We are Wolters Kluwer. A leading global information services company, we combine almost two centuries of deep domain knowledge with intelligent technology; for professional decision-making with confidence. Explore our timeline to find out what makes us uniquely Wolters Kluwer.
During the 19th Century, constitutional and legal reforms were shaping the loose collection of Dutch provinces into a modern industrial economy. The demand for educational and informational literature led to the rise of numerous family run publishing houses. Wolters Kluwer’s roots can be traced directly to four entrepreneurial houses: Wolters, Noordhoff, Samsom and Kluwer.
In 1836, Jan Berends Wolters founded his bookstore-publishing house in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. Later to be called the J.B. Wolters Publishing company, the company met with unparalleled success in educational publishing due to his focus on high quality content that would shape the rapidly evolving sphere of education. Generations of Dutch children, for example, learned their ABCs with ‘Aap-Noot-Mies’. And the children’s stories of ‘Ot en Sien’ published in 1902 remained a ubiquitous teaching tool in elementary schools for half a century.
In 1858, a 25 year old Popko Noordhoff opened a book store next door to the 50 year old Wolters. Initially stocking education, science and religious books, he soon switched to publishing and would see great success with titles such as Heukels’ ‘Flora in the Netherlands’, which, remarkably, sees its 23rd edition in 2016, and is available now as an app. Building from a national base, Noordhoff would go on to achieve international acclaim in scientific publishing.
In January 1886, with the full support of his bosses, Nicolaas Samsom left the civil service to run his eponymous publishing business full time. As Secretary Receiver at the Alphen aan den Rijn Town hall—the current location of the Wolters Kluwer Global Headquarters—Samsom built a reputation as an early innovator. He adapted complex legislation into more easily understood language for its readers. He redesigned forms and formats to be more easily managed and updated. And in an early example of direct marketing, he created a free monthly magazine to keep customers up to date. Samsom’s customer-first philosophy helped build a loyal base. Highly trusted by his former bosses, customers and industry peers alike, he moved into commentary, analysis—and later into the fields of tax and education.
In 1891, former bookseller Æbele E. Kluwer established his publishing house in Deventer, in the east of the Netherlands. From the outset, Kluwer established a clear vision: ‘Publish great quality content, or don’t publish at all!’. He saw enormous success in education, then tax, business, technical and scientific publishing. He developed a deep network of subject experts and authors. And he experimented with new ways to bring content alive, such as a pop-up book for his medical publications. In 1909, ‘De Vakstudie' series (still being published today by Wolters Kluwer) was the first of its kind to provide a range of fiscal advisors with up to date legal advice and analysis in fiscal matters.
Towards the end of the century, all four houses had cemented national reputations. They had had built excellent relations with the Dutch government and municipalities, business, academic and educational institutions—as well as a strong, trusted network of experts and authors.
At the turn of the century, the western world was gripped in a reading frenzy. Print production, marketing, distribution and consumption changed radically. In the coming decades, Wolters, Noordhoff, Samsom and Kluwer would navigate the Depression of the 30s, a slew of post-war commercial and social developments—and emerging electronic publishing technologies. Eventually, all four houses would merge under one roof.
In 1918, the Wolters family took the company limited. Dr. Anthony Schepman, a respected intellectual, philanthropist and innovator, was appointed as the first CEO—a position he was to hold for 40 years. Former banker F.R. ter Horst was appointed as managing director. Under their leadership, combining strong business and subject matter expertise, the company expanded rapidly.
In 1968, J.B. Wolters merged with Noordhoff to form Wolters-Noordhoff. While Wolters was nearly three times the size of Noordhoff, the neighbors understood that to remain competitive, they would have to put much more emphasis on the development of new books—and find new, innovative ways of promotion and public relations. The merger was celebrated by literally breaking down the wall that had separated their offices for almost 100 years.
In 1970, Samsom merged with A.W. Sijthoff to form the Information and Communication Union (ICU). Just two years later, Wolters-Noordhoff would also merge with the ICU. Then, in 1983, the ICU changed its name to Wolters-Samsom. In that year 35% of the group’s sales came from Belgium, the United States and United Kingdom. Plus, thanks to the early focus on emerging electronic technologies, by 1984, the company was already on its way to full internal digitization.
By the mid ‘80s, Kluwer was the only of the original four houses to remain independent. It had built strong footholds in the United States, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. It had opened its first office in China in 1985, focused on law, tax and accounting. All told, Kluwer’s markets included professional and business; legal and fiscal; science and technology; education; literature and reference works.
In 1987, to fend off a takeover bid from Elsevier, Kluwer merged with Wolters-Samsom. Kluwer cited too much of a difference in business philosophy to merge with Elsevier. But with Wolters-Samsom they found many commonalities in market ambition, company culture and values—something that would remain at the heart of the Company until the present day.
And so, Wolters Kluwer NV was established.
During the 1990s, Wolters Kluwer realized at least 15% annual average profit growth. Numerous acquisitions of traditional and electronic companies fueled international expansion. However, the rise of the internet was as disruptive as anything the Company had yet faced. It required fresh thinking, and a new start. By 2001, the Company had mapped the path to sustainable growth.
The late 1980s to the mid '90s would see the Company extend its global footprint. In 1989, Wolters Kluwer began to expand throughout Europe and by 1996 had established a presence in Austria, France, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and West Germany. In parallel, between 1990 and 1998, the acquisition of numerous prestigious companies would fortify the Company’s market position in the United States.
The acquisition of J.B. Lippincott and Co.—who had published the first textbook of nursing in 1878, as well as the first issue of the American Journal of Nursing—made the Company a major player in the U.S. health market by 1990.
In 1996, the Company completed the purchase of CCH Inc., who had published materials on US tax law and tax compliance since the inception of the federal income tax in 1913, which helped expand the Company’s business in Asia-Pacific due to CCH’s interests in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
In 1995, the Wolters Kluwer Executive Board announced new investments into e-publishing and the nascent internet. In 1997 a CTO was appointed, and a start made with Kluwer Online. A global steering group of bright young managers soon helped sharpen the Company’s customer-focus and global internet strategy. But operationalizing the strategy would be complex. And the financial implications were large.
In the same year, Wolters Kluwer entered merger negotiations with Reed Elsevier. However, the two companies could not agree on financial terms. Discussions were terminated in March 1998.
In 2001, the Company announced its intent to create a ‘new’ 21st Century Wolters Kluwer. While the strong historic customer-focus would remain, the new direction would be towards content, software and services. An ongoing Companywide program would empower a new rank of innovative leaders. After one of the most disruptive periods in its history, the Company was poised to deliver in the new millennium.
After the dot-com bust of 2000, the Digital Age began in earnest. It was a period of immense technological and informational change, impacting businesses and customers alike. In 2003, under new leadership, and acknowledging the speed of change, Wolters Kluwer adopted its first three year strategy cycle. By 2010 the Company’s portfolio would be fundamentally transformed.
In September 2003, Nancy McKinstry was appointed as Wolters Kluwer’s Chief Executive Officer. With Wolters Kluwer for a decade, McKinstry combined deep Company knowledge with sharp strategy, operations and technology acumen. She was the first non-Dutch person to take a seat at the Wolters Kluwer board and its first female CEO. In the following years, McKinstry would lead the Company through a radical restructuring and business improvement plan—in short order.
2004-2006 saw the Company tackle digital transformation head-on. One of the key changes McKinstry made was to almost triple the Company’s investment into product development. Alongside this, she drove cost reductions through structural improvements and undertook a major reorganization. In 2005, the Company would launch a new logo to help strengthen its global brand positioning—reflecting its market-leading presence in the United States and Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
2007-2009 saw the Company’s new direction pay off. The divestment of its education division, and acquisitions such as UpToDate, the market-leading evidence-based electronic clinical information resource, both in 2007, would further sharpen the Company’s portfolio.
During this period, two new cross-Company groups would be formalized: The Global Platform Organization (GPO) would help accelerate time-to-market and innovation in digital products, and the Global Shared Services group—named Global Business Services (GBS) as of 2015—would provide Company-wide strategic services for the enablement of business strategy.
By 2010, under McKinstry’s leadership, the Company’s portfolio had been fundamentally transformed. Wolters Kluwer generated almost 70% of its revenues from online, software, and service offerings—a milestone in the Company’s history.
Throughout this time, Wolters Kluwer’s professional markets continued to see enormous change. The proliferation of data, information and regulation, unification of global standards and compliance rules were putting the Company’s customers under increasing pressure. And, digital devices were about to hit the mainstream.
Now in its second decade, the Digital Age matured quickly. Data was big, phones smart, and search semantic. In a challenging global economic environment, the Company’s customers were under pressure to work harder, faster, more efficiently—all while navigating ever-growing mountains of data and information. Their need to be right was perhaps greater than ever.
2012 saw the Company focus full-force on maximizing its value for customers. Building from its position in digital software and deep domain knowledge, Wolters Kluwer moved deeper into data and analytics. This helped the Company deliver value directly at the point-of-use—directly into customer workflows—via any number of mobile devices.
The Company’s internal Global Innovation Awards and user-centric development programs gathered momentum. Together, they would inspire product enhancements such as UpToDate Anywhere, and new products such as CCH Axcess—the tax and accounting profession’s first modular cloud-based tax preparation, compliance and workflow solution.
In 2013, the Company consolidated its global positioning with a unified brand strategy. The new tagline ‘When you have to be right’ perfectly illustrating the Company’s ongoing commitment to solving customers’ challenges—and of course; acknowledging their need to make critical decisions with confidence.
Ongoing strategic acquisitions strengthened the Company’s portfolio such as Health Language and Prosoft Tecnologia, a Brazilian provider of tax and accounting software, which were purchased in 2013. In 2015, Wolters Kluwer ELM (Enterprise Legal Management) Solutions was formed by the merging of Datacert with Tymetrix, making Wolters Kluwer the undisputed global ELM market leader—while the company celebrated a historic milestone of 30 years business in China.
In 2015 Wolters Kluwer also reaffirmed its commitment to healthcare by rebranding its Clinical Drug Information unit, positioning it as the single provider of aligned medication decision support solutions from its three industry-leading applications of Lexicomp®, Medi-Span®, and Facts & Comparisons®.
By the end of 2015, through its four divisions of Health, Tax & Accounting, Governance Risk & Compliance, Legal & Regulatory, Wolters Kluwer served customers in over 180 countries, maintained operations in over 40 countries and employed 19,000 people worldwide. Digital and services now represented 83% of the Company’s total revenues.
In 2016, Wolters Kluwer celebrated 180 years of rich heritage. While much has changed for the Company over this time, some things have remained constant: strong values and business principles, deep domain knowledge, innovation in technology—and a long-standing focus on the customer. In the future, there will be new challenges, and new opportunities.
The future of work is evolving fast. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT (Internet of Things) and more are already making their presences felt on the strategy, operations and business models of the Company’s customers, and their clients. Over time, more devices will connect more people, and more data sources, in new and different ways. This will open up new challenges—and new opportunities.
This is the context in which Wolters Kluwer will continue to grow its value. Every day, our customers make critical decisions that help save lives, improve the way we do business, build better judicial and regulatory systems. Our expert solutions help them get it right.
We are Wolters Kluwer. A leading global information services company, we combine almost two centuries of deep domain knowledge with intelligent technology; for professional decision-making with confidence.