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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