While Jane Friedman’s resignation from HarperCollins was a surprise, the appointment of Brian Murray to succeed her was not. Murray has been the heir apparent since his return from heading HC’s Australian operation; last year he was promoted to president of HC’s worldwide business. Murray, who has been heavily involved in HC’s international expansion and digital push, said he plans no major changes in the direction of the company. He said key decisions will be made with Michael Morrison and Victoria Barnsley, who were promoted to new positions last week. He acknowledged that his style and expertise are different from Friedman’s, and said there is a good team in place to continue to grow the company.
The company Murray is inheriting is one largely built by Friedman, who joined Harper in November 1997 following a tumultuous period for the publisher that was capped by a $270-million write-off to account for unearned advances and excess inventory in the fiscal year that ended in June. With the backing of News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch, Friedman set about rebuilding the company by first reestablishing HC’s credibility with authors and agents, and then, in 1999, overseeing the acquisition and integration of William Morrow.
The Morrow purchase was the only significant acquisition made during the Friedman years. To spark organic growth, in 2004 Friedman started Publishing+, an initiative aimed at exploring ways to move beyond traditional publishing thinking. Among the various projects that emerged was the decision to put all reference works under the Collins brand, which is now headed by Steve Ross. But Friedman’s most important legacy could be her decision to push HC into the digital and international arenas. In the past two years, HC has launched a digital warehouse, introduced its own book widget, took a stake in NewsStand (parent company of LibreDigital, creator of the warehouse) and developed a browse-inside-the book-feature for its Web site. On the international front, HC opened offices in India and China, and is exploring opening an office in South Africa.
Friedman’s management style was to hire the right people—nearly all the key executives were put in place by Friedman—and then give them plenty of autonomy. While that style generally worked, it backfired in late 2006 with Judith Regan’s O.J. Simpson project, If I Did It. After the book was canceled and Regan fired, Regan filed a $100-million lawsuit against HC and News Corp. that was settled in January.
Despite the Simpson mess, Friedman built Harper into one of the world’s largest and most profitable English-language publishers. Attesting to Friedman’s success in her decade at HC, Murray said, “I hope I can be half as effective as Jane.”