As CEO, Otto ter Haar ushered Elsevier through unprecedented transformation and international growth, but those who worked for him remember his “warmth, charm and humor.”
We are saddened to learn that he passed away at the age of 87 last week.
After a short career at a tobacco trading company in Indonesia, Ter Haar joined Elsevier in 1959. In those days, the Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company consisted of just 30 employees tucked away in the attic of Elsevier’s head office in Amsterdam. It was part of Elsevier NV, a public company that mainly published trade books and magazines. (This company later became Reed Elsevier as part of a merger and is now RELX Group). During his time as a marketer-salesman, Ter Haar became a protégé to Piet Bergmans, Elsevier’s first scientific CEO. After Bergmans’s retirement, Ter Haar took over that role from 1977 to 1987. In 1982, he also joined the parent company’s Board of Directors, staying on as a non-executive board member at Reed Elsevier until 2001.
Under his leadership, Elsevier changed immensely. The number of employees grew from dozens into the thousands, and the company took its first forays into database technology and digital publishing, establishing the basis for its current ScienceDirect platform. Meanwhile, the core business of its parent company shifted almost entirely to scientific books and journals.
During this time, Ter Haar guided the company through a period of internationalization. On the occasion of his retirement in 1990, his colleagues wrote:
Although he probably wouldn’t like to take credit for it, largely due to his efforts, Elsevier’s US operations have flourished considerably.
Ter Haar was particularly fond of the “warm-blooded” people in publishing, in the words of his colleagues – from company secretaries around the world, who would be gifted a large arrangement of fresh flowers upon every one of his visits, to the “promising young gods” of science, as he would refer to up-and-coming researchers, with whom he built not just a business relationship but a personal one. During his 30-year career with Elsevier, his colleagues wrote, Ter Haar found success as a professional “simply by being himself, a man of warmth, charm and humor.”
He is fondly remembered by those who worked with him – or had the pleasure of meeting him later in life – for exactly that reason. Our thoughts go out to his wife, children, grandchildren and loved ones.
Photo: Otto ter Haar at his desk shortly before his retirement as an executive board member of the Elsevier Group in 1990. (From the RELX archives in Amsterdam)