Q&A with Penguin Canada’s David Davidar
Penguin Canada president David Davidar announced his resignation earlier this week, both from Penguin Canada and from his position as CEO of Penguin International, a new division aimed at fostering business in emerging markets. On Wednesday, Davidar sat for a telephone interview with Q&Q.
Q&Q: Why have you decided to leave?
Davidar: Principally, I wanted to [return to] my writing. I’ve got about six chapters of a new novel done. I wrote my previous two novels while I was working, and I wanted to see if I could give this one [a better] shot if I didn’t have a day job to go to. So my plan is to take at least a year to see if I can finish the novel.
Besides that, I’m thinking of maybe setting up a publishing consulting company with my wife [former Toronto McNally Robinson manager Rachna Davidar] focusing on emerging markets. That would give us an opportunity to work together.
Q&Q: What made you want to leave at this particular moment?
Davidar: Well, I did the new [Penguin International] job for about six months, and it kind of stretched me to the point where I really didn’t have any extra time to do anything else. I went from being responsible for one company to being responsible for four companies, and that probably accelerated my decision.
Also, what I really like about publishing is problem solving, setting up new imprints, carving out new markets … and though the Penguin International job gave me some scope to do those things, it was at several removes, because obviously the people on the ground at those companies were doing those things. So I missed being intimately involved with the ground realities.
Q&Q: You’ve only been in Canada for seven years. Would you say you get bored easily?
Davidar: [Laughs.] I have had a new job every three years at Penguin, so yeah, I’ll go with that statement.
Q&Q: What’s the new novel about?
Davidar: It’s set in India – which is another reason to want to go back there for a while – and it concerns an early 20th-century Robin Hood–type character. It’s based on the life of someone who was rumoured to have lived.
Q&Q: Has anyone agreed to publish it yet?
Davidar: Nope. I never show anything to anybody until I’ve finished it.
Q&Q: When will your last day be?
Davidar: I’m on the rolls officially until the 15th of August, but I’ll probably take off a month earlier, around mid-July.
Q&Q: When will your position with Penguin International be filled?
Davidar: In the coming weeks. We can’t afford to wait around.
Q&Q: Did Penguin Group CEO John Makinson try to convince you to stay or offer you any incentives to postpone leaving?
Davidar: No, we just talked. We’ve been in discussions about this for some time, and I think we just finally came to the conclusion that it would be best if I followed the path I needed to follow.
Q&Q: Where are you planning to live in India?
Davidar: You know, I really have no idea. We’re planning to go back to Delhi for a while, which is where my wife is from and where I worked at Penguin India for 17 years. My wife has a place there and her parents are there. But after that, who knows? I really am a bit of a nomad, so I could be in Northern Spain in a year. Really, it’s all dependent on my wife, but she’s proved to be quite adaptable so far.
Q&Q: Is it fair to assume that your move is at least partly tied to the recent closure of McNally Robinson in Toronto, and to Rachna being out of a job?
Davidar: I think that’s fair to say, yes.
Q&Q: After having spent seven years making the Canadian arm of Penguin self-sustaining, how do you feel about the fact that it will now be reporting directly to the U.S. arm? Could that be looked upon as a step backward?
Davidar: Not at all. The new structure recognizes the … strategies and priorities of our Canadian business. And the local publishing program will not be affected. It will carry on and be autonomous. All the other [Penguin] companies have that arrangement and it doesn’t seem to affect them.
Q&Q: So no worries at all, then?
Davidar: No. I think the company is now in very good hands. My executive team is terrific.
Q&Q: What’s your parting take on the Canadian publishing industry?
Davidar: It’s amazing, frankly. I’ve never worked in a market where there’s been so much congeniality and general good will amongst the various companies. And healthy competition. This is quite a wonderful publishing environment.
Q&Q: What will you miss about the country itself?
Davidar: The winters. I hate the heat, I really do. I grew up in the mountains in the south of India – my dad was a tea planter – and so I really love the Canadian winter, as improbable as that may sound.
Q&Q: Will there be any formal public send-off for you?
Davidar: [Laughs]. I am a bit of a shrinking violet, so I would resist strongly, I believe.