Die Spatzen pfeifen es von den Dächern, dass die Chemie zwischen der Bertelsmann Spitze und Peter Olson, dem weltgewandten, smarten Chef von Random House abgekühlt ist. Irgendjemand will ihn aber sichtlich demontieren – vielleicht er selbst? Anders kann man seine selbstherrrlichen Äusserungen in einem New York Times Artikel von Lynn Hirschberg nicht deuten, die per Fax und auch per Email (aus der dieser Text hier stammt) schon gestern vor Erscheinen vor Erscheinen in der New Yorker Szene kursierten.
Starker Tobak, denn: Wenn seine Zitate stimmen , dann bekommen die Gerüchte neue Nahrung, dass Gütersloh in Larry Kirshbaum, dem Chef der AOL Verlage Warner Books und Little Brown schon einen Wunschkandidaten für eine Olson Nachfolge in Sicht habe – und Olson alles tut, um einen goldenen Handschlag zu provozieren. Immerhin endet der Text, über den man in Gütersloh sicher „not amused ist“ (denn so abfällig äußert man sich nicht über eigene (auch ehemalige) Mitarbeiter. Die letzte Zeile des untenstehenden Textes wagt dann auch die Prognose: Olsons Tage sind gezählt….
Das ist der Text, der derzeit kursiert
NYT Mag Profile Puts the „Oh!“ In Olson The hottest submission for next few days isn’t a book proposal, but rather early copies of piece on Random House C.E.O. Peter Olson, not available online yet but churning out of fax machines all over town. It opens at BEA, with an imperial Olson on the prowl: „He was kind of a king as he walked the floor, observing his subjects, past and future, alive and dead.“ He happily greets Larry Kirshbaum (while believing that a takeover of his company is imminent) and then when „out of earshot“ says, „He should never let the booth get this crowded. We do it differently at our place.“ He chats with Bloomsbury co-founder Nigel Newton, and then behind his back makes fun of his acquired British accent. He talks with new Frankfurt Book Fair head Volker Neumann and then notes, „I fired him.“ He adds, „I recognize hundreds of people here.. Many of them I fired personally.“
Of his own current (and presumably anyone is a soon-to-be-ex?) employees, he notes, „We’ve got layers of snobs here.“ Of the people who writer his company’s books, when queried about the authors who followed Ann Godoff to her new imprint, he says, „I felt it was Gina’s job. And I think she did it well. Besides, we have thousands of writers.“ He „smirked“ when discussing Ann Godoff’s firing; he „smiled that sly conqueror smile he gets when he has won a particularly pleasing battle“ when talking about how he outmaneuvered Jack Hoeft back when he was Olson’s boss.
One source, „a former high-ranking Bertelsmann executive“ with an axe to grind, says that two years prior to this spring’s sudden firing of Ann Godoff, Olson had a completely different notion in mind. He went to Thomas Middelhoff with a plan to fire Sonny Mehta and replace him with Godoff. „Olson felt Sonny was too elitist,“ the source recalls, and indicates Olson said, „Sonny is a prince of publishing, and that made him impossible to control.“ Mr. Olson calls the account „absurdly inaccurate.“ Mehta doesn’t comment on the incident, but he does say earlier, „I’m pretty near unscarable, but I was absolutely taken aback when Ann Godoff was fired. It was completely unexpected.. She has real taste. But taste is not what Peter is about.“
Plus: * „Olson respects Irwyn Applebaum; he says his approach is the business model the company should follow.“ * Gina Centrello was told two months ahead of time about the realignment of the Random House division. Bertelsmann head Gunther Thielen was told two days ahead of time. He told Olson, „I do not know Ann Godoff. I said, ‚Do what you think is right.'“ * BN and Borders currently comprise 34 percent of Random’s sales; mass merchandisers account for 27 percent. * Last Christmas Olson gave colleagues a CD comprising favorite songs of his and his wife Candice Carpenter’s, with a picture of them on safari. Carpenter’s unsold book proposal is recalled, „which seems to be an exhaustive chapter-by-chapter account of her relationship with Olson.. The proposal carefully detailed private, often amazingly private, moments.“ * A Random House „associate“ says: „Olson will never admit it, but he was happy to see Middelhoff go. Peter is, by nature, conservative, but he likes attention. Thielen was about to retire, his English is not good, and he will not overshadow Olson, as Middelhoff did. With Thielen, Olson is clearly the guy in the U.S. He likes owning that world.“
Though ostensibly a business profile, the article delves very little into the soap opera-like politics for which Bertelsmann is famous. You won’t find the gossip from Germany-that Olson was left hanging on the quashed Time Warner Books purchase on purpose, or the embarrassment and finger pointing over the troubled Ullstein Heyne List acquistion-here at all, nor will you find much at all about the financial status of today’s Random House, or anything about the relationship between Olson and Thielen. Thielen was interviewed for the piece so he knew it was coming; the signals he sends are quiet ones: „Books are a flat business. The only way you can grow is through acquisitions. And Peter is very interested in growth.“
Discussing his decision not to buy AOLTW book group after all, Thielen says, „It was just daily business. You have good days and bad days, and we, at Bertelsmann, have not yet completed our debt reduction. There will be no acquiring until we do. It was close, but there was no handshake.“ One presumes that Olson may have been sending signals of his own by his willing participation, so perhaps this is the portrait he wants painted. There will surely be more to come as the full article makes the rounds and I’ll leave the detailed analysis to everyone standing by their fax machines–but the first three people I spoke to all had the same reaction: Will this have Olson counting his days