How Erica Lee Became the First Female CEO of Historical Publisher Marquis Who’s Who
Life has a funny way of coming full circle, even when you think your career plans have taken on a new shape. While I was an undergraduate at Yale, the internet startup era had just begun. My 10-year plan—or what my parents had pushed me toward—went like this: premed undergrad, medical school and then a doctor for life. I started to pursue this path as an anthropology major, but sometimes you just have to strike when the iron is hot; I was asked, alongside several Yale peers and alumni, to work on an internet startup. To my parent’s dismay, I decided to defer a year and dive into this new digital space.
From that original startup iMedia, I began working at GradExchange, a career portal that disseminated information about fellowships, opportunities and life after graduate school. And, since disseminating information is the hallmark of Marquis Who’s Who, I was on the right path here. These first two platforms dipped my toes into the waters of research, branding and virtual connection, and set the stage for the next act in my career.
Later I transitioned to a digital branding space for CEOs and professionals. The knowledge and experience I gained there was transformational—not only for myself and my career, but also for Marquis Who’s Who, the company that would be the recipient of everything I had learned. I joined Marquis, the flagship company that has been documenting the lives of influential and distinguished individuals for over 120 years, as chief operating officer. My digital expansion ideas were what primarily motivated me to vie for CEO. While COOs drive strategy, CEOs make strategy—and I had the experience to bring the company into the digital age.
Marquis Who’s Who is well-known for its printed reference guides, but it is our online database that is a trusted resource of prestigious academic libraries; federal libraries, including the Library of Congress and the White House; and corporate libraries, such as ABC News. However, I felt as though our digital footprint was an undiscovered corner of the company. As CEO, I pioneered the transition of Marquis Who’s Who off the one-dimensional page and into the personal branding space. Now, the company enhances the visibility of our biographical listees with a host of branding products including video interviews, personal websites, press releases and features in the Wall Street Journal, to name a few.
Our team works tirelessly to keep our finger on the pulse, always recording the trailblazing updates in every field. Our desire to know motivates our desire to share—a feeling that inspired our latest implementation: “Maker’s Lists.” Each month has a theme and is carefully curated. For instance, February’s is African American Catalysts for Change 2021, which celebrates Black History Month. Some names you may know, some you may not. Our Maker’s Lists intend to ‘break the names,’ highlighting the most fascinating people in our directory, the up-and-coming game-changers that you will know soon enough. As executive editor, Star Jones—the celebrated interviewer, lawyer and Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame inductee—will head the specially formed selection committee. The next lists to look forward to will honor Women’s History month, and powerful names in charity and philanthropy.
The next feat for Marquis Who’s Who will be global expansion. There are just so many international luminaries that we have yet to discover. I am particularly excited about one project we are in the midst of creating, a gated social media platform where listees can communicate, collaborate and mentor one another.
All of these new items point to one goal: Setting Marquis Who’s Who apart. Recently, we have noticed quite a few imitators. But, as the company loves to say, “often imitated, never duplicated.”
I am honored and glad to lead this historical company into the 21st century. I often wonder, though, “why am I the first female CEO?” And while I am the first, I hope not to be the last. I want to help cultivate a pipeline of brilliance in the company, particularly for women. Hopefully, I shattered the glass, so there is no more ceiling. Marquis Who’s Who has been standing for over a century, and certainly has a long future ahead.
Erica Lee is the CEO of biographical publisher Marquis Who’s Who.