Interview with Madeline McIntosh, CEO, Penguin Random House U.S.


“The most gratifying insight is that the things we think of as our key PRH strengths are also the ones that have made us the most resilient.”


What have been your biggest learnings from COVID-19?

There have been so many challenges over the course of this period, and luckily I do feel we’ve learned from—almost!—all of them. The main insights are the obvious ones: We can do most of our work remotely, and being remote forced us to embrace efficient, digital processes nearly overnight. The good news is we have so much more flexibility in how and where we do our work than we ever knew, and that’s an insight we can hold on to forever.

The most gratifying insight is that the things we think of as our key PRH strengths are also the ones that have made us the most resilient: a great, deep backlist of books to meet readers’ needs; creative, adaptable, determined publishing and sales teams who pivoted and pivoted again as those consumer needs evolved; and the most robust technology, operations, and fulfillment infrastructure, which kept us connected and our books flowing even during the worst periods of lockdown.

Even hedgehogs join Madeline’s virtual town halls.

What has inspired you during this time?

No doubt about it: our internal community. We’ve looked out for one another and that has made all the difference.

What are some challenges you, personally as CEO, and your local territory have been facing?

Early on, we learned how resilient we are as a company, and it’s been wonderful to have our books and our business thriving against all odds. But as the sprint turned into a marathon and now a triathlon, I know there’s been a toll on us as individuals. I’ve been reminded again and again that what was good about being in the offices was the psychological benefit of just being together. I don’t think we miss the inefficiency of big in-person group meetings. What we miss are the dozens of small, unplanned interactions over the course of a day. Those are the connections that help keep us healthy and creative as individuals and as an organization, and I know people are feeling depleted without them. There’s no real substitute for being together, but I love how many different ways individual colleagues and departments have invented to maintain connections and even have some fun along the way.

Do you have any advice for our global colleagues?
The mantra that’s worked best for us in the U.S. is: one day at a time. Book people are by nature long-term planners, prognosticators, doomsayers. It’s been tempting during this crisis to look into the future and fret. But keeping ourselves focused on solving just what’s right in front of us has allowed us to stay flexible and adaptable.

Posted: October 6, 2020