Inspired by a devoted stepdad, Tim Collins, president of Ipswich’s EBSCO Publishing, turned an ingenious idea for indexing magazine content into one of the world’s most widely used research services. By Meg Quinn-DeBoer // photographs by Sean Litchfield
In 1984, Tim Collins was a driven Topsfield 18-year-old armed with two essentials for success: an entrepreneurial spirit and a new stepfather with a clever idea.
Collins was in high school when his father Larry passed away at age 43. Gerald Seaman became his stepfather about two years later. “Jerry became my stepdad when I was a senior in high school. I walked my mom down the aisle,” Collins proudly recalls. “I had a different relationship with my stepdad. I consider him one of my best friends, so he was not in the standard stepfather role,” he explains.
With a background in writing and editing at Boston publishing houses and experience running a small newspaper, Seaman had the idea to start Magazine Guide with Collins, who was studying business at the University of New Hampshire. Magazine Guide provided synopses of articles running in current magazines. “We would get advanced copyrights from publishers for articles and [consumers] would get a little guide at the newsstand about the stories that were covered, so they could decide what magazine to buy,” Collins explains.
Due to distribution problems, Magazine Guide was not a success, but it appealed to libraries. After refining the idea and renaming it Popular Magazine Review (PMR), Collins and Seaman successfully launched their product to 33 library customers, who paid $289 for an annual subscription. In a few short years, the company had grown to a staff of eight. EBSCO Industries, a multinational corporation located in Alabama, acquired the company after learning about PMR at a library conference. “I graduated from UNH in 1985, and we sold the company to EBSCO in 1987,” Collins recalls. In doing so, Collins became the president of the new company, called EBSCO Publishing.
Today, EBSCO Publishing is headquartered in Ipswich. The technology powerhouse employs over 1,000 professionals in its Ipswich and Topsfield offices, and it supports over 1,350 employees in 40 countries worldwide. The product line has come a long way since PMR. Now, its databases include both summaries and full texts of articles from journals, magazines, and other publications, as well as e-books. Previously distributed on CD-ROMs, the databases are now accessible online, and EBSCOhost is the leading online research portal in libraries, universities, hospitals, and corporations worldwide.
The company is housed in the mill buildings along the scenic Ipswich River, and the location was chosen for a few reasons. “The first is just practical,” Collins explains. “We started in Topsfield and as we grew, we took into account that the employees lived within a certain radius,” he says. “Ipswich had buildings that were pretty unique and had a lot of character, and I didn’t want to be in a standard office park.”
While Ipswich is a beautiful town that offers amenities within walking distance for EBSCO Publishing employees, Collins admits that the North Shore location has a drawback. “One of the biggest challenges we face right now is not the competition; it’s getting enough technical talent to finish the projects that we’d like to do.We need to get the word out that we have jobs for [software engineers] in Ipswich. There are plenty of people driving down Route One every day who may not know that a great opportunity is right here.”
Collins was born in Danvers and lived out of state briefly, but he considers the North Shore his home. “My dad was a G.E. man, so we moved to Ohio for his work, but I came to Topsfield in third grade, so my childhood was here,” Collins says. He attended Masconomet High School, where he was the captain of the football team. “My identity in high school was as an athlete, and I was good, but I was not a great athlete. I was more of a hard worker,” he emphasizes.
EBSCO’s HQ along the Ipswich River
Hard work is one of the cornerstones of Collins’s success, and it was instilled at an early age. “I’ve always had drive, but if I had to credit anybody for it, it would be my dad,” Collins says. “My memories of him are that he was a very dedicated father and a hard worker. For example, when we raked leaves, he attacked it. He raked leaves with gusto. We had fun with it and took it on as a challenge, so we didn’t dread it. That was his kind of attitude, and I always liked that,” Collins says.
Aside from hard work, Collins cites two other elements necessary for success: vision and a bias for action. “You’ve got to have a vision for what you want your business to look like, and then you have to have a bias for action to try to accomplish your vision. No one wakes up and knows what their business will be like in 10 years. Our business today is nothing like it was when it started.”
The North Shore has been good to Collins, both personally and professionally. “I’m a firm believer in visualization, so I visualized in general terms the life I’m leading now.” With his wife Emily, Collins has two children, 13-year-old Charlotte and 10-year-old Nate, who both attend the Glen Urquhart School in Beverly. The family lives in Topsfield and has many North Shore favorites. “The kids love White Farms Ice Cream, especially the soft serve, because they have so many flavors. I used to go there as a kid, too,” Emily says. “And lately, we’ve been going to the Four66 on Route One because Nate loves the pizza there.” The proud father praises his children’s accomplishments. “Nate is an athlete on many sports teams. He plays hockey, lacrosse, and basketball, and Charlotte is a prolific reader. She reads [several] books every week.” Clearly, the driven businessman is raising his kids to succeed.
For Collins, success in the workplace has to do with people living up to their potential. “I judge myself and everybody around me on whether they are able to realize their potential. To me, there’s nothing worse than wasted potential,” Collins says.
Coworkers agree that Collins’s attitude is the key to a rewarding workplace. Senior Vice President Stratton Lloyd says, “Tim embodies the many attributes that make working at EBSCO so enjoyable. He is entrepreneurial with a unique enthusiasm for embracing new opportunities.” Sam Brooks, executive vice president of sales and marketing, provides similar accolades. “Under Tim’s leadership, I have seen us grow from a small company with only hundreds of customers to a global information industry leader with tens of millions of end users.” And CIO Michael Gorrell adds, “Tim is one of the smartest people I know, and he’s incredibly driven. A lot of our success stems directly from his drive and tenacity.”
While colleagues praise his work ethic, Tim’s wife provides a glimpse of the man outside of the office. “As driven as he is, one thing he doesn’t do is bring work stress home with him,” Emily explains. “He’ll have his laptop on at home, but at the same time, he will interact with the kids, answering their questions, and he can switch right back and forth. It’s amazing to me that he can do all that he does and still be such a regular guy.”
Sometimes, when a regular guy does well, he ends up in the spotlight. Collins says he feels uncomfortable with the recognition that he receives, especially when EBSCO Industries insisted on putting his name on one of the Ipswich campus’s buildings. “I struggle with it, because I feel like it doesn’t give enough credit to everybody else. I understand the intentions and it is a nice honor, but I would have been satisfied with a plaque,” he insists. “It’s not like this is a one-man show.”
With more than 1,000 employees based around the North Shore, EBSCO Publishing may not be a one-man show, but today it is a global information leader, thanks to the vision of one man and the “bias of action” of another. ebscohost.com ?n
EBSCO Publishing supports local schools and sports teams, as well as organizations, including:
- The Topsfield Fair – EBSCO sponsors the Green Pavilion at America’s oldest fair, which runs for 10 days each fall. topsfieldfair.org
- The Boston Lobsters – EBSCO is a presenting sponsor of New England’s professional tennis team, located at the Manchester Athletic Club in Manchester-by-the-Sea. bostonlobsters.net
- The Trustees of Reservations/Appleton Farms – EBSCO sponsored renovations to the farmhouse at Appleton Farms. thetrustees.org
- Beverly Hospital at Danvers – EBSCO donated a gymnasium to be used by both patients and staff. beverlyhospital.org