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Former head of publishing family business dies

John Sargent, who led the expansion of Doubleday & Company from a small family business to a publishing giant, died on 5 February aged 87.

John Sargent, who led the expansion of Doubleday & Company from a small family business to a publishing giant, died on 5 February aged 87.

Sargent worked at the American group, which was a family business until it was sold in 1986, for more than 40 years. He began as a copywriter for a group publication before gradually climbing up the ranks.

After serving as an advertising manager for a few years in the 1940s, Sargent became editor of several of the company’s publishing divisions.

He married Neltje Doubleday, granddaughter of the company’s founder Frank Nelson Doubleday in 1953, and became president and chief executive of the then family-owned business in 1961.

When Sargent took the helm, the company was largely a trade book publisher and ran a single book store in New York. But under his leadership, the business expanded rapidly and by 1979 was publishing around 700 books annually. He also led the company’s acquisition of Dell Publishing, a leading paperback publishing group, in 1976.

Sargent, who worked alongside his brother-in-law, oversaw the group’s entry into radio and television broadcasting, as well as film production. He stepped down as president in 1978 and took over the role of chairman of the media group.

He is credited with ensuring the company remained fully family owned – following his divorce from Neltje, she reportedly attempted to convince the company to sell shares to the public, but her efforts failed, thanks to resistance from both Sargent and her brother.

Sargent, who is survived by his second wife, two children from his first marriage, six grandchildren and two stepchildren, was also an avid baseball fan – he bought the New York Mets in 1980.

Doubleday & Company is today a part of Random House, which is owned by German media group Bertelsmann – it was sold to the conglomerate in 1986.

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