Money & Career

The president of Penguin Canada on work-life balance

The president and publisher of Penguin Canada is proof that being an English major is not a waste of four years.

Nicole Winstanley, president of Penguin Canada

Nicole Winstanley, president of Penguin Canada

Name: Nicole Winstanely

Occupation:President and publisher of Penguin Canada


Hometown: Toronto

Training: Honours BA in English literature from University of Western Ontario, publishing certificate from Ryerson University

Q: How do you define success?

A: I don’t see it as one great big thing, but rather how you spend your days. And for me, that’s being surrounded by talented people that I love to be with and doing challenging, interesting work.

Q: Best advice you’ve ever been given?

A: A friend gave me a fridge magnet with an Emily Dickinson quote: “Dwell in the possibility.” It’s just so succinct. You’ve got to live in the possible.

Q: Worst advice?

A: My high school guidance counsellor told me that I should write for instruction manuals. Anybody who knows me can tell you that I’m the worst at assembling things, let alone giving directions. I use the word thingy a lot, like “Put that thingy there.”

Q:What do you love about your job?

A: The moment the finished book lands on my desk. It takes a lot of people to put a book together, but then suddenly it’s all done, and I get to gape at it for a few moments before it goes off into the world. I love that; I often pick up the phone and call the author and say, “I’m holding it! It’s here!”

Q: What would you change about your job?

A: That’s easy. Fewer meetings, more reading!

Q: How do you unwind?

A: I play in the park with my son, Noah. There’s nothing like digging in the sandbox to make the stress of the day melt away. And if it’s rainy we bake — he’s two, so he mainly eats chocolate chips and supervises!

Q: On work-life balance?

A: Embrace the beautiful chaos. Life is messy, and if you try to make it neat, the only person you bother is yourself. There are going to be days when you’re supposed to be at a meeting, and you’re home with your sick child. And then there are those days when it all comes together.

Q: Has being a woman helped or hindered you?

A: It helps! The demographic for readers is women (they buy more books than men) so there’s a natural advantage in understanding what women want. Plus, I went on a one-year maternity leave, I came back, and they made me president! So I’m just going to say that they’re not holding it against me.

Q: What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?

A: The arrival of my son. He came two months early and was kept in hospital for six weeks — I was discharged before him. It’s torture; you don’t sleep, you don’t eat. Sometimes I slept in our car in the garage of the hospital because I couldn’t bear to go home. I learned so much from that experience. You’ve got this tiny baby, and nothing else matters. Before he was born I was much more of a micro-manager; then suddenly I was out the door eight weeks early and not back for a year. I had to let everyone at work figure it out.