Penguin Random House Canada publishes approximately 500 titles annually and distributes an additional 10,000 per year on behalf of Penguin Random House U.S. and U.K., plus clients who include Norton, Candlewick, and National Geographic. “As the largest publisher in Canada with a breadth of publishing across most categories, we aim to reach Canadian readers with the books they most want to read—whether to be inspired, to be informed, to be challenged, or to be entertained,” CEO Kristin Cochrane says. “Our publishing is a mix of some of the most recognizable and best-read Canadian writers around the world, alongside our ongoing support and development of new and emerging voices and those that push boundaries and stretch readers’ minds.”
Cochrane took over the role of CEO from Brad Martin at the end of June, after serving as president and publisher since 2015. The Globe and Mail newspaper dubbed her “the most powerful person in publishing” in Canada.
As the first woman to run the publisher, her elevation has inspired a wave of pride among employees at the firm, who expect her to bring a fresh energy to the role. Among her first moves as the top executive was merging the publicity and marketing departments, now under the leadership of Beth Lockley; bringing in a new director of communications from Toronto theater company Soulpepper; and, perhaps of most importance, hiring a new head of human resources, one who will foster talent through what Cochrane calls a people-first approach to management and will sharpen the firm’s efforts to diversify its workforce.
“I love mentoring and developing people and working with authors,” Cochrane says. “I’m looking forward to working with all of the teams to see where I can further help develop and support them in their respective jobs.”
Cochrane herself has found a mentor in Markus Dohle, Penguin Random House’s global CEO, who has been recommending books for Cochrane to read. One title in particular, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, has been a strong influence. “The message of the book is very much in line with my own values,” she says. “Leadership is about caring for the health and well-being and excitement of our employees, and if you can get that right, everything will fall into place. For us, that means good acquisitions will come, and good results will come from that.”
Indeed, Cochrane’s tenure will be judged on whether or not she can produce sales. Cochrane comes into the top spot as the company is riding a wave of Canadian bestsellers. These include Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Linwood Barclay’s A Noise Downstairs, Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest, Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, a book that PRH Canada published and distributed in the U.S. under its own colophon and has sold 1.2 million copies.
“I am proud of how my team performed publishing [12 Rules for Life],” Cochrane says. “It was never once out of stock, despite explosive demand—and it underscored what a world-class team we have here in Toronto.” Other U.S. hits include Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea and Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, both by Ben Clanton, published by PRH’s Tundra imprint.
Cochrane is excited about the fall list, with books that include the paperback edition of Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square, which won the 2018 Giller Prize; the photo book My Story in Pictures by hockey legend Bobby Orr; I’m Afraid of Men, a polemic from transgender writer Vivek Shraya; chef Anna Olson’s Set for the Holidays; and the novel Women Talking by Miriam Toews.
Cochrane will also be overseeing several new and burgeoning initiatives at the publisher, including the launch of the Strange Light imprint, the further expansion of its audiobook program, and overseeing a consumer-research project, one that has already been run and implemented in the U.K. and the U.S. “I believe that it is important for us to do this here as well, because both the marketplace and our consumers are distinct from those in the U.S. or the U.K,” she says.
In Cochrane’s position as the head of Canada’s largest publisher, she will serve as a de facto cultural attaché for the country. “In my previous role as president and publisher of Penguin Random House Canada, I built a strong network of international contacts throughout the industry,” she says. “Stepping into the role of CEO, I feel I have the opportunity and the responsibility to act as an ambassador for Canadian values and voices, not only within the Penguin Random House family, but also the global publishing world. It’s my priority to celebrate and champion our authors and the stories they tell. We aim for our publications to resonate in Canada and beyond to ensure they reach readers everywhere.”