Polly Powell has unexpectedly quit Quarto. Powell joined the illustrated publishing group in late 2019 after a period of turbulence at the publicly-quoted company; initially joining as an advisor to chief executive C K Lau in 2019, Powell became c.e.o. of the UK business in 2020 and then group c.e.o. in September 2020, presiding over a period of continuing recovery at the publisher.
A brief statement said that after two years at Quarto Powell had decided to step down from her role, to build on the success of her own company, Pavilion Books. Until a replacement is found, Lau will act as interim group chief executive officer: Lau is also one of Quarto's major shareholders, and ran the business briefly before Powell stepped in and up.
Powell told The Bookseller that Pavilion is doing "incredibly well at the moment" and she only ever went to Quarto for a fixed time. She is stepping down immediately but said planning had been put in place for her departure, adding: "Actually running Pavilion and Batsford was always a full time job anyway".
She said: "Now is the right time to go back to Pavilion and Batsford... I feel very much that my job is done at Quarto, I feel I’ve made a good deal of difference. There was an internal email that Andy Cumming sent to staff which I think puts it out very clearly. And I’m very grateful to Quarto and the board for the time that I’ve had to make a difference at Quarto."
Looking back on her time at the company she said she was "very excited" to see how the new Aurum list is developing under the leadership of Katie Bond, adding: "I feel that just providing a sort of self-belief and confidence in the team at Quarto has been crucial actually."
She said Quarto was now "in much better shape" and "punching above its weight in certain areas" and that she felt "very confident" about its future.
In a statement published by Quarto she added: "I came to Quarto to make a difference, and I think I have achieved that, so my job is done. Quarto is a fabulous company with outstanding people and it is now firing on all cylinders. The publishing programme is super-strong and the numbers are looking good."
Powell had recently been joined by Pavilion m.d. David Graham, who was appointed c.e.o. of the Quarto Group UK in March this year. Quarto and Pavilion had been forging an increasingly close relationship, with Pavilion moving UK and European sales and distribution of its titles to the Quarto Group.
Andy Cumming, chairman, added: "We greatly appreciate the positive impact Polly has made on Quarto over the last two years and we will miss her. We will be appointing a new Group c.e.o. in due course and in the meantime C K Lau will return to the role on an interim basis."
The Quarto Group saw revenue fall 7% year on year in 2020 to $126.9m (£91.5m) although adjusted operating profit increased to $10.6m (£7.6m) in the same period. The company's net debt fell 61% from $50.5m (£36.4m) to $19.7m (£14.2m), helped by an open offer completed in January 2020 that succeeded in raising $16.5m net of expenses. The company also recently announced a refinancing strategy, including a new $20m banking facility.
Pavilion and Batsford Books will continue to be sold and distributed by Quarto Publishing in the UK and US markets.