With the success of movies like the Batman series, Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, the comic book industry is all the rage at the Hollywood box office. So what does that have to do with the MBA program at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business? Ted Adams, MBA ’94, used his degree to launch a business in 1999—a comic book company called IDW Publishing, which just won three awards at the 2015 Comic-Con.
The Rally: How did you get started in the comic book industry?
Ted Adams: After I graduated college, I worked for two comic book publishers before getting my MBA at Notre Dame. My intention after graduate school was to get a more traditional “MBA type” job, but I ended up working for another comic book publisher in San Diego. In 1999, I launched my own company, IDW Publishing.
The Rally: What is IDW's focus in the industry?
Ted Adams: IDW is a very diverse publisher. We publish licensed comics (Transformers, Star Trek, and My Little Pony), original titles (30 Days of Night, Locke & Key, and Little Nemo in Slumberland), classic American comic strips and comic books (Dick Tracy, Popeye), prose books (X-Files), art books and board games (Machi Koro). I’ve always been an eclectic reader and IDW is an eclectic publishing house.
The Rally: The comic book industry has evolved quite a bit over the last 20 years, where do you see it going in the future?
Ted Adams: We’re at a unique moment in time where much of pop culture uses comic books as its source material. If you look at the biggest movies of the last couples of years, a majority of them are based on comics. What’s more, this fall, there will be at least 10 hours of TV programming that uses comics as its source material. I think everyone recognizes the big superhero names but the diversity of comic content is starting to show up in the translation to other forms of entertainment. The television series “The Walking Dead” is a great example of this.
As a result, comics are now embraced by a large audience and we’re seeing that in the sales of our books. IDW sells its comics in a variety of formats — our traditional 32-page comics are primarily sold in comic stores and as eBooks. The collected editions, also known as “graphic novels,” have much broader distribution that includes those two channels plus additional outlets, such as website and physical bookstores, Scholastic book fairs and book clubs and specialty retailers like Hot Topic. IDW also pioneered a new format called the Micro Comic Fun Pack that’s sold at all major mass market retailers in the trading card section. We’re in the fortunate position where sales are up in all of our retail channels.
The Rally: Were you at Comic-Con and if so, what is the experience like?
Ted Adams: IDW has a big presence at Comic-Con. The main IDW booth doubled in size this year and we acquired a smaller publisher last year, Top Shelf, and kept their space at the show.
Comic-Con is always the most exciting time of the year for anyone who works in comics. It’s a chance for all of us to meet the people who buy our books and for business associates to get together in person. It can be exhausting because it’s nearly a full week of non-stop meetings but it’s also a lot of fun.
The Rally: Why did you choose the Mendoza College of Business for your MBA degree?
Ted Adams: I did a lot of research on business schools while I was an undergraduate. I was looking for a school that had a small class size, but also one that had a reputable ranking. It didn’t take me long to pick Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.
The Rally: How has your Notre Dame MBA helped you in your career?
Ted Adams: Attending Notre Dame gave me the self-confidence to start my own business. I’d always done well academically but in high school and college, I rarely spoke in class and wasn’t confident enough to share my opinions with my classmates. Notre Dame doesn’t give you the option of keeping your opinions to yourself. I learned how to be confident in my abilities, which gave me the push I needed to become a leader and eventually the CEO of a public company.
The Rally: Is there a professor who had a significant impact on you as an MBA student?
Ted Adams: James Schrager taught an entrepreneurship class that continues to impact the way I run my business today.
In the class, we were asked to consult with a small business in the South Bend area. The idea was that we could take what we were learning in other classes and help businesses in the community. My good friend, Dave Vindiola, and I were assigned to a couple who were making wooden bird houses and selling them at local fairs. It didn’t take long before we discovered they were spending more on the materials to make the houses than they were charging. So, every time they sold a bird house they lost money and that didn’t include the hours they spent making each one or the money they spent setting up at the fairs. It was the definition of a hobby business and, if I remember correctly, they had pensions that covered their expenses. If it has been a real company, it would have been out of business almost immediately.
At IDW we make around 70 new products a month and, at the most basic level, I quickly evaluate each new opportunity as to whether or not it’s a ‘bird house’ project — is it going to make money or will it be a good hobby?
The Rally: What is your favorite memory of your time at the Mendoza College of Business?
Ted Adams: I enjoyed the camaraderie that comes from having a small class size. It was almost impossible to not get to know everyone in the class. I’d spent most of my life in a small town in southern Oregon, but at Notre Dame, I got to know so many people with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Plus, attending Notre Dame football games in 1993 and 1994 wasn’t too shabby either!