Ousted HarperCollins Chief Had Been Improving NumbersAt the time she was fired, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman was expected to post "strong fourth-quarter results... at the end of the month," according to the Observer. That only deepens the mystery as to why Friedman was fired — if not over bad numbers, then why? It does look like the book executive was pushed. She reportedly did not look distressed at an 11 am Wednesday meeting, just before News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch told her she would be replaced by her deputy Brian Murray. She supposedly had no clue as to the purpose of her meeting with Murdoch, the sort of blindsiding one would expect in a firing. And Friedman's replacement, Murray, started acting tense when he got the news of his promotion two days prior, according to the Observer's sources — hardly the behavior expected of someone replacing a voluntarily-departing executive. The weekend prior, Friedman had been in high spirits at a HarperCollins party. So many things don't add up:

  • Even if Friedman's performance was bad, why not ease her out like Jack Romanos at Simon & Schuster or give her a few weeks like Peter Olson at Random House?
  • Why did people in the "highest echelons" at HarperCollins seem to know nothing about Friedman's departure Wednesday night? Why are her "closest friends" still baffled about what happened?
  • If Friedman was pushed out for performance reasons, why install her chosen successor and longtime underling as the replacement?

Still, Friedman's replacement Murray sounds a lot like the sort of publisher that's so hot these days: "Mr. Murray is a skilled businessman with a knack for administrative strategy and little interest in the literary aspects of publishing." Perhaps Murdoch, who seems to be the only one who saw this change coming, simply decided he wanted one of those.

[Observer]