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Which Publishing Industry Executive Do You Most Admire?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Publishing, if it’s to thrive in these turbulent times, requires capable leaders. Tell us who you admire and why.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

handshakeLeadership is a hard to define quality — thousands of author’s have tried — and it is often in the eye of the beholder. Depending on who you ask, some think US President Barack Obama has it, others insist he doesn’t. When you ask people about Vladimir Putin, some see a “strong” leader, others see a bully. Venezeuala’s Hugo Chavez and his friend Fidel Castro have managed to hang on to power for decades despite inciting the ire of their much larger, more powerful neighbor to the north. Meanwhile, across the world in Japan — a country where being “polite” is in the cultural DNA — they’ve had, what? Fourteen prime ministers in the last half dozen years…

Of course, these are politicians, not publishers. Publishing has it’s own particular culture and its leaders, we hope, are cut from a somewhat different cloth—less pinstripes and more tweed.

And, naturally, publishing executives are not above reproach. Just look at today’s feature story about WHSmith, several publishing executives offer simultaneous praise and criticism for Kate Swann, Smith’s CEO, who is credited with helping the high street retailer persist amidst a recession and the proverbial ”death of high street” hyperbole. Of course, she’s done this by focusing on “efficiency” and pushing publishers for better and better margins, something which raises it’s own cries of “foul” from within the industry.

Across the Atlantic in the United States, Barnes & Noble’s CEO William Lynch has been widely admired for helping to attract a $800 million investment from Microsoft, recently bolstered by another $89.5 million from Pearson, into its NOOK Media business. But, when it was reported last year that his personal income would jump from approximately $1.5 million to more than $15 million in the same time frame that company was challenging other employee bonuses, he simultaneously lost some fans within his firm and won some on Wall Street.

When Markus Dohle, a former head of Bertelsmann’s printing division, was given charge of Random House several years ago, people wondered aloud “what the hell?” But now it’s acknowledged that the broadly smiling, hand-shake pumping German has kept a steady hand on the wheel at America’s biggest publisher (not to mention keeping them out of the DOJ’s Agency pricing debacle).

So tell us, which publishing executive do you most admire? Is it Macmillan’s John Sargent who makes his tough decisions while working out and stood up to Amazon and, subsequently, the DOJ? Is it Penguin’s John Makinson who saw an opportunity to merge his company with another global power player, while sidestepping future turmoil at his parent company?

Or, speaking of women in particular, is it perhaps Open Road Media’s Jane Friedman who has carved a digital business out of neglected contemporary backlist classics and foreign partnerships? Or Dominique Raccah of Chicago’s Sourcebooks who has parlayed her charisma and persistence into transforming her mid-sized house into a digital publishing petri dish??

Maybe it’s…wait for it…Jeff Bezos?

Whether it’s unsung exec from a low-profile, out-of-the way company that is forging a new direction for the business or someone who has kept their nose clean and simply continues producing good, profitable books, tell us who it is you admire.

Or, if you’re feeling cheeky, who you don’t.

And don’t forget to tell us why.

We look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.