’ ethos. How will you ensure that this ethos continues under your leadership?
This idea that a company is a family has been a significant part of each organisation that I’ve been involved in over the years. One of the greatest foundations for any company is to focus on its people and to ensure that the employees and the clients feel cared for, supported and organised appropriately. I will endeavour to continue setting this friendly, ‘family’ ethos within Firebrand Group.
What are your main goals for the company?
I'm in the process of meeting with as many of the people in Firebrand Group as I can and having conversations, connecting dots, and drawing lines between different parts of the businesses. As I touched upon, finding ways to streamline the organisation and connecting the three different business units into a singular mission is my long-term goal. We've always been a company that helps publishers with automation and efficiency and therefore saving money in that way but I think there's an opportunity for us to also help publishers make money directly through direct-to-consumer sales.
Do you have a particular philosophy, in general, for steering a company?
We talked a little bit about ‘People First’ and that’s why my first mission is to meet every employee and understand how people are approaching their jobs and how we could help them. I'm also a big fan of Brené Brown, and she's got a theory called ‘Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind’, which I've followed consistently throughout 20 years in the publishing industry. Making sure that you are speaking directly and that you’re communicating clearly and finding space to have conversations that need to be had. This also includes those hard conversations, which are sometimes where the real growth happens.
Prior to this role, you were the CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), what skills did you learn in that role, which you're going to bring forward into this new role?
Independent book publishers are a very diverse group of people who publish many types of content. One of the things I realised there was how amazing a diversity of opinions is and how important it is to channel different ideas and thoughts about what's best for an industry into a common vision. I encouraged the independent publishing community to think about itself as its own business and work out how it could support itself, for example: what kind of initiatives and advocacy issues should it get behind so that it can be stronger as a whole?
Overall, being able to listen really well and deeply to what people are saying, and again, connecting those dots between different ideas so that we’re looking in the same direction and creating cohesiveness is something I will bring forward in this new role.
Are there any changes you'd like to see taking place over the next few years within the industry and how might you contribute to those changes?
I think our industry as a whole is struggling with diversity, equity and inclusion. There's some good work that's being done here but there's always more work that could be done. We need more diverse voices; we need more people in the conversation and we need more people working in the companies that are able to think differently about what we're doing. Since taking on this new role at Firebrand Group, I’ve been thinking about how I can engage in these conversations from this position.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you've experienced in your career?
One of the challenges I’ve experienced is joining a very established organisation and figuring out how I can make an already great company even better. For example, when I took over as CEO at IBPA, I was taking over an organisation which had been run by a single person for over 20 years. Similarly, Firebrand Group is a thriving organisation which has been doing fantastic work for over 35 years, so it’s a challenge trying to find new opportunities in these well-established organisations. Having said that, it’s a challenge which I love so that’s why I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do with Firebrand Group.
What advice have you been given in your career that's really helped you?
I've had some really great mentors over the years who have given me fantastic advice. First, if you don’t have something kind to say, don’t say it. I heard this when I was a very, very young professional from my boss and she always reiterated how important positive reinforcement is for colleagues, even if you think they don’t need to hear it. So if you’re thinking something positive about a colleague, don’t just assume they know that they’re doing a good job, make sure to tell them too.
The second one is from a mentor Joe Gonnellaa, who worked for Barnes and Noble, and taught me the term ‘nemawashi’ (根回し). This is a Japanese term with lots of different meanings, one of which is: have all the meetings you can before the meeting. In essence, try and talk to everybody individually about what’s going to happen before the meetings, ask what their expectations are, explain what your expectations are and what you’re going to be asking them to decide. The term itself loosely means ‘going around the roots’ but it applies to this working ethos that if you’re heading up a big decision within a company, make sure each individual person understands what you’re trying to do and why.
Now that Firebrand Group is owned by Media Do International, a Japanese company, this term feels even more relevant to setting the tone of Firebrand Group.
Having worked in the publishing industry for over 20 years now, what is it about publishing that you enjoy so much and what got you into reading in the first place?
I think I was always going to work in book publishing as I’ve always been a reader but I never expected to enter the supply-chain and technology side. I thought I was going to have martini lunches and talk to famous authors about their next book (!) but this has been a great area of publishing for me. I'm a pretty analytical type of person that likes things streamlined and understood really well so I think I found a good part of an industry that I really love. I'm in the exact right place for myself right now.
As far as reading goes, there were always books around my house and although my family wasn’t classically educated, they were always very interested in reading and figuring things out on their own terms. If we were going anywhere as a family, we would always go to the library and we would spend all day there surrounded by books!
I understand you run your own book club. Can you tell us how that came about and what your favourite books are?
I moved to Redondo Beach, California from New York City eight years ago, where I was working in the publishing industry. Redondo Beach is a lovely little beach town but there is not a lot in the way of ‘booky’ activities unlike New York City so I started a book club. Next month is our eight year anniversary and we now have 700 members. The meetings themselves usually involve around 30 people and we read everything! There’s such a mixture of people with diverse opinions and different backgrounds. I’ve read so many books that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up before. If you’re moving to a new area and don’t know many people, I would really recommend starting or joining a book club.
In terms of my own reading, I have always gravitated toward sci-fi and fantasy - anything that’s a little bit apocalyptic! I like books that stretch me and make me think differently about things. Octavia Butler is one of my favourite authors and I particularly love her novel Parable of the Sower, so I’d recommend that to anyone who loves sci-fi, too!
Read our Press Release announcing Angela's new role as CEO here.