A New "Portfolio" for Business Books

That's what Penguin Putnam's new biz imprint is called. Editor Adrian Zackheim explains why it's starting up now and what readers can expect

With the economy so volatile and Corporate America struggling to regain its credibility after a series of spectacular scandals and bankruptcies, now might not seem like an auspicious time to begin a business-book publishing enterprise. But Adrian Zackheim, head of Portfolio, Penguin Putnam's new business imprint, is undaunted. He has high expectations for Portfolio's first books, set to hit stores next month.

Until he left for Penguin in the fall of 2001, Zackheim was associate publisher of HarperCollins' general books group and editor-in-chief of HarperInformation. Earlier, as manager of the HarperBusiness imprint, Zackheim was associated with such best-sellers as The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams and Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James A. Champy.

BusinessWeek Books Editor Hardy Green recently spoke with Zackheim about his plans for Portfolio. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: Is this really the best time to begin a business-book list?

A:

I see no signs that business publishing is in the doldrums. Some publishers are committed to titles that are no longer relevant, such as books on the Internet or personal investing. They might just say those categories have disappeared. But several recently published books are doing well, including Larry Bossidy's Execution and Jim Collins' Good to Great. [Execution is published by Crown Publishers, and Good to Great by HarperBusiness.]

Q: We're living through such an unusual period -- does it call for unusual books?

A:

The times mean that publishers are feeling pressed to publish things they haven't before. After September 11, they began searching in extreme settings -- as in our book on how rock climbers set goals -- for how to rise to the occasion.

Q: It seems like you had a pretty nice position at HarperCollins. Why did you decide to leave?

A:

The draw was twofold: To start a business from scratch and to focus my efforts on what I do best -- business books -- rather than the broader responsibilities I had assumed at HarperCollins. I'll also have a smaller list here, about 20 books a year rather than 40 to 45.

Q: And what was Penguin Putnam's idea? They already have a lot of successful business books, such as Getting to Yes by Richard Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, and Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

A:

Penguin Putnam wanted to have a specialized imprint limited to business. They had seen incredible success with business books on a one-off basis, and they thought, "How much better could we do if we concentrated on this category?" They felt they'd neglected the category and wanted somebody who could integrate marketing and publishing. [The house will continue to have some business books that carry the Viking, Putnam, and Penguin labels.]

Q: Describe some of the books you've lined up.

A:

Portfolio has a dozen books to be published beginning in September and extending into the fall of 2003. Most are management titles, and several address how to deal with extreme situations. For instance, Blindsided: A Manager's Guide to Catastrophic Incidents in the Workplace by consultant Bruce T. Blythe offers advice on dealing with calamities, from flash floods to terrorist attacks.

Portfolio will also publish [an as-yet-unnamed] book on Enron by Fortune writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. [Editor's Note: The book deal, announced this past February, is a biggy: $1.4 million.]

Q: And what about personal-finance titles?

A:

The jury is still out on that. It's possible we won't do any.

Q: Why was the name "Portfolio" chosen?

A:

A portfolio is a collection of things -- financial instruments...art. We hope to encompass both of those aspects.

Edited by Patricia O'Connell