Changemakers by Judith Rosen, Publishers Weekly 4/6/2009
On a bookshelf in Tim McNeill’s office at Wisdom Publications stand two photos of former houseguests. Together they represent the two poles of his life: politics and religion. In one, McNeill stands next to Bill Clinton during his first presidential campaign; in the other is the Dalai Lama.
Religion and politics may make for strange bedfellows, but in McNeill’s case they have given way to strong publishing instincts. Those instincts have enabled him to turn around a nonprofit publisher of Buddhist texts, which had been losing money by the time he took the helm in the late 1980s. Before accepting the challenge, McNeill served on Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign. His other publishing “qualifications” included a degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, fluency in Farsi after three years in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan and an international business background from his work with International Data Group and Arthur D. Little. And he was willing to work at Wisdom on a volunteer basis for five years.
One of the first changes McNeill made in taking over was to move Wisdom from London to Boston and eventually to its own building in Somerville, Mass. After years of steady growth, Wisdom broke $2 million in sales in 2006, and in 2007 it had its best year ever, with a double-digit increase in its net surplus. Although the 2008 figures are still being tallied, McNeill anticipates a small change in the surplus. In 2009, Wisdom’s sales should get a boost from the publication of the Dalai Lama’s The Middle Way: Faith Grounded in Reason, which will have a 12,000-copy first printing. Originally slated for August publication, the book’s release was pushed up so that it will be available when His Holiness visits North America in late April. This is the 14th book that the Dalai Lama has published with Wisdom—more than with any other publisher.