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The Corner Office: Publishing Outside the Box

Harlequin Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes on how innovation is ingrained in her company’s DNA.

August 2008 By Peter Beisser
Many would consider Harlequin Enterprises Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes an innovator. Not only is she the first woman to head the Canadian-based company, a position she has held for the past five years, but under Hayes’ leadership, Harlequin has consistently made industry headlines for its willingness to experiment in all areas of the book-publishing business—from joining forces with Nascar in 2006 for a series of stock car-themed novels to signing an exclusive deal to partner with Audible.com for digital audiobook distribution of its titles.

Harlequin also was the first major publisher to offer its entire front list in e-book format, and has further pushed the boundaries of digital offerings with several initiatives, including developing a mobile-phone application for women, producing romance blogs on its Web site, and even having one of its authors do a reading event on the online virtual world Second Life (SecondLife.com).

Hayes spoke with Book Business about how she fosters a corporate culture of innovation, and how Harlequin is cutting costs and generating revenue by approaching publishing with a fresh perspective.

What is your approach to fostering an innovative corporate culture?

Donna Hayes:
Innovation is part of our DNA. … We designed a set of [six] guiding principles. … One of [them] is “Innovate—Continue to Raise the Bar.” Continually create new and innovative products that appeal to our customers’ needs. Find better, faster, cheaper and smarter ways of doing things, and execute [them]. Take the calculated risk that drives improvement. We have established a culture that encourages and rewards this kind of thinking. It keeps us relevant, current and ahead of the trends. … Anyone who works here really believes in it. … People understand coming through the door that’s part of what’s expected of them, and it works. …

In recent years, what innovation did you champion that made a significant difference in your business?

Hayes:
I think there’s a lot of them. There are probably a couple of them I would highlight. One was our launch of our business in India [in February]. I think it will be enormous to our future. … I think that [with] the growth in India, it’s very important for us to be there. We adapted to the differences in culture and local customs. Geographic expansion of our brand is what we look at all the time. We really want to be everywhere in the world that women would like to read our stories.
 

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