2010 September 13
In his first in-depth interview since assuming the presidential throne at Hearst, Condé expat David Carey talks technophobic EICs, why Portfolio went bust, and the end of the Mr. Big era.
(NEW YORK) In his first in-depth interview since assuming the presidential throne at Hearst Magazines, Condé expat David Carey talks technophobic EICs, why Portfolio went bust, and the end of the Mr. Big era.
How’s life in the Hearst Tower?
The combination of the people, the products, and the openness to new ideas makes my 60- and 70-hour weeks a lot of fun. There is so much change facing the industry, and the companies that are going to be the most comfortable facing it are going to win. I believe that’s us.
There were quite a few surprise departures from Condé this year, including your own. What do you think’s going on there?
I don’t think there’s any broad conclusion to be drawn. These things go in cycles. There were opportunities for individuals that happened to come along. For Richard Beckman, who did a great job leading the Fairchild media group, it was a chance to be a full-fledged entrepreneur. Tom Florio is hoping to do the same thing. In my case, I had the opportunity to be an entrepreneur in a big company as it planned for the future. They all happened to come along in relatively short order, but I don’t think they add
up to anything.
It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for anyone lately. What’s the most important rule for publishing success in the new millennium?
I would say that we must be truly open-minded about all forms of our business. We can’t be afraid to take risks. And when we think about the future, we have no idea where the next big idea is going to come from, so we really have to empower every person, especially lower down in the organization, to be a part of the magazine company of the future.
Speaking of the future, we know of at least one EIC at Hearst who still has an assistant print out her e-mails. As a digital guy, who’s been in his own Apple ad, does that drive you crazy?
Do you think that’s really true any longer?
If they respond quickly, that’s the key element. Whether you use your BlackBerry, your iPhone, your iPad, your laptop, or write yes or no on a piece of paper, everyone has a different strategy of staying ahead of the fire hose of information that’s being shot at us. I’m not going to say that if they print them out and scribble back and forth, that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I get about 125 e-mails a day. I’m open to any solution that’s going to allow me to properly bring the information in and respond in a timely manner.
Everyone’s talking about digital taking over, but it’s going to take years for Hearst to replace the print-ad revenue of a colossus like Cosmo. What happens in the meantime?
What’s remarkable is that we already have a strong early-leadership position against that happening. We have a big domestic-magazine business, a very big international business, and a substantial services business. Those are the three legs of the stool. People forget that we own CDS—the largest fulfillment company in the country, where you send your checks when you subscribe to most magazines. We’re the agency for Condé Nast, Meredith, Reader’s Digest, you name it. So that services piece is a very important element. I would say we’re more developed and coordinated than other publishers, and that provides a great platform for us to build into the future.
What lessons did you take away from Portfolio?
The key problem there was the timing. When that project was green-lighted in 2006, business and hedge-fund executives were the heroes of the day. Two years later, those same people were the ones everyone hated—their names were pejorative phrases. The magazine might as well have been called Subprime! No one could have predicted that. When people ask me what I would have done differently, I say I wish we had taken all that money and shorted the market. The timing, which seemed ideal for a short period, just proved to be very wrong. But try predicting that kind of cultural shift ahead of time.
Who’s your favorite designer?
Most of my suits are Ralph Lauren. I travel a lot, so I look for clothes that can hold up to a fair amount of abuse, and I’ve always been quite taken with what he does.
How do you spend your weekends? Any hobbies?
No, I have four children—chasing them around takes up a big chunk of my time.
What about golf? Did you play before you ran that group at Condé?
I started playing about seven years ago. I don’t get to take anybody’s money on the course, but I do like to play with my two sons. We usually try to do nine holes on Sundays.
You seem quite mellow for a former Condé publisher. Is the Mr. Big over?
I think that era was maybe overdramatized anyway. Within the organization the focus was always on knowing how to run your business. Sometimes people had larger public profiles, sometimes lesser, but the important thing was competence. Is it over? Ten years from now, someone perhaps more flamboyant than I am will be talking to The Daily. Anything is possible. Personally, I have always preferred a lower-key strategy.
Have you been media-trained?
Not really. I guess for TV stuff a little bit, but I don’t do a lot of that. I try to play it straight. You’ll find that the sin factor with me is very low. CHRISTOPHER TENNANT