Jane Friedman, A Model for Leadership

Jane Friedman is the CEO of HarperCollins, America’s second largest book publishing company. In her ten years at the helm, Harper’s annual revenues have grown from $737 million to $1.3 billion—an impressive feat in any industry.

Jane Friedman

I have only met Jane once. I was privileged to have breakfast with her at Book Expo America. I found her to be warm, personable, and conversant on virtually every aspect of the publishing industry. I also found her energy and passion for books contagious.

The current issue of Forbes magazine has a great interview with Jane. It reveals why she is the leader she is. For example:

  • She says that the book business is the healthiest she has seen in a long time. She points to the diversity and range of distribution as a key indicator of this. I love the way she believes in the business—and its future.
  • She came up through the publishing ranks. She’s worked in the trenches. She totally gets that it begins with the product. It’s clear that she loves the books her Company publishes, just as Steve Jobs loves the machines his company produces. I don’t think you can be a successful CEO in any industry unless you believe in the power of your products to change people’s lives. Jane clearly does.
  • In answer to the question, “What’s at the root of your leadership?” she says, “I’ve never had a plan.” How many leaders do you know that would admit that? Instead, she says, “I have an innate and insatiable curiosity—I’m always curious about what we can do next.” I think planning is often overrated. She has—and exercises—good old fashioned intuition. When you immerse yourself in the business as she does, you can have the kind of informed intuition that results in good decisions.
  • She also says that she is “ever-present.” She goes on to say,
    I participate in almost every industry event. I make every effort to attend every HC author event even if it’s for five minutes. The authors love it, and it feels right to me. If an author can spend years on their work, I can certainly hop into the car and go from place to place. On average, I do about three or four events a night.

    This is unbelievable to me—and personally challenging. As the CEO of Thomas Nelson, especially during this time of transition from a public company to a private, I have had to pull away from many of these kinds of things. In light of Jane’s commitment, I am re-examining my priorities. If she can do it, why can’t I?

  • She takes risks when it is warranted. This is a mark of every great leader. You will not get ahead by playing it safe. But of course, you have to live with the results when things don’t turn out as well as you had hoped. But—and this is the good news—you don’t have to “bat a thousand.” You only have to have more things work than don’t.

It’s worth reading the entire interview. Many of the publishing executives I have met are “care-takers.” Not Jane. She’s still pushing the edges and leading the pack.

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  • http://bryanallain.com/blog bryan


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  • http://www.colleencoble.com Colleen Coble

    I can see why she says just five minutes at an author event thrills her authors. When you and Gayle stopped by to say hello at the Personality Part at ICRS, I felt like a Stephen King. :-)

    But I worry about her adrenal glands burning out with that kind of schedule! And I’d rather have you around for a while so don’t follow that particular pattern.

    Unless I’m in town of course. LOL

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com michael Hyatt


    You are TOO funny!


  • http://www.relevantblog.blogspot.com Mary E. DeMuth

    I love hearing she has a positive view of the industry. It seems like folks focus more on the doom and gloom than what’s great about publishing (particularly true in the CBA realm).

  • http://www.ecpa.org Michael Covington

    Of course, this is the gratuitous plug for ECPA’s Publishing University this fall where Jane will be delivering the opening night keynote. Check out pubu2007.blogspot.com for more information.

  • http://www.selfhelpzone.com/ David

    A leader is patient, kind, outgoing, intelligent, open-minded, and eager to learn and grow. Leaders possess many qualities. Why don’t you look inside your self to find the leader within you? It’s not that hard to be a leader, all you have to do is put forth effort

  • http://www.rachelhauck.com Rachel Hauck

    I love her positive out look on publishing. Here. Here. :)


  • John Y

    Very kind of you to give credit to Jane and I totally agree. So many industries today seem to be run by people who are not FROM that industry. Jane and some guy named Hyatt at Nelson grew up around this stuff and have ink in their veins and it shows. They think of the customer and needs. And they hire people who give an author hope not just a 30 day marketing effort. It will be interesting who she hires to run Zondervan but word is “someone who UNDERSTANDS thie product.”