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HarperCollins shuffles deck

After Jane Friedman's surprising resignation, the publishing titan reorganizes at the top.

June 06, 2008|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- HarperCollins continued to reshuffle its management Thursday, following the resignation of President and Chief Executive Jane Friedman. Brian Murray, a company veteran tapped to succeed Friedman, will have two top deputies: Michael Morrison, who will run HarperCollins' U.S. book business, and Victoria Barnsley, who will direct international operations.

Murray, 41, had been the company's president of worldwide operations and had been Friedman's top deputy since 2004. He opened HarperCollins' new offices in Beijing and has focused on integrating the company's traditional book business with new and emerging digital technology, according to a statement issued by the publisher.

Friedman's announcement, which came late Wednesday evening, was a genuine surprise to many in the publishing world. During her 10-year stint, she pushed to digitize the company's vast backlist, boosted profits and acquired a reputation for innovation in the book industry, which has often lagged behind other parts of the entertainment business.

Her departure is the latest jolt to the book world, which has been grappling with flat profits for several years. Last month, Random House Chief Executive Peter W. Olson resigned, amid declining profits; Borders Group, the nation's second largest book chain, announced that it may be putting itself up for sale, and this week announced major corporate layoffs.

In a brief statement, Friedman said she was leaving of her own accord, noting, "My 10 years at HarperCollins have been far and away the most rewarding of my career and so it was not easy to make the decision to step down."

Rupert Murdoch, who heads up News Corp., the media giant that includes HarperCollins, called Friedman "a terrific leader" who had delivered "record breaking profits." He said he had "enjoyed working with her immensely and will miss her."

Although some observers speculated that a recent decline in profits may have been a factor, Friedman's position had seemed secure. She told friends last week at a Book Expo America party in Los Angeles that she loved her job.

During her tenure, Friedman promoted a range of bestselling authors including Michael Chabon, Michael Crichton and Barbara Kingsolver. But she got caught up in the 2006 embarrassment over the company's decision to publish O.J. Simpson's "If I Did It," a hypothetical account of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Friedman initially supported the decision to publish the book, spearheaded by Judith Regan, then-publisher of ReganBooks, a division of HarperCollins. Friedman terminated Regan as protests grew over the book and a proposed TV special. The chief executive was named as a defendant in a $100-million defamation suit that Regan later filed against the company. The lawsuit was eventually settled.

Before coming to HarperCollins, Friedman worked at Random House, where she rose to executive vice president, including posts at Knopf and Random House Audio Publishing.

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josh.getlin@latimes.com

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