The country’s dominant book publisher is shuffling its executive ranks next month, with the long-time CEO of Penguin Random House Canada, Brad Martin, leaving the company to make way for his heir apparent, Kristin Cochrane.
Ms. Cochrane, who was named president and publisher of Penguin Random House Canada in 2015, will add the job of chief executive to her responsibilities. A staff announcement from Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House Worldwide, noted she would also join the company’s global executive committee.
A voracious reader, Ms. Cochrane was already widely regarded as the most powerful person in Canadian publishing. The demands of the new job, which oversees sales, finance, operations, human resources, communications, marketing and publicity, as well as publishing programs, may make it more difficult for her to work directly with authors, as she enjoys doing.
“Kristin is an exceptional publisher, with a keen understanding of what books will matter to readers, both now and in the future,” said Rania Husseini, executive vice-president of print at retailer Indigo, said in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail. “Her passion for books and reading is clear to anyone who meets her. Indigo has had a deep and longstanding relationship with Kristin and we are delighted for her as she takes on this new role.”
Mr. Martin leaves as the Canadian division of Penguin Random House comes off a series of critical and commercial successes. Five of the 12 nominees on the long list for last year’s Giller Prize were PRH Canada authors, as was the eventually winner, Michael Redhill (for Bellevue Square).
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel that is on the company’s backlist, has been flying off the shelves, propelled by a critically acclaimed TV adaptation. And PRH Canada is enjoying an unlikely boost to its bottom line as the supplier to the American market of the internet phenom Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life, after no U.S. publisher picked up the book.
In addition to the legacy Penguin and Random House imprints, PRH Canada brands include Hamish Hamilton, Allen Lane, McClelland & Stewart, Vintage and Viking. Its authors are a Who’s Who of Canadian literary publishing, among them Michael Ondaatje, Omar El Akkad, Margaret Atwood, Michael Redhill, Madeleine Thien, Sean Michaels, Padma Viswanathan, and Jann Arden, whose memoir, Feeding My Mother, is a current Globe and Mail bestseller.
The company did not make any either Mr. Martin or Ms. Cochrane available for comment, and declined a request from The Globe to speak with Mr. Dohle, who flew in to Toronto from New York to address local employees about the changes.
Mr. Martin, who retires on June 30, has been in the business for 37 years, working his way up from sales representative at McClelland & Stewart in 1981 to the top position at Penguin Canada in 1996. Later moving to Bantam Doubleday Canada, which merged with Random House, he became CEO of Random House Canada in 2007. When the worldwide operations of Bertelsmann’s Random House and Pearson PLC’s Penguin Group were merged in 2013, Mr. Martin remained in the top job of the combined company’s Canadian division.
“He’s been spectacularly good at what he does,” said Dean Cooke, an agent who previously worked with Mr. Martin at Doubleday Canada, and whose personal clients include John Irving, Cherie Dimaline, Lorinda Stewart and Robert Munsch.
“One of the things I was always impressed by was his facility with numbers. You could ask him about a book 20 years ago, and he would tell you how many copies it had sold. Somebody with that depth of knowledge is not easily replaced.”
Mr. Cooke suggested that among Ms. Cochrane’s primary challenges will be the roiling retail landscape, with Indigo as the dominant legacy player in Canada likely to face increasing competition from Amazon. He noted that large players such as Penguin Random House may be better off in such an environment. “If you want to go into a negotiation with an Amazon, you need to be big or you’re going to get slapped around.”