Prior named new Pan Macmillan c.e.o. as Forbes Watson steps down

Prior named new Pan Macmillan c.e.o. as Forbes Watson steps down

Penguin General m.d. Joanna Prior has been named the new c.e.o. of Pan Macmillan UK, with Anthony Forbes Watson to step down from the role early next year.

Pan Mac said Forbes Watson had decided step down “to make room for a fresh pair of eyes and to give him time to pursue other interests”. He will continue his association with the group and become an advisor to Stefan von Holtzbrinck and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. 

Prior’s appointment makes her the first woman to lead one of the big five publishers in the UK since Gail Rebuck and Victoria Barnsley left their jobs at Random House and HarperCollins in 2013. She joins Bonnier Books UK’s Perminder Mann as one of the few female heads of UK publishing houses.

She has been m.d. of Penguin General Books for the past 12 years, leading the strategic growth of the publishing house. During that time, Penguin General has doubled in size, added new imprints, won Publisher of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2019, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction twice and the Booker Prize (for Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other), and been responsible for publications including Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land and Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club

She said: “I have spent 23 incredibly happy years at Penguin, first in publicity and marketing roles and for the past 12 leading the remarkable team at Penguin General. The decision to leave was not an easy one but Pan Macmillan is a company I’ve always admired; it is, in fact, where I had my first permanent job in publishing. The offer to lead a business of this size and reputation, with a commitment to publishing the very best books of all kinds, is something that was irresistible. We have all seen just how important books are to culture and society over the last difficult year and a half, and I’m honoured to take up this role to lead Pan Macmillan in the next phase of its growth and success.” 

Prior is also a past president of the Publishers Association, previously chair of the Consumer Publishing Group and chair of World Book Day. She is currently chair of the Women’s Prize Trust and vice-chair of the National Literacy Trust.

Don Weisberg, who became c.e.o. at Macmillan Publishers last year after John Sargent departed, said: “Joanna’s reputation as an industry trailblazer is far-reaching. Her blend of creative talent and commercial acumen is evident in the successes at Penguin General. She is results-driven and ambitious for the books and authors while having a reputation for being a leader who is inclusive and mission-focused. I am looking forward to working with her as she joins, as its leader, Pan Macmillan’s formidable team.” 

Stefan von Holtzbrinck, c.e.o. of Holtzbrinck Publishing Company, commented: “I am more than happy that we could convince Joanna to continue her journey of great success and creative agility with Pan Macmillan as its new c.e.o. Her track record and experience, her integrity and the values she stands for are the best possible fit for the helm of this independent British publishing house with worldwide recognition." 

Tom Weldon, c.e.o. of Penguin Random House UK, added: “Jo will be much missed at Penguin Random House but we only wish her happiness and success in her new role as c.e.o. of Pan Macmillan. While we will now be competitors at work, we will remain the best of friends outside of it! Good luck, Jo.” 

Forbes Watson first took over at Pan Macmillan on 1st May 2008. The publisher said his tenure “has been marked by strong and consistent growth, innovative thinking, decisive leadership and the development of incomparable talent in all facets of the business”. 

He commented: “Of my 45 years in trade publishing, my time at Pan Macmillan has been the happiest: independent-minded and communal, grounded and vocational, its people have transformed the company from an also-ran into a winner, remaining human, kind and true to its values, while making all sorts of new friends and partners, and landing quite a few trophies along the way. I have been proud to lead by consent and it has been a privilege to have been a part of something so special for so long. I’m particularly grateful, too, to Stefan and Don for their unfailing support. Now is the right time for everyone at Pan Mac to be refreshed and renewed by new leadership, and for me to give my time to other things.”

Weisberg added: “During one of our first conversations, I asked Anthony what made Pan Mac the success it is. Without hesitating, he answered, ‘We are a winning team of talented individuals.' It took no time at all for me to see how true that is. But it also became quickly evident that the admiration and respect Anthony has for the team he built is reciprocal. 

“Pan Mac's 13-year track record under his leadership is distinguished by collective achievement, reflected in the company being named [the Nibbies'] Publisher of the Year in three out of the past six years. Under Anthony’s stewardship, Pan Mac has established a constant and ever-growing presence on the bestsellers lists and a stellar list of authors. That the company is focused, creative and a wonderful home to its authors is undeniable. But equally, Anthony has made sure that Pan Mac is also a special place to work. I've learned that and a great deal more listening to him this past year, and am grateful to have had the benefit of Anthony's support and guidance. I will miss him.”