• Engineering my Way into Digital Publishing

    Serge Taborin
    Serge Taborin, MD, Archant Digital Ventures

    Engineering qualifications and skills have led Serge Taborin in directions he couldn’t have imagined, including winning a Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) MBA bursary which is available to professional engineers who want to pursue a career in senior management. “I can honestly say that without the MBA I would not have been able to pitch myself for certain roles and develop such a diverse and challenging career,” said Serge.

    Today Serge is managing director of Archant Digital Ventures, part of the 165 year old Archant Group, one of the UK’s largest independent regional media businesses with £142m turnover per annum.  Archant publishes regional newspapers, magazines, and websites and offers a wide range of services including digital publishing, specialist publishing and contract printing.

    Serge ‘caught’ the engineering bug in his early teens, captivated by the notion of creativity and practicality embodied in a single discipline.  His interest stemmed from his parents being engineers.  “I didn’t stand a chance,” said Serge.  “What with dad fixing radios and mum designing bridges, which she would excitedly point out on journeys, their passion for engineering rubbed off on me.  While they didn’t push me towards engineering, they instilled in me the value of education and the importance of subjects such physics and maths.  Engineering teaches you how to solve problems, how to take a step back from the challenge in front of you; evaluate all the ingredients at your disposal and to develop a solution that is both creative and practical.  Engineering opens up many career opportunities.”

    After gaining his Engineering Science degree at Oxford University, Serge worked in leading edge technology companies.  First, he joined the IT services specialist, SEMA Group (now part of Schlumberger) as a graduate trainee and worked his way up to project manager in eight months. By that stage, he was handling client-facing teams working on the implementation of customised telecom network systems globally.

    Next stop was INTEC Telecom Systems where, as a senior business consultant, he travelled the world implementing billing systems and developed strong relationships with global telecom operators.  After three years with INTEC, he took a year out of industry to undertake an MBA programme at INSEAD in Singapore and France, having been awarded a £30,000 SMF scholarship.

    Serge picks up the story: “My career had progressed rapidly into the strategic side of business and I wanted to move upwards into senior management, but I didn’t have enough knowledge of some areas of business.  I had to decide on the fastest route to plug my knowledge gaps; learning on the job at INTEC was, of course, possible but it would have taken longer and I was eager to get on. The MBA route won hands down and was definitely the right choice for me.

    “Having an MBA from a leading business school opens up a host of career opportunities that might otherwise be more difficult to access.  It has enabled me to build a more diverse and exciting professional life. INSEAD has, and continues, to open doors to me. As well as gaining the academic knowledge and business tools I needed to progress, I also have the INSEAD brand behind me and fantastic contacts I made during my MBA course.”

    On graduating from INSEAD, Serge was appointed business development manager of new media at the BBC, where he helped the broadcaster identify areas where its technology and content management skills could add value to clients’ digital strategy.

    A year later, Serge landed the head of group strategy role at Perform Group, a global leader in the provision of broadband and mobile digital video services and the commercialisation of digital rights for sports and entertainment brands.  Serge was responsible for developing the growth strategy and negotiated commercial deals with many organisations including the Premier League, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC, Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, Warner Brothers, Virgin Media, ITV and Channel 4. Perform Group grew rapidly, from 20 people with a turnover of £3m to £650m valuation when it floated five years later. Today it is a £1bn+ business with 900 staff worldwide.

    Fast forward to today and we find Serge heading up Archant Digital Ventures, the investment and incubator arm of Archant. Serge is responsible for identifying new opportunities in the online and mobile space for the whole group, developing or acquiring the technology needed and then turning this portfolio of products into profitable businesses.

    Serge continued, “I have an exciting and equally challenging job in a sector that has undergone huge changes. After 100 years of having virtually a free reign, regional newspapers in general are facing their biggest threat, not just to their revenues, but to their very existence. The internet has transformed how we consume content and the advertising model has also changed dramatically.  And the rate of change is accelerating, with mobile being the next battleground. There are no easy solutions for traditional publishers, but those that succeed will be the ones that supplement pure news/content distribution with new services that are relevant to increasingly segmented customer bases. Finding, developing and commercialising those solutions are top priority for my team.

    “Achieving our goals means recruiting the best talent, but attracting smart digitally-born young people to a traditional publishing business is not easy. We’ve approached this creatively, hiring people with great potential and enthusiasm, regardless of whether they are graduates, and we develop and mentor them on the job. This approach fits very well with my own belief in coaching and passing on business skills. I mentor seven staff who report to me, plus other team members in group sessions where we look at business development strategies.

    “Our Digital Ventures team is ambitious to grow business within Archant and through external ventures so I’m involved in mentoring online and mobile start-up businesses, advising on strategy, funding and marketing so the inventors can develop their novel ideas into great businesses. For example, a contact I met at INSEAD is an investor and director of Streetlife.com, a social networking site that connects people living in the same geographic area who have shared community interests, but may not necessarily know each other. Archant has acquired an equity stake in Streetlife and I have become a director of the business, providing advice and direction.

    “By combining my engineering experience with first-class business education and becoming part of the SMF network, I am enjoying a very rich career.  Apart from enabling me to attend INSEAD, which financially would have been difficult without the bursary, SMF has a network of highly ambitious and successful individuals who provide support and advice to its members, other business people, professional and educational institutions; as well as mentoring young engineers.

    “The SMF network carries a certain gravitas when talking about one’s profile and achievements, which is helpful in career terms and in promoting professional engineers.  For 25 years SMF has done an excellent job helping engineers like me move into leadership roles. I hope it continues to support the most talented individuals to gain the skills needed to get into leading edge companies and to start their own ventures,” summed up Serge.

    Case studies correct at the time of publication.  SMFs may have moved to new posts since publication.  For the latest career information on our Fellows visit our SMF Profile Page.

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