April 27th, 2016
Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, is 75-years-old: no one can accuse him of leaving his job early. Barnes & Noble is today at a crossroads, its digital business a shambles. But no one can accuse him of giving it less than 100%, and not just once. Jeff Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal broke the story of his pending retirement and the commentary will soon jam the airwaves. My small contribution is a few excerpts from my 2012 book about Barnes & Noble, (the awkwardly-titled) Stripping Covers off the Hunger Games.
♦ Riggio once said that if his first job had been in a hardware store, “I would have been Home Depot today.”
♦ Riggio is a scrappy player who has made himself and his shareholders very wealthy in a 50+ year career reshaping bookselling and publishing in America. Amazon is succeeding at rewriting the rules of publishing in this century only because Riggio dropped the ball during the first Internet boom in the late 1990s.
♦ In an oh-so-human 1999 profile in the New York Times, Len Riggio admitted: “For the first time in my lifetime, I can’t see five years ahead the way I used to…I can’t see it clearly.”
“It’s not just the changes in the book business, it’s the changes in retail, the changes in the way we live,” Mr. Riggio said. With the Internet revolution, he said, sometimes “I wake up and say that any business created before 1997 is going to be a fossil by the year 2010.”
♦ Two different books (one) (two) contain similar accounts of where the bad blood between Jeff Bezos and Len Riggio first began to boil, with Len Riggio blocking Morgan Stanley’s push to handle the high-prestige and high-value Amazon IPO.
Bezos retaliated by discounting all books to 50% off during Barnes & Noble’s IPO. Barnes & Noble had been using the slogan “World’s Largest Bookseller” and so Bezos chose “Earth’s Largest Bookseller”. Len sued. And on and on thereafter.
It wasn’t until the 2004 annual report that Barnes & Noble officially admitted that Amazon was a competitor…
♦ It’s important to recognize the charitable work that Barnes & Noble does as a company, and Len Riggio does as an individual. Barnes & Noble’s high-profile efforts are the annual Summer Reading program and the Holiday Book Drive. Riggio and his wife have focused on the arts, and also contributed time and money to the post-Katrina rebuilding of New Orleans.
Best wishes to Mr. Riggio as he steps away from the company that he founded and guided for over 50 years.
Some other reports:
The official announcement from Barnes & Noble.
The New York Times: Barnes & Noble’s Longtime Leader, Leonard Riggio, Is Stepping Down
Fortune: The Pioneer Who Built Barnes & Noble From the Ground up Is Stepping Down
The Digital Reader: Barnes & Noble Founder Len Riggio to Step Down in September
Bloomberg: Bookselling Pioneer Riggio to Retire as Barnes & Noble Chairman
August 16: The often-fickle Mr. Riggio fired his latest CEO, Ron Boire, and has resumed the CEO role.