Jack McKeown, who has served as president and CEO since the Perseus Book Group was founded in the mid-1990s, has been named vice-chairman of the company and has been replaced by David Steinberger, formerly president, corporate strategy and international, at HarperCollins.
McKeown will not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the publisher, and will consult only on possible corporate acquisitions. He is also expected to be looking at nonbook acquisitions for Frank Pearl's Perseus Capital; Pearl is the founder of Perseus Books. Steinberger, who was instrumental in Harper's international and electronic operations and also helped complete the purchases of Morrow and Ecco, will report directly to the Perseus board. In conjunction with the move, Joe Mangan has been hired as COO.
Sources say the decision to make the change happened relatively quickly. Last week, Steinberger was in Washington, D.C., where Pearl's Perseus Capital is based, to meet heads of houses. He's also expected to make trips to Philadelphia and Boston to meet with other publishers in the coming week. (As for the job he's leaving, Harper CEO Jane Friedman said Steinberger's rather eclectic position "had been fashioned for him" and Friedman said she will take some time to consider how he might be replaced.)
Pearl did not offer much in the way of explanation for the change in leadership; instead, he thanked McKeown for "the important contributions made to the Perseus Books Group." McKeown has been instrumental in making a number of acquisitions to form the core Perseus Books Group. For example, two years ago, he veered into different territory and bought Running Press.
Over the last two years, McKeown has been involved in consolidation—he folded together a number of the publishing divisions, including Counterpoint and the Perseus Books imprint in Massachusetts. More recently, he spearheaded a failed bid to buy the AOLTW Book Group. McKeown also created a separate sales force to lessen Perseus's reliance on Harper's sales reps; the company did continue a distribution agreement with Harper.
The Perseus Books Group, which is estimated to do about $100 million in annual sales, has, by most accounts, had a modestly successful year; it turned out several hits—Public Affairs' Wesley Clark and Andy Rooney books; Basic's What Liberal Media?; and Da Capo's Metrosexual Guide to Style.
Steinberger, who is credited with helping to increase profitability at Harper, is known both for aggressive expansion and increased efficiency. With little overlap between imprints and no surplus of staff, Perseus may not have a lot of room for streamlining. Steinberger, sounding measured but collegial in an interview, hinted that more internal investment may be a priority. "The people in this organization are working very hard and doing very well, but they're undersupported. They don't have all the technology they need, and don't have all the resources they need. There's an opportunity to be more effective and more efficient if we support people better," he said, citing Web marketing as one possible area for growth. Steinberger also said that, in addition to running the company, he, like McKeown, will be looking to make strategic acquisitions, including in international and children's publishing, areas where Perseus has little presence.
Steinberger played down his connection with Perseus when he was with Harper. "As important as the distribution relationship is, that's all it is," he said. He added that he will begin his job by asking questions like, "Are we set up in exactly the right way to really take advantage of what we have?" He said his goals will be similar to those of his job at Harper in "nurturing the creative energy of all the individual publishing programs, but also taking advantage of the shared services."
In an eerie coincidence, this marks the second time Steinberger is replacing McKeown; he took over for him as president of Harper adult almost seven years ago to the day.