By Roger Tagholm
Book fairs are always about hellos and goodbyes. This year’s marks the last for Little, Brown UK’s Chief Operating Officer, David Kent, who leaves the business this Friday after 38 years with the company. His is one of the most familiar faces in the hall and it will seem odd to pass the stand next year and not see him greeting overseas visitors.
The last few months have been something of an extended leaving party for Kent. He has visited Little, Brown’s offices around the world, saying his farewells, something that the firm alluded to at his “official” leaving party in London recently. “They all wore T-shirts saying ‘David Kent World Tour’ with a list on the back: ‘Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bungay…’ Where? The last, of course, is home to UK printers, Clays.
“What was really special was that David Young [his former boss at Little, Brown UK, now running Hachette US], who couldn’t be there because he was at a meeting in New York, gave a message on a big screen at the venue. Then, a minute later, he walked in.”
Kent joined the book industry in 1975 as a trainee rep with Sphere, but at one point may have had another, very different career. A passionate motorcyclist, in the early ’80s he was one of the top 15 Enduro riders in the UK and came close to turning professional. The enthusiasm never left him and when Little, Brown signed Charley Boorman and Ewan MacGregor for their epic African bike journey, Kent was the perfect man to sell the project.
Those who know Kent, will not be surprised to learn that motorcycling features heavily in his retirement plans. “Charley now takes people on six-week off-road trips on BMW 1200s from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. I’m going to be joining him a roadie on one of these, going through the bush which is fabulous.”
But of course, someone with Kent’s long experience will not be severing his links with the business entirely. He is establishing David Kent Connect to take on a small amount of consultancy, and his clearly relishing the greater freedom he will now have.
“I always said I wanted to leave the industry while I was still young enough to do other things, and I started making plans to achieve that a long time ago. It will be a clean break – I won’t be at Frankfurt this year – but I would quite like to go to Frankfurt next year. It’s been quite a few weeks – I think I’ve been through every emotion.”