In the wake of David Davidar's sudden departure from Penguin Group (Canada) and some mixed messages about plans for future leadership of the company, people in the Canadian book industry are watching closely to see if Penguin will follow through with hiring a new president for its Canadian subsidiary.
When Penguin Canada first announced Davidar's departure June 8, it said Penguin Canada would report directly to David Shanks, the CEO of Penguin USA, but that the Canadian publishing program would not be affected by the reorganization. That announcement was greeted with dismay in Canada, displaced only by the shock that Davidar had, in fact, been asked to leave because a sexual harassment suit had been filed against him. Penguin Canada has since promised that a new head of the company will be hired, but the first suggestion shook confidence in the industry about Penguin's commitment to Canadian publishing.
"It's such a flip-flop for them to say they weren't actually going to have a Canadian president to them now saying they will," said agent Jackie Kaiser of Westwood Creative Artists, who said she found the first announcement disturbing. "Is it going to be a temporary maneuver to keep the company in a strong position during this tumultuous time? Or is it truly some kind of recognition that a Canadian publishing company could do without a Canadian president? Even Simon & Schuster Canada, which doesn't have a publishing program, has a Canadian president. It really gets into that branch plant mentality."
Penguin Canada's situation is especially difficult because, aside from Davidar's absence, publisher Nicole Winstanley will soon be going on maternity leave, which in Canada can be up to a year long. Winstanley had already been handling rights queries following the departure of rights and contracts director Lisa Rundle, who filed the harassment suit against Davidar. "Any queries regarding rights were going to Nicole, so she not only has to plan for how acquisitions decisions will be made while she's off, but also how the whole rights and contracts side will be handled while she's away," Kaiser pointed out.
Both Kaiser and agent Shaun Bradley of the Transatlantic Literary Agency agreed that it is important for Penguin to hire a president for Canada again as soon as possible. Bradley said that although Penguin's staff is very competent, the current situation is not good for business. "There's a lot of uncertainty there, and it would make me a little cautious in terms of signing up an author to be thrown into that situation because you don't know what the ramifications are going to be," she said. "I usually pitch to the editor, but I don't know what their approval process is going to look like any more," she explained. The company, Kaiser added, "would be under tremendous strain if they enter the fall without having somebody on board."
Still, it will not be easy to find a new president to replace the India-born Davidar, who was highly regarded for his literary tastes. "It's one of those jobs that you simply have to have a certain amount of experience under your belt to be able to do," said Bradley. "If they want to pull from Canada, there's only a small range of people that have that kind of experience or have had enough experience that they can move to the next level without too much difficulty."
Cynthia Good, who preceded Davidar as president and publisher of Penguin Canada, might be one of those people. But Good, who is now the director of the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber College, said she is content teaching and wouldn't look to return to Penguin. She did say that she thinks it is important for Penguin to hire from within the country this time. "David had been a good hire, and speaking about him professionally, he did a lot for Penguin. They are in great shape in terms of the books they publish, the authors they've attracted," she said. "They're Penguin, you know, they will survive," added Good. "It's a fantastic brand and they will rise above this tragedy, but in order to do that, I think the best possible choice would be to find someone appropriate from Canada who can lead them out of this dark time and look into the brightness that's there within their list of books and the great people who work there."