New Powell’s CEO talks about changing industry, city

New Powell’s CEO talks about changing industry, city


by KGW Staff

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Posted on April 29, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 30 at 10:08 AM

PORTLAND -- When there's a change at the top of most companies, few take notice. But when it involves the top spot at Powell's Books, people pay attention.

Miriam Sontz is now the new CEO of Powell’s, where she has worked since 1984.

Sontz came to Portland from Chicago to attend Reed College in 1969.

“I'm so thrilled I stayed, because the city has blossomed and it's been a great place for me to blossom as well,” she said.

After several jobs in the book business, Sontz was hired at Powell’s.

“I was the 41st employee,” she recalled.

Sontz has held many jobs, including chief operations officer. She was also co-CEO along with Emily Powell, the daughter of second-generation owner Michael Powell. After just two years of that, Emily Powell decided to concentrate on her role as owner, naming Sontz the first non-family-member to the head the company.

Related: Powell's Books announces new CEO

“That has positives and negatives,” Sontz said. “There's a lot to be said about an outsider look into a company, a corporate culture.”

But above all, Sontz said she recognizes the book store belongs to the city.

“There are now six locations, approximately 500 employees,” she said. “Certainly the industry and the world around us is changing. Dramatically.”

As many national chains reach their last chapters, major independent booksellers like Powell's have found new ways to remain viable.

“We think we have the right bones in our structure to address this challenge to our industry,” she said. “We believe we're creative, we respond to our environment. We believe that we are risk takers.”

But, expansion beyond the Portland area is not part of that equation.

“We think our website is the way we make contact with the rest of the world,” Sontz said.

But she said she does not download books. She still prefers to hold a book in her hands. And she said at the moment she’s reading Charles Dickens.