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The Stakeholders: Perspectives on Leadership and Excellence. The stakeholders series features seasoned professionals sharing their perspectives on leadership, factors that led to their success, and what drives them to excel in life and career.Headshot of Lisa DeSisto

Lisa DeSisto
CEO and Publisher
Portland Press Herald


Lisa oversees the companies that publish five daily newspapers in Maine – the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal, Sun Journal and Times Record – and their websites.

What’s one challenge – internal or external – that you’re anticipating and preparing for in the next year?

My biggest challenge internally: Staying connected in our new hybrid world. To be an employer of choice, it’s essential to offer flexibility to employees. But in our business not every position offers that flexibility – you can’t operate a press from your living room. So I worry about the inequity. And I miss the random conversations with people when we’re not in person. Hybrid work is here to stay and I support that but I sure miss seeing everyone face to face. It’s really bizarre that we’ve hired people over the last three years whom I haven’t met in person or I’ve only seen once. From a business performance perspective, we’re doing fine but are employees less engaged? Is it harder to build a strong culture in a hybrid work world?

Externally: Biggest challenge is workforce. We’ve written about it extensively – where has everyone gone? We all know Maine was headed for a workforce shortage but the pandemic seemed to accelerate that with more people punching out early. We struggle to find folks to work in entry level positions in our distribution center and it’s really difficult to find newspaper carriers. The days of kids delivering papers is long gone as our carriers are on the road from 1am to 6am. We are frustrated when we can’t get readers their paper by 6am. And while our digital audience at the PPH is larger than our print audience, we want to put a physical paper in the hands of readers who want it. Newspapers across the country are struggling with this same challenge. Welcome any suggestions on how to solve this problem!

What advice would you offer someone just starting out in your field?

It’s critical for reporters to be curious. Finding the truth requires curiosity and the drive to keep asking questions. Curiosity is a trait that is essential for so many positions in our business. For our sales reps, asking questions to local businesses, understanding what their challenges are – you’ve got to know this information and be able to craft effective marketing solutions to get them as a lifelong customer. For anyone starting out, read as much as possible. Be informed. Build a network. Connect with others in your field in other markets. Share best practices. Always raise your hand to do things beyond your job description.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned from a teacher or mentor?

Focus on what matters. Anyone can be busy. But did you spend your time on the issues that are most important to your business? Sometimes at the end of the day, I ask myself if I accomplished the important things I set out to do at the beginning of the day. It’s astonishing how easily you can get distracted by things that eat up your time but don’t move you closer to your goals.

What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn in that role?

I worked at Harrow’s Chicken Pies in Reading, Massachusetts. It’s still there! I learned I love being busy. I’d rather have a line of people than stand around and wait for customers. I like to show people that I respect their time and can quickly and energetically fill their order. Customer service. I love good customer service. I also love to upsell. A dozen Parker House rolls with your chicken pie today? To this day, I love to connect with our readers and assist them with customer service issues and get their feedback on what we can do better. I also love to surprise people with how fast I can respond to their messages. And if someone sends me a nasty gram via email, I prefer to pick up the phone and call them back. It’s harder to be cranky on the phone or in person. Making personal connections with readers helps to deepen their relationship with us.

Photo of Lisa with her dog, Bolt

Lisa with her home-work-home companion, Bolt.

What’s your favorite place on earth?

My favorite place on earth is Great Pond on the Belgrade Lakes. We have rented the same place since 2005 and my entire extended family comes together for one week in August. We started coming here before I moved to Maine. Eating. Puzzling. Fishing. Scrabble. One of the selling points to move to Maine was we’d be closer to Belgrade for the summer. Some of the best family memories are from Great Pond.