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Your Oxford Story: John Kay
14 March 2022
After 7 years at the Press, where my remit has been to establish an Internal Communications function at its heart, I’m delighted to share with you how I got here and why I’m so proud to work at OUP. This is my Oxford story.
For most of my life I’ve inclined towards the arts, ever since the failed dissection of a frog and a 16% score in a geography exam made me realize that my destiny would not be revealed through social or life sciences. This was affirmed by several life-enhancing experiences at school: being taught by barnstorming, ferocious, inspired teachers of English and Music; singing John Rutter’s Gloria conducted by the composer; recording the backing vocals for a Christmas Special with Bing Crosby. A degree in English Literature at London followed, before I set my course by working at Hammick’s Bookshop in Windsor and meeting my future wife there (I dropped a hole puncher on her foot and thus true love was kindled, before Kindles were even a thing). OUP titles were a staple ingredient of that world, of course: the dictionaries and reference books, Carols for Choirs, the Oxford World’s Classics. I sold them, I read them, I sang from them.
I was a bookseller for 10 years, living a dual life playing keyboards in a band with a sequence of inappropriate names for the same period, and eventually managing the bookshop and front of house at the Barbican Art Gallery before I began my career in communications. Working for a national charity based in Witney, Oxfordshire, supporting adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems, I honed my craft in all communications disciplines for 18 years before redundancy forced my hand. Then I discovered Oxford University Press.
I joined the Press in 2015 as its first ever Internal Communications Manager, based in our Oxford office. At the time there were about 35 separate e-newsletters in various states of health, all released at random intervals, compiled by local teams. One of my most satisfying achievements here was a remedy for this situation by introducing our global newsletter for Oxford University Press colleagues, Your OUP, as a way of sharing news in the same way, at the same time, across the whole organization. I’ve also been proud to support the major transformation of our Technology and Operations team as well as the reorganization of our Finance function and numerous HR-led projects, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic, the rapid move to remote working, and accompanying transition to digital-first communications made that a real challenge.
But I have also reveled in being part of the culture of OUP, particularly our employee-led social groups. My love of choral singing helped many colleagues find their voice in OUP Sing!, our community-style choir. My willingness to make a fool of myself found a natural outlet in the annual Music and Drama Society (aka MadSoc) revues. And, above all, I have had the opportunity to work with countless brilliant, lovely colleagues whose dedication to changing the world one word at a time makes this place so special. O, you people! I’m retiring at the end of March and leaving you behind; but I shall never forget you.