Terumi Echols, previously IVP's director of finance and fulfillment operations, assumed the role of president and publisher of IVP in September 2021. Before coming to IVP, Echols worked for nearly two decades at Christianity Today International, with roles including chief publishing officer and publisher of Christianity Today. Read this interview to learn more about her story, her professional experience, and her vision for IVP's future. You can also read more in IVP's press release and in Christianity Today's profile on her career.
Terumi Echols: I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a lovely neighborhood that, although it was surrounded by areas where there was a gang influence, people took care of their homes and looked out for each other. It was about a four-block square area, and I remember it as beautiful and very much like "it takes a village to raise a child." If you did something wrong, you could easily be punished by the mom two or three doors down from your house as you could by your own mom. Going to school had its challenges since as mixed raced children we did not easily fit into a specific group. We were not Caucasian enough or Black enough. My sister and I were often teased and had to fight our way home from time to time.
Echols: My mom is the most important person in my life because she is an overcomer. She was eighteen years old when she came from Japan. She had to learn to cook, clean, and take care of a family. My parents divorced when I was nine, and she had to go to work full time to take care of and provide for four kids. We didn't have a lot of things and sometimes food was scarce, but we didn't know it. As kids we thought we had enough to share with others. I get my driven nature from her. We actually went to college together for a while. She's so smart and computer savvy. She has taught me to persevere, to always take a learning posture, to be willing to try new things, and to make lemonade out of lemons. She also taught me that I had a responsibility for those who came after me. My work, my efforts, and how I behaved could impact the opportunities of the next Black person. I often say that when I grow up, I want to be like her.
Another person who has deeply impacted my life is my husband. He is the principal of a high school and encounters so many diverse issues that I am often amazed at the ease with which he handles them. He is a gifted listener, something who won me over when we were dating. He is an incredible example of a leader, and he is one of the best people managers that I know. He is my go-to person when I need advice or an ear to simply hear. I am truly blessed because he is the embodiment of everything that I prayed for when I prayed for a husband.
Echols: It was a bit of an accidental career. I was attending Wheaton Christian Center, and I had gotten to a point in my life where I wanted to use my gifts in ministry. Naively, I wasn't sure how God might use an accountant, but I prayed and told him that if he could find a way, I would be willing. Two or three days later, I saw a job listing for a business administrator (accountant) at Christianity Today, and the rest is history.
I moved throughout CT in various roles as God refined me and my skills, even becoming vice president of sales and publisher of what was called the Active Christians Media Group. My final role at Christianity Today was chief publishing officer and executive vice president. Each time I wondered, why me? God was so faithful, and he used each position to teach and mold me. As I look back over my career, I can see what he was doing. I could have missed it if I kept saying no. I have learned to be open to his plans and not mine, and to be willing to go where he directs.
Echols: Jeff Crosby [IVP's previous publisher] and I met at a meeting that included multiple editors and people within publishing roles to discuss how IVP and CT could address the changing landscape of publishing, including reaching more ethnically diverse audiences. Apparently, we were in a small group, and he remembered me from our table discussion. When he was preparing to become publisher, he was planning to reorganize and develop a new role, which would become the director of finance and fulfillment operation. We spoke off and on for over a year before the job description was finalized.
I took time to pray about the position and IVP since I had decided previously to "rest and retire." I applied and interviewed with numerous people. I have never undergone as many interviews as I did here at IVP. It gave me an opportunity to meet many of the people that I would interacting with day to day. I also met Audrey, who took the time to write Jeff a note about her encounter with me. In many ways, I credit Audrey as the person who made the final push of the "Let's hire her" arrow in my direction.
God was so faithful, and he used each position to teach and mold me. As I look back over my career, I can see what he was doing. I could have missed it if I kept saying no. I have learned to be open to his plans and not mine, and to be willing to go where he directs.
Echols: The most rewarding experiences have been mentoring staff and helping them learn and grow, recognizing and seeing their potential in areas that they may not see, challenging them, and walking alongside them to reach a goal.
Echols: Originally, I did not consider the position because I had previously been a publisher and understood the rigors of the role, and God's direction seemed unclear. It is extremely important for me to feel led by him. I have found that it allows me to do my best work.
I had a few people ask if I planned to apply, and my response was no. I also had several people that I respected request that I apply for the position. Again, I said no, and then later thought I should remain open to God's leading while in my mind still thinking no. My husband also said no when I told him about the requests. Slowly, I believe God began working on both of us. A friend and colleague discussed the what if's with me, and she suggested that I use the application and interviews as a part of my discernment process. I was beginning to waiver, and my husband changed his mind out of nowhere. He told me he thought I should apply for the position, so I did.
The entire selection process, interviews, and reference checks were managed well by Carter Baldwin. They asked probing questions both about my background, skills, and management style. My prayer after each step was "Lord, you know what IVP needs, and I want what's best for IVP and its staff whether it is me or someone else. If it is me, make it clear. If it isn't me, help me to serve you well and support the person you choose to the very best of my abilities."
The most rewarding experiences have been mentoring staff and helping them learn and grow, recognizing and seeing their potential in areas that they may not see.
Echols: I have so many hopes for IVP. I will only name a few.
First, I hope IVP will be a place where people flourish. I want the staff to feel encouraged in their work and to find joy in what they do. We all have things within our roles that we do not like doing, but it is my hope that everyone finds enough of what they like doing to come back to work each day energized and engaged.
Next, I hope to create an environment of authenticity where we collaborate well, are willing to have disagreements and work toward solutions, and learn to forgive hurts quickly, understanding that we will make missteps in how we communicate with one another, and each of us is better when we work toward our goals a cohesive community.
I hope to create an organic structure that will help release potential for growth throughout IVP. We need to adapt and evolve as a ministry and find ways to identify and release the innovator in each of us.
I also hope to continue to see us expand IVP's reach. I want to us to serve all churches and do more with and for minority churches by finding ways to build relationships and partner with them. We need to be open-handed and learn from each other. These relationships will take time because we need to build trust, so we must learn to be patient and invest ourselves without focusing on a one-year or two-year ROI.
Next, I hope to expand IVP's reach internationally. I like the idea of translations, but my dream would be to have IVP books in every English-speaking country.
It is my hope that IVP would be a leader and a beacon to others in publishing.
Finally, IVP has so much to offer. It is my hope that IVP would be a leader and a beacon to others in publishing. It is my hope that God will use the men and women here to create change in the church, to challenge, educate, and guide the body of Christ. In my mind, IVP can be a catalyst for peace, understanding, and reconciliation. How great would that be?