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The evolution of Websters International

Discover Websters' long and varied history from book publisher to dynamic digital force, including the creation of Encarta Encyclopedia.

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At Websters International, we strongly believe that our company values play a significant part in enabling us to thrive in a competitive market space. The continued success of the company owes much to the core principles that were instilled by the company’s founders who, through their roles as non-executive directors, continue to exert a positive influence on the direction of the company, its management team and employees.

Websters International Publishers was founded by Adrian and Susannah Webster as a book publisher in 1983. Initially specialising in wine and food publications, travel guides and international publishing consultancy, Websters International quickly established a leading reputation in the global marketplace for its high-quality content in these fields. It wasn’t long, however, until the company branched out into other areas including education, finance and health.

Prior to setting up Websters International, Adrian was international sales director, then managing director and publisher at Mitchell Beazley, where he was responsible for the worldwide licensing programme for Joy of Knowledge Encyclopedia and developed MB's renowned wine-book list. Susannah had worked as an editor at Penguin Books, Allen Lane, Studio Vista and Orbis before joining Mitchell Beazley where she became editorial director responsible for the American Express Pocket Travel Guides and MB's famous Pocket Books series.

Harnessing Websters International’s editorial and design capabilities, Adrian ran The Economist Books, The Organiser Company and Rodale Books International. He was, for many years, international publishing consultant to World Book and subsequently to Microsoft. At Websters International, he developed a hugely successful international wine book programme with Oz Clarke and other top authors, as well as the Microsoft Wine Guide (CD-ROM), Vinsight (an MSN website) and wine information content for (New York Times Digital).

Throughout their careers, Adrian and Susannah have specialised in building content partnerships with major international companies. In 1993, they led Websters International into a significant digital content management relationship with Microsoft and MSN. Websters International embarked on an ambitious project with Microsoft to develop international editions of many information-oriented products, including Money, AutoRoute and, most notably, Encarta Encyclopedia. It was at this point that Adrian and Susannah were joined by other key directors: Jean-Luc Barbanneau and David Skinner.

With extensive experience in educational and reference publishing, Jean-Luc was recruited as Websters International’s managing director in 1994. He’d previously been publishing director and then deputy managing director of Harrap, alongside being a consultant to several international publishing companies and a senior lecturer in Publishing Management and Marketing at Oxford Brookes University. At Websters International, Jean-Luc oversaw Websters International’s evolution from physical publisher to digital content provider.

Prior to joining Websters International, David was editorial director for Dictionaries and Reference at Harrap Publishing Group and a consultant to BBC Enterprises. A qualified teacher with extensive experience of audio-visual and computer-based learning technologies, his remit included project management of the international editions of Encarta Encyclopedia, recruitment and supervision of staff on assignment in MSN offices, and responsibility for the technical and personnel resources required to ensure top-quality performance on all the company’s projects.

The growth of the digital side of the business, as well as diversification into localisation and games content adaptation, resulted in the development of offices in Seattle, Paris, Madrid, Milan and Munich. Several major technology companies and leading brands, including Yahoo!, AOL and Channel 4, joined Websters International’s ever-expanding client list. In this period of rapid expansion, the financial acumen came from Alan Fennell, who joined the company in 1998. A qualified chartered accountant, Alan was a Lloyds of London Insurance Specialist for 10 years before working in audit and management consultancy across a wide range of industries.

Websters International divested its book publishing interests to Pavilion Books in 2007 to concentrate on digital content. In 2009, a majority interest in the company was sold to the founding directors. In the decade since, Websters has continued to diversify while retaining its core values and commitment to quality. In 2021, an expanded board of directors was formed to include a new senior management team comprised of some of the company’s long-serving managers. They continue to build on the founders’ values and successes and oversee the evolution of the company as it enters its fifth decade.

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