By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘I Will Always Be a Random Penguin’In what inevitably will be seen by many in the international publishing sphere as another valuable shoe falling, Madeline McIntosh this morning (January 31) has announced to the company that she will step down as CEO of the profoundly influential United States division of the world’s largest publisher.
This follows, of course, the December 9 news of PRH’s worldwide CEO Markus Dohle, following the United States antitrust case that blocked Bertelsmann’s and PRH’s attempt to acquire Simon & Schuster.
In her memo to the staff, McIntosh says, “I’m not leaving right away” and puts no specific time frame on her departure, so that, she says, she and Nihar Malaviya, the interim CEO in place following Dohle’s departure, can work “very closely together to determine the best plan for the U.S. organization going forward. I know you’ll be in good hands with Nihar and the US board. They know and love this business as much asI do. For the time being, all remains as usual.”
‘Publishing With the Penguins’
One of the traits most appreciated by her associates has been McIntosh’s frank and friendly communicative mode. You get very clearly in her memo why so many of her colleagues routinely mention this, as she writes:
“Of all the topics I’ve written to you about over the past five years, this one, personally, feels the hardest.
“My commitment to you has always been to be transparent and direct, so I am going to take the same approach now and get right to the point: I am stepping down from my position as your US CEO. …
“In the spirit of all we’ve been through together—not just these past five years but for some of us almost three decades (!)—I will share more about my thinking for those who want to know.
“Despite some of the epic challenges, there has always been so much joy for me in this work. Helping to win a new author; helping to break out a book; gathering a brain trust to solve a problem; breaking down walls and building trust among different teams; nurturing the development of a more diverse culture and one that supports even the most idiosyncratic of creative approaches. No matter what, I’ve always felt inspired to keep charging forward here in this place that has been my professional home for almost my whole adult life.
“So, why leave? For one thing, I don’t think CEOs should stay in their seats forever. Fresh perspectives can be incredibly healthy and helpful for organizations, and so I believe this is not only the best decision for me, but also for PRH. As much as I know we’d continue to thrive together with me here, I also think there’s good to be had in embracing change.
“The other reason is just about me and my own approach to professional growth. Even though I’ve spent so much of my life in a single company, my path through books has never been linear. From editorial, to new media, to sales, to audio, to Amazon (and Luxembourg!), to leadership of our digital transition, to the making of Penguin Random House, to publishing with the Penguins, and finally to this seat: It’s a road that would have been hard to plan for or predict. The points of my biggest pivots are exactly the ones that taught me the most.
“At the start of the year, when I logged back in after the holidays, one of the first emails I read was from The New Yorker. Titled “E-mail from Bill,” it was a profile of Bill Gates written by John Seabrook and originally published in 1994. This is the same article I sometimes refer to as having inspired editorial-assistant-me to make the leap into “new media.” That early move was one of several that scared me and surprised others, but which I never regretted. I’ve done well by listening carefully to my gut instinct, and now that’s telling me it’s time to head outside for my next set of lessons.
“You’ll be curious about what my next act will be, and, believe me, I am, too! There are ideas I’ve had over the years that have never found a natural fit within PRH, but which I’m excited to explore now. After all these years inside the safe and supportive home that is our company, I’m itching to make another leap.
“That’s it. Please know that I am here for every single one of you, now and in the future. Even after the point when I eventually hand over my badge, I will always be a random penguin, and I hope you will treat me as one, forever. If nothing else, you have to keep telling me what to read next.”
Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal was the first to write the news today, and he points out that McIntosh has made her announcement as the company has seen a decline in its market share.
“Penguin Random House commanded 20.7 percent of the US book market in 2022,” Trachtenberg writers, “far ahead of No. 2 HarperCollins Publishers, which had 10.8 percent, according to book tracker NPD BookScan. Five years ago, Penguin Random House’s market share was 22.2 percent.”
Interim CEO Malaviya has also issued a memo to the staff, praising her work and importance in the shaping of Penguin Random House, writing, in part, about her importance in the international publishing industry’s highest executive seat held by a woman.
“Recently, together with other colleagues and company leaders, she set the course for the US’ diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, understanding that publishing must be representative of society.
“As a company we have greatly benefited from her endless curiosity coupled with her drive to action, and I have no doubt that she will bring these wonderful attributes to her next venture.”
McIntosh in Venice: ‘They Are Going To Lead Us’
Just days ago, McIntosh was one of six speakers on the concluding round table of the Scuola per Librai Umberto e Elisabetta Mauri in Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini in the former San Giorgio Monastery, a program created 40 years ago as “a school for booksellers” by the Mauri family foundation, now overseen by executive director Nana Lohrengel.
Publishing Perspectives moderated this round table, and when we asked McIntosh for her thoughts on the theme of the conversation—the generational changes sweeping through much of book publishing—she spoke of how compelling this dynamic is in the United States, not least of course because many elements of the diversity question are so avidly embraced and pursued by younger consumers and publishing staffers.
“I think it’s particularly helpful to think in terms of the contrast between my generation which, at least in the US, would call me ‘Generation X.’ We came into the workforce in the early ’90s. And then there’s the generation of my children who are ‘Gen Z,’ so they’re either in college or about to enter the workforce.
“And certainly one of the notable differences is that my generation in the US was still majority-white, 59-percent white for Gen X, whereas Gen Z, that of my children, is minority-white.
“Fifty-five percent of Americans are people of color, and that change is absolutely accelerating. But that is only one of the very distinct differences between these two generations.”
McIntosh would go on to enumerate elements of distinction underlying generational upheaval today, both in our societies and in publishing, and we’ll have more of this for you in an upcoming report.
In conclusion, however, she told her audience of hundreds in the tapestry-lined 16th-century Salone degli Arazzi on Friday, “The thing I would leave you with is simply that this generation, Gen Z, we need to recognize that as publishers, we are not going to lead them. They are going to lead us. And that is our mission.
“If we want to continue to be successful,” she said, the requirement “is to be highly attuned to their needs and how they are expressing those needs and what they want to buy.
“I think that those who do meet them where they are—demographically, technologically, emotionally—those are the publishers and booksellers who will end up really reaping many rewards from this consumer because they do they want what we have.
“We just have to keep making sure that that we keep producing what they want.”