Ursula Mackenzie celebrates 35 years in publishing

Ursula Mackenzie celebrates 35 years in publishing

Little, Brown chairman Ursula Mackenzie yesterday (17th November) celebrated her 35-year career with friends and colleagues at Belvedere Restaurant in Holland Park, London, ahead of her planned retirement at the end of 2016.

Tim Hely Hutchinson, Hachette UK c.e.o., led tributes to Mackenzie during the evening, praising her as a "brilliant publisher", an "inspiring leader" and a "great friend", as well as for her sportsmanship, forward thinking, flair and dynamism.

Mackenzie last year won the Pandora Award, awarded by Women in Publishing, after being nominated by Sphere fiction publisher Catherine Burke (also in attendance) for her “significant and sustained contribution” to the industry.

Celebrated global bestsellers to Mackenzie’s name include The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans (Transworld), Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown). She was also described as "a driving force" behind the success of the Twilight series in the UK and Commonwealth.

Mackenzie began her career - after a stint as a lecturer in literature at the University of Hong Kong, then at literary agency International Scripts - at Granada Publishing in the role of rights manager in 1980. She left four years later and went on to spend 15 years with Transworld, rising through the ranks from editorial and rights manager to the role of publisher. Mackenzie then joined Time Warner Bros in 2000, where she took on the role of c.e.o. five years later when it was sold to Hachette. She became c.e.o. of Little, Brown, replacing David Young in 2006. In 2012 Mackenzie was elected president of the Publishers Association, when she was only the third woman to hold the position - a tenure that was characterised, according to Hely Hutchinson, by her determination to extend writers' protection in relation to copyright and freedom of speech. Succeeded by David Shelley as c.e.o., Mackenzie's chairmanship of Little, Brown began in July 2015.

Most recently, she is credited in creating Hachette's new publishing "best practice" policy, and in having led a team working with literary agents and others to create a new royalty system for the digital age, which will launch in 2018.

Hely Hutchinson [below] said both Mackenzie's publishing and her friendship had been "a great joy to me".

"Ursula is very modest and I doubt any of her friends realise just how successful she was as c.e.o. of Little, Brown," he said. "She not only ran a great award-winning house, whose high standards held close an amazing list of continuing authors and attracted new ones such as Val McDermid and J K Rowling, she also beat her targets every single year, consistently making at least double the industry average profit. And she did it all while being the opposite of mean or selfish. She warmly welcomed the Hachette group as the new owners of Little, Brown, no wonder Hachette in turn was happy to make Little, Brown the home for its acquisitions of Piatkus, then Constable and Robinson, which she and her team have nurtured with immense skill."

Mackenzie was presented with a retirement card, as well as a present from the company (which she chose herself), a painting by Scottish artist Victoria Crowe.

Mackenzie [below] thanked her son, Matthew, who she said "genuinely enjoyed the fact his mother has had a successful career, he never resented it" and her bosses over the years, the first of which "bravely took a punt" on her when she wanted to move to editorial from rights.

She called her time at Little, Brown "the happiest, most demanding and the most successful years of my career", from 2000 to present, and referred to Hachette as "a fantastic place to work". Its intervention, in acquiring Little, Brown in 2005, she called a "relief", when it "rescued us like knights in shining armour from the deeply uninterested arms of Time Warner", and "encouraged independence and variety" across its publishing houses.

"Tim [Hely Hutchinson] was remarkably sanguine about my total lack of experience as c.e.o.," she added. "I'd only started in January and the deal was struck in March. And I shall never forget him reassuring me, that experience would always be acquired over time."