Emily Powell Will
Lead Powell's Books into the Future
Plan to Transition Bookseller's Management
April 12, 2006, Portland, OR Emily
Powell is poised to continue the legacy of family-owned Powell's Books, one of
the world's largest and most innovative independent booksellers for the past
35 years. Ms. Powell will eventually operate the company, which was founded by
her grandfather, Walter, and owned and managed by her father, Michael, for the
past 27 years.
On May 1, Emily will begin work as the Director of Used Books, a move that
will provide her with the experience and knowledge necessary to manage the company's
core competency, buying and selling used books. The news was announced in a company-wide
email that detailed the transition plan, alleviating speculation about the fate
of this legendary Portland, Oregon, business.
Preparing for increased responsibility in the company, Emily has worked at
Powells.com for the past two years as a business development specialist; but
she has been involved with the company her entire life, from her days as a toddler
riding around on book carts in the stores, to a summer job shelving books in
the westerns section.
After attending Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree
in urban planning and design, Ms. Powell decided to set out on her own, working
first as a pastry chef and then as a real estate analyst in San Francisco. Emily
says, "My parents always encouraged me to engage in work and activities outside
of the family business to broaden my perspective of the world." Now her focus
has turned back to her family's business, and her parents' goals of keeping Powell's
Books "an independent bookstore under the stewardship of a passionate bookseller."
While some speculate about the outcome of third generation business transitions,
Ms. Powell has a tremendous support network that includes Powell's management,
her parents, and the community. The announcement in Portland newspapers generated
much mail from the community, congratulating Emily and wishing her well. Whether
by design or not, she is surrounded by a supportive, primarily female management
team that has watched her grow from a child into a smart, capable businesswoman.
In addition to long-term planning, with the help of a business advisor to guide
the transition process, Emily's mother, Alice, is involved in all transition
and management meetings, using her training as a therapist to help address the
emotional components of the process.
While Emily is excited about the plans for her to manage Powell's Books, she
is realistic about the challenge and responsibilities that lie ahead: "I have
a lot to learn and some big shoes to fill." She will take time over the next
few years to gather information and form her own goals and vision for the future
of the company. Emily is especially looking forwarding to working more closely
with her father during this time. "The opportunity to learn from my dad and build
on our already strong relationship is wonderful and rare." Although Michael Powell
will ultimately relinquish control of the business decisions to Emily, he will
by no means disappear; he will just get back to the part of the business that
he loves the books.
Powell's roots began in Chicago, where Michael Powell, as a University of Chicago
graduate student, opened his first bookstore in 1970. Encouraged by friends and
professors, including novelist Saul Bellow, Michael borrowed $3,000 to assume
a lease on a bookstore. The venture proved so successful that he managed to repay
the loan within two months.
Michael's father Walter, a retired painting contractor, worked one summer
with Michael in the Chicago store. He so enjoyed his experience that upon returning
to Portland he opened his own used bookstore. Michael joined Walter in 1979,
creating a bookstore with a unique recipe that, though viewed as unorthodox,
worked: used and new, hardcover and paperback, all on the same shelf, open 365
days a year and staffed by knowledgeable and dedicated book lovers.
Powell's Books, Inc., has nearly 500 employees, four general stores and two
specialty stores in Portland, Oregon, and an award-winning website, Powells.com.