Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Vale Matt Richell

Matt Richell, CEO of Hachette Australia and chairman of Hachette New Zealand, died in a surfing accident in Sydney on 2 July.

Former CEO of Hachette Australia Malcolm Edwards writes:

‘Matt was different. He was fun and he was courageous. How many of us at age 33 would give up a successful publishing career in London, travel circuitously to Australia and with his, then, girlfriend travel the length and breadth of Western Australia, camping out in the back of a beaten up old Landcruiser?

‘That girlfriend was Hannah, who had given up on equally successful publishing career to share that journey and that gamble with Matt. And what a journey it became, starting with his proposal of marriage to her at Ningaloo reef, accompanied as he always reminded us, by his astonishment that she accepted! It was to be the catalyst for the most exciting years.

‘In very short succession, Matt was lured to Sydney to become sales and marketing director at Hachette Australia, he and Hannah married and Jude was born. A family house was purchased in Balmain and the Richells threw themselves into everything that was Australian, or that defined Australia.

‘Matt meanwhile was making a name for himself at Hachette, and his calm demeanour, thoughtful approach, unfailing politeness, and sense of humour endeared him to staff and peers alike. He developed a wide network of friends and colleagues in the industry and was always first to put his hand up to help in any industry or charitable initiative to help promote reading, or the wider dissemination of books.

‘Perhaps more surprisingly to those who didn’t know him so well, he threw himself into the world of Australian fiction and nonfiction and made it his business to meet, cajole, encourage, and advise almost every author on the Hachette Australia list. For Matt was a true publisher, you see. He understood the creative process and all its vicissitudes, he empathized with the nervousness of new authors, he had an eye for how a manuscript could be improved, how a jacket image could be enhanced and exactly where and how a book fitted into the market. Above all Matt was passionate about his authors and their books and no one could miss the excitement in his voice when he was describing a soon to be published book.

‘He also had that rarest of gifts in publishing—he knew how to make a profit (or at least minimise the losses!) He was the real deal—the archetypal publisher.

‘The growing realisation that Hannah had become a bestselling international author during this time was a matter of enormous pride for him, and he loved telling us how relieved he was that there was one success in the family, and that it wasn’t him!

‘Gracie their daughter arrived in 2011 and so began the inevitable juggling of parental duties whilst Hannah was promoting her books in UK and Australia, and Matt dealing with his ever-growing responsibilities.

‘I shall never know how Matt found the time to do all the things he did. There wasn’t a book he hadn’t read, a film he hadn’t seen, a TV series he wasn’t extolling the virtues of, a sporting event that he hadn’t watched overnight (I’m afraid he never became Australian in the sporting sense—England was his team—despite, as he always admitted, the pain it caused him!)

‘In between this, he ran, learned the guitar, learned to surf, travelled constantly and importantly carved out quality time for his young family to whom he was utterly devoted.

‘On top of this, the announcement came that he was appointed CEO of Hachette Australia and New Zealand. All this a mere seven years after the Land Cruiser!

‘His appointment was greeted with acclaim by authors, staff, customers, peers  and colleagues and he immediately set about articulating his vision for the company and how he proposed to navigate it through the tricky waters of significant industry change.

‘It came as no surprise that at the very core of that vision was the dignity and welfare of people regardless of how they interfaced with the company. Those who worked with Matt know exactly how he inspired them—a kindly word here, an encouraging email there, a midnight email suggesting that a publisher watch a new TV series he had just watched, a recommendation to read a particular book—and not always a Hachette one. All this without a hint of pretentiousness and, more often than not, with that special brand of self-deprecating humour. The stories of such individual and personal touches are myriad and are treasured by those of us who remain.

‘Matt’s untimely death has robbed each and every one of us of something of a future, for he had so much more to give. But we should celebrate his life because he was an extraordinary person, so full of life and so engaged with many of us and constantly challenging himself.

‘As that wonderful Aussie saying has it, he didn’t die wondering.

‘Vale Matt. We will miss you.’


Category: Local news