Relief was the prevailing sentiment in response to last week's announcement by Penguin Group that it had named longtime Penguin executive Mike Bryan to succeed David Davidar as president of Penguin Canada. Agents were relieved that Penguin appears to be honoring its commitment to Canadian publishing while Penguin management was relieved to put the entire Davidar episode behind it.
In explaining the choice of Bryan, Penguin chairman John Makinson said Bryan was "one of Penguin's most seasoned and schooled executives." David Shanks, Penguin USA CEO, to whom Bryan will report, has worked with Bryan for 14 years and is confident Bryan will keep Penguin Canada moving forward. Referring to Bryan's experience in establishing new Penguin companies in different parts of the world, Shanks said, "Over the years, Mike has shown the ability to get to a new place, see what needs to be done, and then get the job done. At Penguin Canada, he obviously doesn't need to start a new company, but I'm sure he will do what is needed to make things better."
Shanks said Bryan will focus on the business and sales side of the business, with Nicole Winstanley, named publisher in January, focused on the editorial. To help ensure that Penguin Canada remains attuned to the needs of Canadian readers, Penguin will soon name a chairman to a new Penguin Canada board. Makinson said he has already selected the person and is waiting for him to clear up some business matters before making the announcement. The board "will help inform us on our Canadian strategy," Makinson said.
The new management structure also completes the shift of Penguin Canada from a company with ties to Pearson Education to a publisher now firmly in the Penguin camp. As Makinson explained, Pearson Education had been doing much of the back-office for Penguin Canada for years, and while that will still be the case, the editorial side now runs through Penguin. Specifically, Penguin Canada and Penguin USA will work closer on many current major issues (such as digital publishing). In the digital publishing world "borders mean less and less," Shanks said, while stressing that Penguin Canada will continue to operate its own Canadian publishing operation. Under the new structure, Shanks added, Penguin Canada's authors will be better positioned to be marketed abroad, both in the U.S. and overseas.
While agents acknowledged they don't know much about Bryan, they were hopeful that with a Penguin background similar to Davidar's (both joined Penguin Canada after heading Penguin India) he will do what Davidar did for the publisher until his controversial exit. "Mike brings phenomenal experience from various other countries, so I think he will be well received in Canada," said Bruce Westwood, president and CEO of Westwood Creative Artists. "If this were the first time [a new president was coming from overseas], we would wonder what was happening, but look what David Davidar did for the Canadian operation over six years. He put Penguin on the map here."
Sam Hiyate, founder of the Rights Foundry in Toronto, also made the Davidar-Bryan connection. "[Bryan] seems like a good candidate," Hiyate said. "I'd like to meet him and see what his vision is for Penguin Canada. I think Davidar came with a very strong mission to turn the company around. He was very charismatic, and because of his experience launching Penguin India, he was kind of a dynamo. It's interesting that Mike is kind of the follow-up guy—they sent him to run Penguin India after Davidar, and now they're sending him to run Penguin Canada after Davidar."
The immediate question for agents is how long Bryan will take to familiarize himself with Canadian publishing. "He may be familiar with his corporation, but there's going to be a big learning curve in terms of learning who the people in the industry are and getting a general sense of the landscape," said Shaun Bradley of the Transatlantic Literary Agency. "That can be incredibly exciting, but it also takes time. But certainly, having been with the company for as long as he has cuts down on that learning curve."