Meet the Aries Team: Jennifer Fleet, Chief Operating Officer

Want to get to know some of the Aries team? Us too! In an effort to learn more about our colleagues and the important work they do, we’ve decided to sit down with some of our staff members to interview them about their roles at Aries, what led them to scholarly publishing, and what they like to do in their free time. We sat down with Jennifer Fleet, Chief Operating Officer to learn more about her early career, her transition to COO, and her vision for Aries going forward. Check back next month to see which Aries staff member we speak to next!

Tell us about yourself – how long have you been working for Aries? What did you do before joining Aries?

I started with Aries in 2005. Before joining Aries I primarily worked in Washington, D.C. in various societies, typically in production. I worked for the American Diabetes Association as a copyeditor, and I was a Production Manager for the American Society of Plant Biologists. After that I led production, subscriptions, and marketing for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Then I moved to the Boston area, where I worked for Taylor & Francis as a Marketing Manager.

What led you to scholarly publishing?

It was a complete fluke. I had moved with my husband to DC and was temping at a large law firm–and it was pretty monotonous. So on my lunch hour I went to the agency where I was temping, and I said “I can’t keep doing this!” It just so happened the woman I was working with was on the phone with the Managing Editor of the Journal of Neuroscience at the time, trying to fill a position for an Editorial Assistant. So I started that job not knowing what scholarly publishing was, and within a couple months I thought, “This is what I want to do. This is my career.”

What have your roles at Aries been?

I started as the first Director of Client Services. There were just a handful of Account Coordinators at that point. I began building the framework around the Client Services team–just setting the parameters around procedures. No one had sat down and envisioned exactly what Client Services was for Aries Systems yet, which meant that I was able to decide, for example, “How are we going to allow people to contact us? What’s the expectation for turnaround time? What are our available hours? What’s the training process?” I began building that framework and working with the existing team to figure out what their process was and, hopefully, take the best parts of that to formalize the procedures.

 I was Director of Client Services for 8.5 years, and then I left Aries and worked for a year and a half as the Director of Publishing Services at a production house, where I ran Production and Client Services. Then I returned to Aries about four years ago as the Director of Strategic Client Solutions. The change in my return and title symbolized taking on leadership of the large-scale XML based development project that we kicked off when I returned.

How have your various roles helped you in your position as COO?

I’ve had the luxury, given my previous experience here at Aries, of working with all the departments very closely. I think Aries has a slightly different perspective on Client Services than a lot of organizations do; Client Services isn’t just a team that takes phone calls and logs things in; they’re also not an extension of Sales. They really function as the implementation, on-boarding, and relationship management wing of the company. So in that role I was doing everything from prioritizing bug fixes to voicing customer interests and talking through infrastructure changes with IT. That had me working on all fronts, which was fantastic. From the moment I returned to Aries I had made it clear to Lyndon [Holmes, founder of Aries] that I was interested in taking on a larger role in the business and the company’s future. I got that opportunity when I became the COO in May of 2018.

As COO, can you tell me about the overall vision for Aries for 2019 and beyond?

Aries has always been keenly focused on what we’re good at, which is workflow solutions. I think we’ve been very practical about other third-party tools, features, and functions that existed outside of our core strength areas, and have looked to integrate and partner with those organizations. That has helped grow the system through integration, as opposed to building everything from scratch. I see that strategy as a continued area for growth, expanding the system in all directions–if there are upfront Author services we can integrate with, if there are production tools we can integrate with, if there are Editor decision support tools we can integrate with–doing all of that with EM and PM as the backbone will continue to be our growth model. We may end up doing a lot of that through APIs–hooking into other systems, other features, other tools out there, and repurposing them. APIs allow us to do that in a generic, agnostic way so that, for example, something like Single-Sign-On (SSO) could be used with any SSO system. We are also continuing our XML-based development, with a project called LiXuid Manuscript, and in the next couple of years we will be rolling out some XML tools into the production environment, and eventually using XML for the entire peer review process.

How do you see Aries and Elsevier working together? What benefits arose from the Aries acquisition?

 I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for Aries. As someone who has invested 10+ years with the organization, I knew that I wasn’t ready to move on and I wanted to work toward finding the right home for Aries. I feel really comfortable that we found that with Elsevier. The new ownership opens up resources and expertise that we’ve never had access to as a small, privately-held company, as well as integrations and partnerships with other technologies owned by Elsevier. Those opportunities are incredible and really beneficial not just to Aries and Elsevier, but to all of our customers. We’ve formed a very collaborative and very respectful relationship with Elsevier. Senior management from both groups are really committed to ensuring the integrity of customer data and proprietary information. I see the integration as the best of all worlds, and I really see 2019 as the opportunity to illustrate its value to our customers.

How do you stay involved in the industry and in touch with user needs?

I think I have an interesting perspective, as a previous Director of Client Services and, before that, a member of the community at large. When I became the Director of Client Services, I was supporting the people who were in jobs that were very similar to what my job had been before I came on board. I understood the needs pretty quickly, I could empathize when things went south, and I could pretty easily tap into how I would feel as a customer. This has afforded me the opportunity to directly interact with a huge number of our customers, and I’ve been involved in some of the largest implementations we’ve had in the organization, so I’m kind of a known quantity! I frequent many of the various industry conferences to stay in touch, I’m often involved in onsite meetings with our customers, and frankly I have personal relationships with a lot of them. I have a handful of people who call me directly if there’s an issue. I think it’s this unique perspective that I’ve brought to the COO position and the leadership of the company, having started from the hands-on customer side of things.

How has the Aries team grown over the years, and will Aries continue to grow its staff?

The fantastic thing about Aries’ growth is that it has been steady, organic growth. We have not had explosive growth at any period of time, which can sometimes force a company into making quick decisions that may not turn out to be long term solutions. We’ve never had a period of time where we’ve looked to reduce staff for any reason; it has just been a steady, continual expansion of the team which I think is the healthiest way a company can evolve. The bulk of the team works under the same roof in our office in North Andover, which is fantastically efficient for getting issues resolved and talking through strategy–and acting on that strategy fairly quickly. I am very appreciative of the work environment and the collaboration that our location affords us.

I envision us continuing to grow, and in some exciting new ways as well–we just opened up a position for a UX Designer, for example, which will be the first person at the organization specifically tasked with User Experience as the focus.

Describe your typical work day.

 It’s a lot of meetings–I have internal meetings that can range from financial oversight to product to prep for onsite customer visits. I have regular meetings with my Elsevier colleagues to discuss the governance of the company within the framework of Elsevier itself, and meetings to explore opportunities to work with other technologies and resources. I also travel about ten days per month or so. My time is mostly spent helping to make the various decisions that keep us on track as a company.

What suggestions would you give to journals so they can make the most of their EM deployments?

It really depends on the resources of the organization. For a large publisher who has dedicated teams and resources, I would say making sure that your core team have the opportunity to stay current with the releases and features available, and making sure they are integrated enough into the journals side of the organization to understand the benefits of the new technology, is important. One of the bigger concerns for a system that so heavily relies on user configuration is that we often find that there are a whole host of features that would be extremely beneficial to a journal that they just haven’t turned on. So feel comfortable coming back to Aries at any juncture if you think you may have fallen into that rut; ask us for an audit, that’s something that we do on a pretty regular basis. We’ll talk to people about their workflows and make suggestions if maybe they’ve missed a release or two.

For smaller organizations, that’s a tougher call. You’re talking about people who are often wearing a lot of hats. So feel free to lean hard on the resources we have here at Aries in terms of webinars, videos, etc. – and if there are more resources that we can be building and pushing out, ask for them, we’re happy to help! Stay in contact with your Account Coordinator, come to our user group meetings, and if you get to a place where you feel like you’re not using the system as fully as you could be, ask for help. That’s what we’re here for.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

Right now I’m reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I am listening to the podcast Last Seen, about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist, which is really interesting. I’ve got a really specific preference for historical fiction that involves artists–blame it on my art history major.

Tell us about some of your hobbies or interests outside of work.

When I am not working, I am spending time with my boys; my kids are my hobby. But I also like traveling with them, going on short trips or to museums and just generally exploring with them. But I also bake. If I’m in a hurry sometimes I’ll make chocolate chip cookies or snickerdoodles or something, but for any milestone of any kind there will be a cake. I have also been knitting the same scarf for twenty years–I am positive it will be worth the lead time when I finish.