We were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our former colleague Peter Mayer last week, whose long and brilliant leadership of Penguin will always be part of the DNA of Penguin Random House.
Peter joined Penguin in 1978 after growing Avon Books into one of America’s largest paperback publishers. From then until 1997, he served as Chairman and CEO of the Penguin group, overseeing companies in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands and India.
From the start of his tenure he aimed to modernise Penguin by listening to the marketplace and producing a number of commercially successful hits such as The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye (in a controversially larger format than other Penguin paperbacks), Shirley Conran’s Lace (seller of over three million copies and paving the way for Jilly Cooper) and Jane Fonda’s hugely successful early workout books. He also brought sales, editorial and marketing colleagues under one roof for the very first time. Within six years of his tenure, the company was turning over an £8 million profit and turnover had tripled. By the time he left in 1997, he had turned the company into what The Bookseller called “the most formidable and admired publisher in the English language”.
Peter also acquired Beatrix Potter’s books about Peter Rabbit and took the brand to market via an iconic merchandising strategy – a first for Penguin. This brand legacy of Beatrix Potter is currently stronger than ever, with this year’s Peter Rabbit Movie™ earning over $320 million at the box office so far.
Remembering Peter, CEO Tom Weldon said: “One of the few regrets of my career has been not to work directly with Peter Mayer. But I enjoyed the next best thing when I became CEO of Penguin UK in 2011 and the two of us would occasionally meet for drinks and Peter gave me a series of masterclasses in publishing and business leadership. He was generous, curious, funny, and brilliant company. Perhaps the most important three things he taught me were: publish the best of every type of book; leadership is about trying to do the right thing and that means sometimes you won’t be popular; and never lose your sense of humour. He was an inspirational, wonderful man.”
Peter Mayer was born on March 28, 1936 and died from complications related to amyloidosis on May 11, 2018 at home in New York.