Colleagues remember Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, as fierce and kind
Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, who presided over the company in times of turmoil and transformation, has died.
Reidy had a heart attack Tuesday morning, according to a news release from the publisher. She was 71.
“Carolyn was both an exemplary leader and a supremely talented and visionary publishing executive,” Dennis Eulau, chief operating and financial officer, said in a message to the staff of the company, one of the “Big Five” book publishing houses.
“As a publisher and a leader, Carolyn pushed us to stretch to do just that little bit more; to do our best and then some for our authors, in whose service she came to work each day with an unbridled and infectious enthusiasm and great humor,” he added.
He said her “fierce intelligence and curiosity... were matched by her complete and total accessibility: She wrote congratulatory notes to employees when they were promoted, and colleagues in every corner of our company always felt that they had a first-person relationship with her.”
Reidy became president and CEO of Simon & Schuster in 2008, the first woman to head the company. During her tenure, she presided over the company’s numerous publishing groups, including chapters in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and India.
Over the course of her decades-long career, Reidy’s influence spanned genres and generations. She published Pulitzer Prize winners David W. Blight, Anthony Doerr, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Frank McCourt, David McCullough and Siddhartha Mukherjee. She also steered the works of Susan Orlean, Hillary Clinton, Bob Woodward and Stephen King, who called her a “fierce advocate for books” and a “valued colleague.”
“Carolyn was a CEO who was also a PhD, so she brought the rigor of an academic and the acumen and savvy of an executive to everything she did,” said Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing.
Adam Rothberg, senior vice president of corporate communications, remembered Reidy for always having her employees’ backs. “As a leader, she was right there in the trenches with you,” he said. “There was no blame game.”
Authors recalled Reidy’s attentive notes as an unusually personal touch from a busy executive.
Reached by phone, author Jennifer Weiner remembered Reidy sending emails about all of her novels. “After I turned in the final draft, she would read it and write me many-paragraph long letters about the characters and theme and setting and the ending and how much she liked it. And if she didn’t like something, she would tell you that before it was published. And she could be blunt but in a way that would save me from myself.”
Novelist Courtney Maum received her first personal email from Reidy six months before her debut was published. “And that’s when it hit me,” she said, “that there’s someone really special at the helm of this particular ship.” She appreciated Reidy’s unflagging and contagious optimism. “This is a tough industry, and meeting optimists is something of a rarity.”
Reidy began her career in publishing in 1974 in the subsidiary rights department of Random House, went on to serve as publisher of the Random House imprint Vintage Books, eventually moving to Avon Books as president and publisher. She joined Simon & Schuster in 1992 as president of the trade division and was named president of the Adult Publishing Group in 2001.
The Wall Street Journal named Reidy one of “The 50 Women to Watch” in 2007. Ten years later, Publishers Weekly named her the industry’s “Person of the Year,” commending her leadership “through the Great Recession, publishing’s digital disruption, and a slow-growth sales environment all while keeping Simon & Schuster a commercial and critical success.”
Even before the pandemic began to damage the industry, 2020 was shaping up to be a difficult year for Simon & Schuster. The legendary editor Alice Mayhew died in February; the following month, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish announced that the publisher was up for sale. The move came just three months after Viacom and CBS merged.
Born May 2, 1949, Reidy attended Middlebury College before receiving a doctorate in English from Indiana University.
As a high-ranking woman in the industry, she also served as an advocate and mentor to other women.
“It is so important to have women who are empowered or who empower themselves through will and determination for this next generation,” said Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, who remembers Reidy as both “fierce” and incredibly kind. “Her strength and her openness and her grit and her directness inspired me.”
In a statement from PEN America, author and PEN President Jennifer Egan described Reidy as a “champion of free expression,” citing a speech she gave to the organization in 2018: “‘In our country, too many voices are marginalized, or powerless, and through our choices of what to publish we have the ability and the obligation to help change that.’
“By embodying those principles,” wrote Egan, “Carolyn expanded the literary universe of countless writers and enriched American culture. While her loss is enormous, equally so is the shining example of her legacy.”
Reidy is survived by her husband, Stephen, and three siblings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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