HarperCollins CEO a publishing industry rock star

When Jane Friedman walked into the Rainbow Room in New York recently, all eyes turned to record her arrival. The HarperCollins president-CEO wasn’t the only high-profile exec in attendance; the room was filled with some of the biggest names from politics, film and television who had gathered to hear political gurus Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski discuss foreign policy. But everyone wanted to greet Friedman, considered a publishing industry rock star — even Kissinger made a beeline for Friedman when he spotted her.

By anyone’s standards, Friedman’s past 10 years at the HarperCollins helm have been impressive: Revenues in the 2006-07 fiscal year topped $1.32 billion, and profits reached $167 million.

Though she’s quick to point out that the acquisition of Morrow Avon added significantly to the bottom line and “that skews the financials results,” Friedman adds: “We’re going to do very well this year, so I’m pleased with the job everyone has done here.”

The publisher also has struck deals with sister outfits Fox Television and Fox Atomic to develop programming based on HC titles. “From Jane all the way down, there is a culture of straight-shooting at Harper,” says Scott Hoffman, managing member of Folio Literary Management, whose firm recently secured a $1.2┬ámillion deal from Harper for author Garth Stein. “They tell you the way it is, what they can pay — they’re always willing to pay competitive prices — and what they’re going to do. … They really take care of their authors.”

Friedman says when signing new authors, she trusts her “publishing gut” and listens to “how an editor feels about the author.” Although Friedman’s gut for 39 years has been spot on, this year hasn’t been without controversy, namely the high-profile firing of Judith Regan, the head of HC imprint Regan Books and whose book and TV deal with O.J. Simpson pointed a hot spotlight on Friedman and News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch. Raise the issue, and Friedman’s smile fades. “I plead the Fifth,” she says, adding, “It was an unfortunate situation that I’ve never discussed publicly. It’s such ancient history at this point.”

Vocation: “Working mother”

Recent breakthrough: C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” added $100 million to HC coffers.

Role model: “I think Rupert Murdoch is just a genius. I have learned so much from watching him. He knows my business inside and out. And (former GE CEO) Jack Welch. Though I don’t always agree with them both.”

Career mantra: “Good publishing is good business.”

What’s next: “Leading the digitizing of HC titles.”

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