Amandeep Kochar on Buying Baker & Taylor

LJ interviewed Baker & Taylor President and CEO Amandeep Kochar about his leading a private investment group’s recent acquisition of the company from its previous owner, Follett, on November 4.

Amandeep Kochar sitting in chair with stuffed cats on each chair armLJ interviewed Baker & Taylor President and CEO Amandeep Kochar about his leading a private investment group’s recent acquisition of the company from its previous owner, Follett, on November 4.

LJ : How did this come about? Was Follett looking to divest, or did you decide you wanted to buy the company?

Amandeep Kochar: I went to the Follett shareholders and the Follett board with an idea. I said, “Look. This is something that I’ve been thinking about. And I’d like to partner with you on this.” They were fully supportive, and they partnered with me through the process.

Was this similar to when Follett bought Baker &Taylor?

Yes and no. Follett has been in the school library business for a very long time. So the mindset of having a library-supporting organization acquire Baker & Taylor is the similarity. The dissimilarity is that Follett also had a strategy of synergizing the Follett School Solutions business and Baker & Taylor business. So that’s dissimilar because I don’t own any other library businesses. The other dissimilarity is that Follett is a historic brand. They’ve been around for 145 years. I think they’re in their sixth generation of family members. 

What are your goals for the short, medium, and long term?

Long term, I don’t know. In the short term, I want my stakeholders—my suppliers, customers, and employees— to be successful. I want a seamless transition from Follett Corporation. That is my short-term goal, for my customers to feel successful and face no disruption; my publishers to feel connected, powerful; and my employees to have no internal disruptions through this process.

My medium-term goal is to enhance my community outcomes message: community outcomes delivered through literacy. And add more products and services, and grow through those. Distribution and print is the heart of my business. We have several new services built on top of our distribution services that allow libraries to have tools in their arsenal as they make decisions on how to serve their communities better, like Sustainable Shelves [a program to help libraries monetize weeded books]; BTCat [a library cataloging utility and database]; and Collection HQ ESP, evidence-based selection and planning.

How can I go to libraries, understand their challenges in this world where constant re-evaluation, shorter attention spans, and socioeconomic challenges are ahead of us? What is the library’s role? And how can I reflect the library’s challenges in my own organization, and partner with libraries to solve them?

What is the time frame on the transition?

About six months.

What services did you share with other parts of Follett that you’re going to have to rebuild?

There are several areas that we’ll have to decouple. But it is not very intense, because Baker & Taylor was an independent company five years ago. I think the intensity will come from technology and HR. Other than that, the company is fairly stand-alone.

With everything that’s going on in the publishing supply chain, are you seeing problems for libraries getting what they’ve ordered in a timely way?

Heavily. It starts in the manufacturing. The books manufactured offshore have to hit our shores. Then they have to come into the hinterland, and then have to come into our distribution center. Then they have to be processed, and then go. Like all industries, there is a labor shortage, whether it be in the services centers and warehouses, to data scientists, to product managers, to vice presidents. Which is both good and bad. [It] means the economy is expanding, and that the talent can demand what they think is fair compensation. That is good. The unhealthy part is that our economy wasn’t prepped to handle such a surge of demand after a very massive dip. And the pivot of working from home and e-commerce that has happened over the last 18 months is huge. So yes, there are challenges. But as long as libraries partner with us and let us know what they’re looking for, order ahead of time, and there’s open communications on both sides, most of these challenges can be mediated. If you can set expectations with libraries, and they can set expectations with their patrons, then it works.

When publication dates are pushed into 2022, how do you work with libraries whose budget must be spent in this calendar year?

There are several options. If local legislation allows libraries to, sometimes [they can prepay]. But in many cases, libraries find creative ways [to spend that budget] on new products and services. There are several ways we can partner with our libraries, and make sure their hard-fought funding does not go to waste. They can do e-collections. They can do digital products. They can do audiobooks. We created four different programs last year, when libraries were saying, “I don’t have anyone in my libraries to receive product. But I want to continue to serve my customers.” We partner with Highlights for Children [to] create a children’s reading e-magazine program that has stay-at-home activities for parents. We created our Virtual Book Club program. It is the adaptability, the resilience of libraries. Because we have worked so hard to reflect those character traits within our company, we can partner with them and pivot very quickly, in a very nimble fashion.

Did you always know you wanted to buy the company? Or is this relatively recent?

No. I come from a family where just having employment is a big deal. Having senior level executive employment is a blessing. My undergraduate degree is computer science engineering. So I trained myself to have employment all through my life, save money, and retire.

But this company…allows me to do something where I get to feel good about myself every day and provide for my family as well. This was a very recent epiphany, about the ownership of the company. But I fell in love with it within the first year of joining Baker & Taylor.

How much can you disclose about the terms? Are there other investors besides you?

I’m the majority owner, me and my family. And there are a few other silent investors as well, but terms are private.

What feedback are you getting so far from customers or other stakeholders?

Overwhelming support from our publisher partners. A sense of excitement and euphoria from team members. And from our customers, good wishes and continued partnership opportunities. Overall, I’ve been very blessed. This has been made very easy.

What have I not asked that you want to tell us about?

I’m personally very excited. As a [member of a] religious and social and ethnic minority in this country, I take pride not in my success, but to showcase that America is still— and hopefully will remain— the land of equal and tremendous opportunities, where an immigrant with an accent, practicing a religion that is visually different, can be at this place. It fills my heart. I’m personally passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as social justice, having both been bullied and been the victim of prejudice many times over.

One of the things that I’m also very passionate about is internship and apprenticeship programs. I truly believe that [the way] to make sure that our country is propelled is through human capital. And all great artists start by imitating the masters. I want to be the company that pushes the boundaries of internships and apprenticeships, whether it be high school internships, college internships, apprenticeships, [or]internships for retired people.

At a more personal level, I picked up baking [during the pandemic], and I am now the king of wild blueberry mini-muffins for my neighborhood.

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Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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