Joanna Prior Succeeds Anthony Forbes Watson as Pan Macmillan CEO

In News by Porter Anderson

A major move for women in book publishing leadership, Joanna Prior moves from Penguin Random House UK to helm Pan Macmillan in London.

Joanna Prior

Joanna Prior. Image: Penguin Books

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

Weisberg: ‘A Leader Who is Inclusive and Mission-Focused’
In one of the most elevated executive appointments for a woman in publishing, Joanna Prior today (September 30) has been named to succeed Anthony Forbes Watson as CEO of Pan Macmillan in London.

Prior has been managing director of Penguin General Books at Penguin Random House UK for the last 12 years where she has led the growth of an award-winning publishing house.

During that time, Penguin General has doubled in size, added new imprints, has won Publisher of the Year in 2019, has won the Women’s Prize for Fiction twice and the Booker Prize for Fiction for Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, and has been responsible for many successful publications including Michelle Obama’s Becoming, President Obama’s A Promised Land, and Richard Osman’s franchise The Thursday Murder Club.

Prior also plays an active role in the wider industry, as a past president of the Publishers Association, previously chair of the Consumer Publishing Group and chair of World Book Day.  She’s currently chair of the Women’s Prize Trust and vice-chair of the National Literacy Trust.

In England’s book business leadership, The Bookseller’s Mark Chandler points out, Prior now joins Perminder Mann at Bonnier Books UK as a rare woman top executive at one of the United Kingdom’s major publishers.

Don Weisberg

In a prepared statement, Don Weisberg, CEO at Macmillan Publishers, says, “Joanna’s reputation as an industry trailblazer is far-reaching.

“Her blend of creative talent and commercial acumen is evident in the successes at Penguin General.  She is results-driven and ambitious for the books and authors while having a reputation for being a leader who is inclusive and mission-focused.

“I’m looking forward to working with her as she joins as its leader Pan Macmillan’s formidable team.”

Stefan von Holtzbrinck

Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of Holtzbrinck Publishing Company, says, “I am more than happy that we could convince Joanna to continue her journey of great success and creative agility with Pan Macmillan as its new CEO.

“Her track record and experience, her integrity and the values she stands for are the best possible fit for the helm of this independent British publishing house with world-wide recognition.

Watson steps down from his role as CEO with Pan Macmillan saying it’s on course for a record year.

Media messaging this morning says that he has “decided that the time has come for him to make room for a fresh pair of eyes and to give him time to pursue other interests. He will however continue his close association with the group and become an advisor to Stefan von Holtzbrinck and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.”

Watson assumed the post at Pan Macmillan in May 2008.

“His tenure has been marked by strong and consistent growth, innovative thinking, decisive leadership, and the development of incomparable talent in all facets of the business,” the company’s statement reads.

“As a result Pan Macmillan is a very different company today than it was 13 years ago.”

Prior: ‘Something That Was Irresistable’

As it turns out, Prior began her career in publishing at Pan Mac.

Tom Weldon

In a preapred comment for today’s news, she says, “I have spent 23 incredibly happy years at Penguin, first in publicity and marketing roles and for the last 12 leading the remarkable team at Penguin General. The decision to leave was not an easy one but Pan Macmillan is a company I’ve always admired; it is in fact where I had my first permanent job in publishing.

“The offer to lead a business of this size and reputation, with a commitment to publishing the very best books of all kinds is something that was irresistible. We’ve all seen just how important books are to culture and society over the last difficult year-and-a-half and I’m honored to take up this role to lead Pan Macmillan in the next phase of its growth and success.”

Tom Weldon, the CEO of Penguin Random House UK, is quoted, saying, “Jo will be much missed at Penguin Random House but we only wish her happiness and success in her new role as CEO of Pan Macmillan.

“While we will now be competitors at work, we will remain the best of friends outside of it. Good luck, Jo.”

Holtzbrinck: Watson ‘Set the Sails of Pan Macmillan’

In some background offered on the decision to appoint Prior, Weisberg says, “During one of our first conversations, I asked Anthony what made PanMac the success it is.

Anthony Forbes Watson

“Without hesitating, he answered, ‘We are a winning team of talented individuals.’ It took no time at all for me to see how true that is. But it also became quickly evident that the admiration and respect Anthony has for the team he built is reciprocal.

“Pan Mac’s 13-year track record under his leadership is distinguished by collective achievement, reflected in the company being named Publisher of the Year in three out of the last six years. Under Anthony’s stewardship, Pan Mac has established a constant and ever-growing presence on the bestseller lists and a stellar list of authors. That the company is focused, creative, and a wonderful home to its authors is undeniable. But, equally, Anthony has made sure that Pan Mac is also a special place to work.

“I’ve learned that and a great deal more listening to him this past year and am grateful to have had the benefit of Anthony’s support and guidance. I will miss him.”

About Watson, Holtzbrinck says, “Anthony’s tenure for more than 10 years was one of the luckiest strikes for Pan Macmillan and Holtzbrinck.  He strengthened with his intellect and foresight a 150-year old legacy, and as an outstanding publisher and a modern leader, he set the sails of Pan Macmillan for a very bright future.”

And Watson is quoted, saying, “Of my 45 years in trade publishing, my time at Pan Macmillan has been the happiest: independent-minded and communal, grounded and vocational, its people have transformed the company from an also-ran into a winner, remaining human, kind, and true to its values, while making all sorts of new friends and partners, and landing quite a few trophies, along the way.

“I’ve been proud to lead by consent and it has been a privilege to have been a part of something so special for so long. I’m particularly grateful, too, to Stefan and Don for their unfailing support.  Now is the right time for everyone at Pan Mac to be refreshed and renewed by new leadership, and for me to give my time to other things.”

More on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here, and more on Macmillan and its companies is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here. 

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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.