Random House's announcement last week that Phyllis Grann has been named vice- chairman of the nation's largest trade book publisher ended rumors about where the outgoing CEO of Penguin Putnam will conduct her second act, but a new round of speculation immediately began about what Grann will do at Random. Grann will join the company January 2 in the newly created post that is being described as a corporate advisory position. She will report directly to Random House Inc. chairman Peter Olson.
Grann will have no specific day-to-day publishing or editorial responsibilities in her new role. "We purposely designed this position to limit Phyllis as little as possible. We want to make maximum use of her contacts" across the media landscape, Olson told PW. Olson said he has "always dreamed" of bringing Grann to Random, noting that her "publishing perspective and track record are unparalleled." He said, "Phyllis would be an invaluable addition to our company at any time, but never more so than now as we must apply even greater ingenuity to overcome the ongoing book marketplace downturn."
Grann said she expects her role at Random "to evolve." She said she had no intention of developing her own list and did not see her function as bringing in established authors or developing new writers. "If an agent calls with a proposal, I'll give it to whatever [Random] publisher it seems appropriate for," Grann said. Despite downplaying her author-attracting role, industry members would be shocked if some of her former writers did not find their way to Random in the near future.
Among the various scenarios speculated upon by industry members include Grann playing the role of a troubleshooter, working with divisions that are not performing up to expectations. Others see Grann's function as helping to streamline Random's publishing process.
One overriding issue is how Grann will get along with the heads of the different publishing groups, several of whom are her friends. The individual publishers will continue to report to either Olson or Random president Joerg Pfuhl. Olson said that the heads of the publishing groups "all share the view that someone as talented as Phyllis with her contacts and ideas" will be an asset to the company. Olson added he has "no plans to diminish or discontinue" his supervisory role of RH's publishers.
Grann said that since she announced earlier this year that she would be leaving Penguin, she has spoken "to an amazing array of people and been offered a number of bizarre jobs that I'm not qualified for."
Executives at Penguin Putnam expressed confidence that they will keep their bestselling authors. A spokesperson said, "We remain committed to our authors and they to us. We have a strong publishing team and are looking forward to the future." Indeed, Penguin seems to have locked up Tom Clancy; for odds on other authors staying or leaving, see below.