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Profiles in HR: Steve Ostrom, HR Business Partner at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Vol. 59   No. 6
 

Interview by Kathy Gurchiek  5/22/2014
 


Anyone who has ever taken a high school literature class is probably familiar with one of the book series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH): the black-and-yellow-striped CliffsNotes. HMH releases about 90 books each year, including cookbooks and the American Heritage Dictionary. Many HMH books have been made into popular movies, including Winter’s Tale, Life of Pi, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Curious George, Mary Poppins and The Polar Express.

Steve C. Ostrom

Education: 2005, Master of Arts, leadership and management, Webster University, Orlando, Fla. 1987, Bachelor of Business Administration, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.

Current job: 2003-present, HR business partner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Orlando, Fla.

Career: 2003, senior manager (onsite), Randstad, Orlando, Fla. 2001-02, senior business manager, TAC Worldwide, Orlando, Fla. 1996-2001, senior business manager, Renaissance Worldwide, Cleveland. 1988-96, senior contracts manager, TAC Worldwide, Cleveland.

Personal: Divorced, no children.

Diversions: Greater Orlando SHRM (GOSHRM) chapter director for membership and dues; former board member, GOSHRM; rooting for the Cleveland Indians and Ohio State University Buckeyes; attending the theater and movies; traveling and spending time with family and friends. Since 2008, in spare time works at Walt Disney World’s DinoLand U.S.A.

Connections: steve.ostrom@hmhco.com, @sostrom, (407) 345-3190, LinkedIn.

Currently reading: Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization (Collins, 2008), Johnny Carson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) and Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (Disney Editions, 2013).

Steve C. Ostrom, PHR, HRBP, human resources business partner at the publisher’s Orlando, Fla., office, is a strong proponent of learning among his employees. As director for membership and dues for the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Orlando chapter, he also advocates giving back to his community and will be a volunteer this month at the SHRM 2014 Annual Conference & Exposition in Orlando.


Ostrom serves on the company’s strategic partnership team, where he supports its corporate finance, strategic alliances and professional services teams, as well as the content development and technology groups—altogether about 400 employees in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

What are the HR challenges of working in book publishing?

We’re in a very fast-paced, changing environment, internally and externally. One of the biggest challenges is keeping up our employees’ skill levels by providing training and opportunities to grow. As we change and the world changes, our employees have to keep pace.

What kind of employees do you look for?

People who are curious and passionate about whatever they do. The growing need is for those who have a mind for technology. Everything our employees do has a tech component. The books we publish for schools have apps with video components. When you create that, you also have to understand how to translate content for a fourth- or fifth-grade student’s reading level, for example.

What is HR’s role with social media?

Our talent acquisition team uses social media to recruit and help brand HMH. In partnership with corporate communications, we want a consistent message and user experience. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn are major tools for us. Even though most of my social media use is personal, I’ve found out a lot about our company through Twitter. HR needs to know the business, and one way to educate yourself is to follow it—and your competitors—on social media sites. That’s where the conversations are happening; that’s where we’re sharing our successes. Otherwise, it’s a missed opportunity.

Do you tend to be an early adopter of technology?

Yes. I had the iPad within 30 days of its coming out in 2010, and I still have one of the original iPods. I jumped on the iPhone bandwagon early; I now have iPhone5s and an iPad3. I’m waiting for iPad television. I mainly use my gadgets in my personal time, but I think that every HR person should have some social media skills. You may not need them on a daily basis, but often the people you’re bringing in are tech-savvy, and social media helps us find that talent.

It’s been interesting to watch my company embrace technology. The iPad was introduced in April 2010; ours was the only publishing company that had a program for the iPad for students shortly after it came out. We conducted a pilot program during the 2010-11 school year with 400 California middle-school students to assess how an iPad-based algebra textbook (the HMH Fuse Algebra 1 app) might affect the quality of education. The study found that 20 percent more students (78 percent) scored “proficient” or “advanced” in subject comprehension when using tablets instead of print textbooks.

Are there any cool employee perks at your company?

We get 50 percent off HMH products. Our Community Involvement Councils—internal volunteer groups that support the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives—gave a recent screening of Life of Pi in our office after hours. The councils sponsor a “Curiosity Series” that hosts casual employee discussions on our book releases, hold internal book sales to raise money for worthy causes, and present Web-based and in-person author chats.

HMH also gives each employee two days off every year to use for volunteering in the community, and we host a companywide volunteer week every year.

As someone who works in book publishing, do you see yourself writing a book someday, and, if so, what genre would it be?

I like all of Steve Gilliland’s business/personal development books. For relaxation, John Grisham is my favorite author. If I wrote a book, it would be a mystery or similar fictional work, or a book for children/young adults. I think everybody has a story to tell.

I’m also interested in songwriting. I’ve written lyrics even though I don’t play any instrument, read music or sing particularly well. Sometimes I get a phrase or lyric in my head and I’ll write it down. I’ve got them all over the place on sticky notes.

What local attractions would you recommend to attendees of the SHRM 2014 Annual Conference & Exposition?

I’m a theme park junkie. I’ve visited the New Fantasyland many times since it opened this year. I love one of its restaurants, Be Our Guest, and can’t wait for the park’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to open. As a fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, I’m excited about the opening of Diagon Alley at Universal this summer.

One place I think is very cool, just slightly outside of Orlando, is Kennedy Space Center. The Space Shuttle Atlantis is a great piece of American history. If you’re interested in the space program or the heroes who have flown, it’s worth the short drive to the coast.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

 

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