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Penguin General MD Joanna Prior is to take over as CEO of Pan Macmillan when its current CEO Anthony Forbes Watson steps down early next year.  Her arrival will mark the first time a woman has had a senior leadership role among the big five publishers since the departures of Gail Rebuck and Victoria Barnsley from Random House and HarperCollins respectively in 2013.

She now joins Bonnier’s Perminder Mann as one of the few female heads of a UK publishing house.  Little, Brown’s CEO Ursula Mackenzie retiree in 2016.

Pan Macmillan said Forbes Watson was stepping down “to make room for a fresh pair of eyes and to give him time to pursue other interests”. He will continue his association with the group and become an advisor to Stefan von Holtzbrinck, leader of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, owners of Pan Macmillan.

Prior’s arrival completes a neat symmetry.  Forbes Watson took over at Pan Macmillan in 2008, having himself spent 15 years with the company, the last eight as chief executive of the UK business.  Now Penguin is providing another long-term employee to Pan Macmillan – Prior has been with the company 23 years, the last 12 leading Penguin General.

Prior said:  “I have spent 23 incredibly happy years at Penguin, first in publicity and marketing roles and for the past 12 leading the remarkable team at Penguin General. The decision to leave was not an easy one but Pan Macmillan is a company I’ve always admired; it is, in fact, where I had my first permanent job in publishing. The offer to lead a business of this size and reputation, with a commitment to publishing the very best books of all kinds, is something that was irresistible. We have all seen just how important books are to culture and society over the last difficult year and a half, and I’m honoured to take up this role to lead Pan Macmillan in the next phase of its growth and success.”

Among the many industry positions Prior has held are president of the Publishers Association, chair of the Consumer Publishing Group and chair of World Book Day. She is currently chair of the Women’s Prize Trust and vice-chair of the National Literacy Trust.

Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of Holtzbrinck Publishing Company, commented: “I am more than happy that we could convince Joanna to continue her journey of great success and creative agility with Pan Macmillan as its new CEO.  Her track record and experience, her integrity and the values she stands for are the best possible fit for the helm of this independent British publishing house with worldwide recognition.”

Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK, added: “Jo will be much missed at Penguin Random House but we only wish her happiness and success in her new role as CEO of Pan Macmillan. While we will now be competitors at work, we will remain the best of friends outside of it! Good luck, Jo.”