Barnes & Noble is so bad at hiring CEOs, the book world is crowdsourcing the hunt

Perhaps time to turn a page.
Perhaps time to turn a page.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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The US bookselling community has a suggestion for the next Barnes & Noble chief executive: What about a bookseller?

B&N has a leadership problem. The US book chain is looking for its fifth CEO in six years after it fired Demos Parneros last month. In the job for less than a year and a half, he had little previous bookstore experience to speak of when he came on as chief operating officer in late 2016. (The company has not provided details on Parneros’ firing “for violations of the Company’s policies.”)

To help Barnes & Noble get it right this time, Shelf Awareness, the bookstore industry newsletter, launched a poll this week asking for a vote on its picks for CEO candidates and for write-in suggestions. The poll, which has received 350 votes, will be open until Aug. 29.

“We hope that our poll will remind B&N corporate leaders that there are many highly qualified, dedicated people in the book industry who could lead the company,” writes Shelf Awareness’s John Mutter by email. “The idea of hiring people with background in other retail industries hasn’t worked well at B&N—and was a contributing factor in Borders’ demise.”

Because this is the internet, the top choice is Barack Obama, with 80 votes at time of writing. Trailing him is Heather Reisman, CEO of the Canadian book chain Indigo. Write-ins names include Heidi Fairchild, a sales and inventory manager at the B&N in Alpharetta, Georgia, the bestselling author James Patterson, and Donald Trump.

Of Fairchild, one commenter writes glowingly:

Exactly the kind of person every current/former employee will follow to the ends of the Earth because she’s been in the trenches, knows the business backward and forward, and still manages to be positive and cover all of her responsibilities despite the lack of payroll hours and trained employees. We should all welcome our new overlord and savior, Heidi Fairchild.

“Someone who isn’t a middle-aged white man. They’re clearly stuck in the 2000s,” says another, without nominating someone specific. “Stephen King. Because he obviously knows how to make money from books!” writes another.

(Barnes & Noble has not responded to a request for comment on whether it would take any of the nominees under consideration.)

It may seem strange that bookstore employees would be so invested in the chief executive of a monster book chain that once threatened their livelihoods. But recently, US bookstores small and big have been, at least superficially, agreeing to work together to battle their relentless common opponent, Amazon.