Questions for: Jo Howard

Opinion Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The executive search consultant and former bookseller contributes to our Q&A series


Describe your current job briefly
I work with publishing CEOs and MDs to help them recruit talented people into their senior teams. I'm also a qualified coach and often work with leaders in new jobs to help them navigate through the challenges of taking on a senior role in a new company and thereby perform better faster.

What was your first job in the book industry?
I was a bookseller at the University of Essex bookshop, which was then a branch of Bowes & Bowes, a specialist bookshop chain which became subsumed into Sherratt & Hughes and then Waterstones.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
There are too many to mention but some that stand out are Richard Barker, who was my first boss - and then later I reported to him at Sherratt & Hughes and at Waterstones (he's now left the industry), Tim Coates, Tim Waterstone; I learned a lot from Alan Giles about strategy and how to run a business; in the last 10 years of working with Mosaic I have learned a huge amount from owner Tim Dare, and I invariably learn from my clients.

How has the industry changed since your first job?
So much has changed - I remember the introduction of Teleordering, and bookshop stock control transitioning from a card-based system to EPoS, and now everything is digital. It's still an industry full of people who are passionate about books, which is one of the many things I love about being in the publishing world.

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Finding the time to meet as many of the industry's future leaders as possible.

What's the best piece of book-related advice you've ever been given?
It's more career advice than book specific, to do with interviews: the most important thing to do in an interview is to listen, and the most important question that ever gets asked in an interview is, "Why do you want the job?".

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
The way the industry is becoming more diverse and inclusive, albeit slowly, and that many book industry companies are investing in their employees' development through skills training, leadership development and coaching in a way that wasn't happening a few years ago.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
Walking, reading, going to the pub with friends and, most importantly, spending time with my daughters.

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
It has to be Mick Herron's Joe Country, but I am biased!

What are you reading now?
I have several books on the go: Robert Macfarlane's Underworld, Bill Bryson's The Body; I'm re-reading Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, and have just read two excellent thrillers by Will Dean: Dark Pines and Red Snow. And I'm about to start Andrew Michael Hurley's Starve Acre.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audiobooks?
All of the above: I read literary fiction on paper, listen to crime novels, and always have something on my Kindle for travelling or middle-of-the-night reading when I can't sleep. I love hardback first editions, preferably signed, so I often buy those and then get the audio or ebook as well to read.

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