The news, earlier this week, that Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group chairman Sonny Mehta died has been met with an expected outpouring of remembrances and grief. It's also caused a fair bit of uncertainty within the publishing division he ran.
Mehta joined Knopf over three decades ago and has been an outsize figure at the vaunted Penguin Random House division ever since. Whether concerns about the future of the division are of the standard variety that surface in the wake of the departure of any boss, or a sign of something more specific, is difficult to say. But, to calm any nerves in the group, Madeline McIntosh, CEO of PRH, sent Knopf Doubleday staff a memo aimed to ease fears that drastic changes are ahead.
In the letter, which PW obtained, McIntosh said she realized staffers, in addition to grieving, might also be feeling "anxiety about the future of the group." Addressing said anxiety, McIntosh assured staffers that "there is no plan for any kind of consolidation" at Knopf Doubleday and that the "group will remain as independent as it always has been."
While PRH may indeed have no intention of breaking up Knopf Doubleday, the question about who will succeed Mehta is swirling. Mehta's old job is one of the most high-profile and sought after positions in the industry. To varying degrees, there is no other imprint as glamorous as Knopf—because of the breadth of books it publishes, the success it's had and the respect (both literary and commercially) it invokes. For this reason, the question of who will be to fill the very large shoes Mehta has left is on the minds of the industry at large.
McIntosh, in her staff letter, said she had numerous conversations with Mehta about a succession plan, noting that it was a subject the two discussed "at length, particularly in recent months." What that plan looks like, though, McIntosh didn't say, noting that "there will be plenty of time going forward for me to share with you what [Mehta] had in mind and how we will put that vision in place."
Until McIntosh reveals those plans, the big question is how Mehta's different responsibilities will be divided. It seems unlikely that one person will be named both chairman of Knopf Doubleday as well as editor-in-chief of Knopf if, for no other reason than that the jobs involve different skill sets. The other big question, of course, is whether McIntosh will replace Mehta with someone internally, or look to hire someone from outside the company.
One thing that is certain is that all eyes will remain fixed on Knopf Doubleday until Mehta's successor is named.