The sudden death of Carolyn Reidy yesterday morning left many in publishing stunned. Reidy had worked at Simon & Schuster since 1992 and had been CEO since 2008. During her tenure, Reidy steered the company through the Great Recession, publishing’s digital disruption, and a slow-growth sales environment to keep it a commercial and critical success.
In speaking with her over the years, it was clear how much Reidy enjoyed her job and what pride she took in publishing books well. She was also proud of her record of guiding S&S to 19 straight profitable quarters, a streak that was finally broken late last year. Like the best of publishers, Reidy was adept at combining commerce and culture, and she has left a legacy at S&S and the broader publishing world that will long be remembered.
Below are tributes from some of her fellow CEOs and other colleagues around the industry.
I was working at S&S when Carolyn came over from Avon. Her first day, she insisted on going to see all her new colleagues, one office at a time. No one had done that before.
Over the years, I watched her climb that most difficult of corporate ladders. She squared off at times with Jack Romanos and Dick Snyder, and I remember the joy when she won the top job. But we talked mostly about her books. She published lots of them, big and small, and she published them well. She cared deeply for the staff. And she loved every minute of being a publisher.
I was on the next phone over when Carolyn called Jeff Bezos to tell him about the Google Book Search Settlement Agreement. It was a short call. I was sitting on her right on the first day she was the chair of AAP. There was no bullshit, and the meeting ended on time.
There was Apple and agency. There was Amazon. There was the DOJ. There was her day in federal court. Right or wrong, she was shooting straight from beginning to end. We all watched as she battled for freedom of expression. There was real courage there.
Carolyn was a remarkable publisher, and we competed fiercely. But I always felt, even after all the years, she was up there in Rock Center, still rooting for me. Because she was like that.
I miss her now and always will.
—John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan
Friends at S&S have volunteered often how inspiring Carolyn Reidy was as a leader, and the fact is that she inspired her competitors too. Even from several blocks away, it was evident that she led Simon & Schuster with a compelling mix of brilliance, enthusiasm, compassion, and vision. The interviews she gave every quarter to Publishers Weekly were must-reads on the state of the business. In this post-DoJ world I didn’t get to know her closely—the only time we shared a lunch, there had to be a lawyer present—but in AAP board meetings and other gatherings, I got to see her great mind at work on the challenges our industry faces, and to see how fiercely she cared about every piece of it.
Just a couple weeks ago I got to see her, on FaceTime, to thank her for S&S’s generosity in supporting the Poets & Writers gala despite its cancellation. She looked cheerful in her home, and sounded an optimistic note about the eternal resilience of books. I’m grateful that, amid the tempest of challenges we’re living through, I have her voice in my head. And my heart goes out to all her family and colleagues and authors who loved her intensely.
—Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group
Carolyn was an incredibly generous colleague, even for those of us at other companies. While we never had a chance to work together directly, she was always one of the first people I’d hear from when there was a happy or a sad occasion. She was smart, warm, and emphatically full of life, which makes this terribly sad and shocking news all the harder to process. On behalf of everyone at Penguin Random House, our warmest thoughts are with Carolyn’s team at Simon & Schuster and we send our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.
—Madeline McIntosh, CEO of Penguin Random House US
Carolyn was a force of nature in trade publishing over this past generation in our business. She made Simon & Schuster an even greater and more influential place to publish, as well as to work. She was the “real deal,” and the driving visionary in bringing the pieces of their large and powerful business—including great kids’ book publishing, the literary panache of Scribner, the always commercial and smart S&S, as well as the other imprints she helped create and bought along the way—together masterfully.
Carolyn was a strong leader with a respected voice and an influential and much-admired executive and woman with great range, intellect, and joie de vivre. Her passing is a real loss for our business.
—Michael Jacobs, CEO of Abrams
We join our friends and colleagues on the AAP board, at Simon & Schuster, and across the global publishing community in mourning the loss of Carolyn Reidy. A former chairman of AAP, she was a giant among industry giants, and her undeniable poise, grace, and charm earned her the love and admiration of scores of people who had the privilege and pleasure to know her. Carolyn was a friend to me and I will miss her sorely.
—Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers
We deeply mourn Carolyn’s passing. She was a friend to authors, always willing to work with us and to listen to authors’ concerns. Without fail, we could count on Carolyn to be thoughtful, candid, and direct. She will be sorely missed. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Simon & Schuster community and to Carolyn’s friends and family for this tragic and untimely loss.
—Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild
She was an extraordinary woman, a force of nature. She held to the strictest standards, but you always saw her with a smile. Carolyn showed interest in the big executives at her company and at literary agencies, but also the folks who were far from the biggest executives. I always felt she was a tremendous businessperson, ran her staff with a tight fist, and also drew extremely strong work out of all.
I felt that in the Carolyn Reidy years, S&S became a kinder, gentler place. And that staff, for the most part, worked there with great pride. It may sound odd for an agent to say, but I felt that she was very pro-author—not that she catered to the whims of the authors, but that she was dedicated to using their best selves in smartly promoting their work, and she was dedicated to selling as aggressively as she could, proud of the list of authors each of her various imprints had developed.
I think that it is fair to say that her shoes will not soon be filled. She was unique. A successful corporate person with a very big heart. This has been a year of the most extraordinarily sorrowful losses in our industry, some of our best and most creative and admired professionals. I think there will be many candles lit for her.
—Gail Hochman, President of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents and of the Board of Directors of the Association of Authors' Representatives
Carolyn was one of the major forces in world publishing. As the CEO of the iconic Simon & Schuster, she not only published great books—she also was always looking around the next corner to find ways to innovate, create, distribute, and reach more readers. Carolyn hired great people and let them do their jobs.
Publishing has always been a challenging business, even before the pandemic. Carolyn was always ready to meet those challenges. We worked on dozens and dozens of books together, from Bob Woodward to Hillary Clinton. She came to the initial author meetings, provided comments on content, added her thoughts on publicity, and inspired new ways to market. She was always "hands on."
But most importantly, Carolyn was a wonderful person. Always greeting you with a booming "hello." Always with a word or action of kindness when one was required. Always inspiring hard work and loyalty. She asked the hard questions, but she always listened to the answers.
Along with many others, I will miss her forever.
—Bob Barnett, Senior Partner at Williams & Connolly