The departure of Madeline McIntosh, who has led the country’s largest book publisher since 2018, is the latest shake-up for the company during a turbulent period.
Jan. 31, 2023Updated 11:27 a.m. ET
Madeline McIntosh, one of the most powerful figures in American book publishing, is stepping down from her role as chief executive of Penguin Random House U.S., the company announced on Tuesday.
The announcement comes during a time of great turbulence for Penguin Random House, by far the country’s largest book publisher. Markus Dohle, who was the chief executive of Penguin Random House, and McIntosh’s boss, resigned from his position in December.
The company also lost a bid last year to buy Simon & Schuster, a large rival publishing house, after the government successfully sued to stop the deal on antitrust grounds. The deal’s collapse cost Penguin Random House a $200 million termination fee, in addition to enormous legal costs. Dohle had overseen the attempted acquisition.
McIntosh has been the head of Penguin Random House U.S. since 2018. Before that, she held a variety of roles at the company, which she first joined almost 30 years ago. She also worked briefly at Amazon.
Her departure was reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal.
In a memo to the company’s staff, McIntosh said she would not leave right away but would work with Nihar Malaviya, the interim chief executive of Penguin Random House, to ensure an orderly transition. She said she had no concrete plans for what to do next.
In an interview on Tuesday, she said that even though five years might seem like a short tenure as chief executive, it had been “an intense five years.”
“I don’t like the idea of sticking in one spot or doing one job forever,” she said.
McIntosh said that the collapse of the merger didn’t influence her decision to step down, but that after the trial’s conclusion, she felt ready to embark on a new phase of her career. “It’s a really good inflection point for the company as well as for me,” she said. “Having the trial behind us, having new leadership in place, it’s a good time for all of us to pivot our way forward.”
In a memo to the company, Malaviya acknowledged that “changes like this naturally create unease.” He said he would move as quickly as possible to name a successor and would try to minimize disruptions to the company and its employees.
At trial last year, as Penguin Random House defended its bid to buy Simon & Schuster, the company revealed it had been losing market share in recent years and that it hoped that acquiring Simon & Schuster would help to recover some of the lost ground. With that deal off the table, Penguin Random House will have to find another way to expand.
There were also signs of tension between the company’s top executives at the trial. During his testimony, Dohle was asked about a comment he made to colleagues that Penguin Random House had messed up its products following the 2013 merger, and complaints he had made about there being too many layers of management.
The company remains a hugely powerful force in the business. It publishes acclaimed literary novelists like Kazuo Ishiguro and Colson Whitehead, blockbuster commercial authors like Dan Brown and E L James, and children’s classics by Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss. This month, it said that Prince Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” sold more than 1.43 million copies in the U.S., Canada and Britain on its first day, including presales.
But shortly after that book’s release, another longtime executive said she was leaving the company. Gina Centrello, the president of Random House, the division that published “Spare,” announced she was retiring.
Throughout her long career in publishing, McIntosh has shown a canny ability to adapt to technological change, a striking quality in an industry that’s not known for being cutting edge. She got her start in publishing as a temporary assistant to an editor at HarperCollins, then found a permanent position at Norton. In 1994, she joined Bantam Doubleday Dell, a division of Bertelsmann, in the company’s new media development, and later was put in charge of online sales.
In time, she became the head of Random House Audio, which also became a fast-growing format. She shocked many in the industry when she took a job at Amazon in 2008, as the director of content for the international rollout of its e-reader. That job, she said, convinced her that publishing needed to be more technologically savvy to thrive.
She returned to Random House a year and a half later, as the president of sales, operations and digital, and later became the company’s chief executive in the United States.
As the head of the company’s U.S. business, McIntosh stood out from may of her peers at other major publishing houses. In an industry that has a reputation for being old-fashioned and relationship-driven, McIntosh was known for being more detached, analytical and data driven.
Her tenure was not always smooth: McIntosh oversaw some unpopular changes, including merging publishing divisions and closing imprints, driving out some influential editors who were known as tastemakers. Among them were Molly Stern, as well as Julie Grau and Cindy Spiegel, who started their own independent publishing companies, becoming competitors of Penguin Random House.
McIntosh said she has not yet made any decisions about what she’ll pursue next, or whether she will remain in the publishing business. “What I’m really itching to do is to try something new and different,” she said.
Although some see worrying signs of stagnation in the industry, she said, she sees potential for a surge in innovation, particularly in digital sales and marketing.
“We’re at a really interesting period where the consumers have proved that they want books,” she said, “and the opportunities are there for us to grab in terms of thinking of new and ever more innovative ways to connect them with books.”