Macmillan: Don Weisberg To Succeed John Sargent as CEO; Susan Winslow Leads Learning

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With John Sargent’s departure set for January 1, Stefan von Holtzbrinck says the changeover is because of ‘disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.’

John Sargent at Frankfurter Buchmesse

John Sargent at Frankfurter Buchmesse 2018 in the Frankfurt Pavilion. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Johannes Minkus

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Von Holtzbrinck: ‘Grounded in Worthy, Essential Causes’
Many in world publishing are surprised this morning (September 17) as a series of top roles at Big Five publisher Macmillan undergo fast change.

Holtzbrinck in Stuttgart has announced “with great regret” that John Sargent will depart both Macmillan and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group as of January 1.

The reason for Sargent’s departure is described by the German corporation’s statement as “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.”

Don Weisberg, who currently is president of Macmillan US trade, has been named to succeed Sargent. And Susan Winslow, until now the company’s general manager, becomes president of Macmillan Learning, effective immediately.

Stefan von Holtzbrinck

In a prepared statement, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group CEO Stefan von Holtzbrinck says, “The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice.

“John’s principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of  speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on.”

The brief statement from von Holtzbrinck’s offices in Stuttgart also signals strong support for Weisberg, referring to him as a publishing executive of both the greatest reputation and experience.” Winslow, he says, is “a truly accomplished executive in higher education.

“Susan has been leading her team through a tense, rapidly-changing market with a strong grasp of every new facet and development, and we’re pleased she has accepted this important role.”

Sargent arrived at Holtzbrinck originally as chief of St. Martin’s Press, in 1996. He has led Macmillan as its top executive since 2012.

Weisberg: ”Optimistic About the Future’

In an internal memo sent this morning to Macmillan staffers, Weisberg writes”

“Earlier today our parent company, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group announced the departure of John Sargent from Holtzbrinck and Macmillan Publishers.

Don Weisberg

“Over the past 24 years, John has shaped Macmillan with his drive and integrity. He has put a strong company structure and management team in place, and his efforts have prepared us for this moment. On a personal note, I will miss John enormously. He has been a great leader, teacher, mentor, and friend.

“I have been appointed as John’s successor as CEO of Macmillan Publishers. John had been discussing plans for succession for some time, and I am honored to take on this role. I intend to continue the ideals and values that John established and lead Macmillan forward. John and I will work on the transition through the end of the year.

“While we are sad about John’s departure, we continue to be optimistic about the future and the importance of books in the world. Our relationship with you, as partners, is the cornerstone of what we do. Let’s share more great books with the world.”

Winslow: ‘A Champion of Diversity and Inclusion’

To many following issues of diversity and equity in publishing, Susan Winslow’s promotion to president of Macmillan Learning is of special interest. The new role makes her one of only a small number of women who lead educational publishing and ed-tech companies.

She has been general manager of the division for three years and has more than three decades of experience in educational publishing across the business.

A strong proponent of digital publishing accessibility, Winslow has presided over market-share gains for four years and–as Publishing Perspectives readers will recall–spearheaded Macmillan Learning’s success in being accredited by Benetech as “Global Certified Accessible.”

Susan Winslow

On the news today of her move to the presidency, Winslow says, “While the way learning is delivered has certainly changed, the need for and lifelong benefit of a good education has not.

“These unprecedented times have opened up the possibilities for better ways of learning. I’m so grateful to be able to lead Macmillan Learning right now

“I’d like to publicly thank John Sargent for his leadership, vision, the innumerable ways he has supported our team, and for his unfailing support of the employees who make up Macmillan.”

Prior to her most recent role as general manager, Winslow held roles as managing director, vice-president of marketing, and publisher in the STEM disciplines.

Material released by the company this morning reminds us, “As a senior leader in the organization, she has led teams through the reorganization and unification of multiple ed-tech and publishing companies–including Sapling, iClicker, WriterKey, and Bedford, Freeman, Worth–to one higher education division.

“She has long been a champion of diversity and inclusion at the company. ”

Political Realities and Publishing

As regards diversity, one of the recent news stories around John Sargent’s tenure at Macmillan was the June creation of a 13-person leadership team “to decide on the key issues for Macmillan Publishers.” This followed, of course, the huge US-centered protests against systemic racism and law-enforcement violence in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Macmillan employees were part of a “Day of Action” that called out the publishing industry’s racial disparities.

Reported by the company to have been devised by Sargent, Weisman and COO Andrew Weber, Sargent described this as a committee that would “form a different and more inclusive management team, representing a wider range of experiences.”

Our coverage of this development, should you like to review it, is here. It’s interesting in retrospect, of course, to note that the idea of the new committee was that Sargent would be stepping back “from day-to-day management to make room for new voices.”

It’s impossible to know from the Holtzbrinck announcement today what “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan” means. It’s not clear that that line or Sargent’s impending departure can be seen as related to that management-model adjustment of the summer.

Something you can know with certainty, however, is that Sargent became a local hero to many in the US publishing industry in early 2018 when he was the first of the big publishers to be challenged by Donald Trump’s attorneys. That’s when they tried to block the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury.

Next to the sheer gravitas of this week’s release of Bob Woodward’s Rage from Simon & Schuster–vaulting to No. 1 on the Amazon Charts for Most Sold nonfiction in its first week–the Wolff book looks rather lightweight. And, for that matter, Simon & Schuster’s Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump, the niece of Donald Trump, has had far more impact and is still the second Most Read nonfiction title on the Amazon Charts, after nine weeks on that list, real staying power in a crowded field.

But Sargent’s stinging rebuke of the White House and his eloquent support of the First Amendment freedom to publish still draw appreciation and admiration from his colleagues. His January stare-down of a president who now has made several more runs at publishers since then–and has never been able to stop a book’s publication–did the book business a service, setting a tone of utter defiance.

Sargent, in fact, would go on to accelerate the release of Wolff’s book in the face of Trump’s anger.

And in the ensuing years of Trump’s efforts to weaken and co-opt American institutions to his own political purposes, Sargent’s refusal to be cowed still is worth reading. He wrote, in part:

John Sargent

“There is no ambiguity here. This is an underlying principle of our democracy. We cannot stand silent.

“We will not allow any president to achieve by intimidation what our Constitution precludes him or her from achieving in court.

“We need to respond strongly for Michael Wolff and his book, but also for all authors and all their books, now and in the future. And as citizens we must demand that president Trump understand and abide by the First Amendment of our Constitution.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on John Sargent is here, more on Holtzbrinck is here, and more on Macmillan is here

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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