“as identified by Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International”
We entered the magazine business back in 1959, when my uncle, Sam Newhouse, then in his 60s, bought a small media business with a handful of magazines. The company was called Condé Nast and it cost $5 million. Since then Condé Nast has become a multibillion dollar media empire, under the leadership of Samuel’s son Si, who is my first cousin. Today, together with our international newspaper, television and online activities, Condé Nast publishes more than 80 magazines around the world.
Throughout the years my family has worked in the same way – seriously and in a quiet manner. Our style has been to concentrate on the business and not to seek attention for ourselves. I am often asked – what is the secret of our success and I really cannot say it is any one thing. However, there are a number of lessons I have learned from my family and through my own 33 years of publishing experience, which I am happy to share with Magazine World readers.
APPOINT THE BEST
The single most important factor leading to success in publishing, or any business is this, rule number one: appoint the best people to every key position. By the best, I mean the smartest, hardest working and most talented. Of course, the ability must be matched to the position. Having the right experience is also very important, and so, to a degree, is a person’s character.
This may seem like a simple, obvious lesson, but it is amazing how often managers do not follow it. Many managers like to appoint their friends to key positions. They want the warm feeling of having their friends around them. But this is a mistake. Your friends are usually not the best people to do the job. Of course, it is possible that after many years of working together you may develop a warm friendship with your colleague, but the point is not to have a friend by your side in business, but the best person for the job.
Even very successful executives sometimes forget this simple truth! The chairman of Disney, a giant Hollywood studio, appointed his best friend as the president under him. A year later he had to fire his friend, and there was a big scandal which has hurt the company to this day. If you have the right people on board, you can solve 80 to 90 percent of all problems without trouble. If you do not have the right people with you, you will never be able to solve such problems.
GIVE THEM SPACE
My second rule is equally simple: after you have hired the best, let them do their jobs. Some bosses try to direct every activity personally. They decide every detail and order their staff to carry out their instructions. They consider themselves the most talented, brilliant people in the organisation and therefore do not delegate responsibility to those below them. I call this business model: genius with a hundred helpers. It is a bad business model.
It is bad because most managers, no matter how brilliant, do not know everything. And in order for people in the magazine to develop and grow in their jobs, they have to be given responsibility and the opportunity to carry it out. If they make mistakes sometimes, you can correct them. They will learn and improve.
THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAIL
Rule number three: pay attention to the details. While you should not try to make every decision, it is important to understand the details of your business thoroughly. I look at every page of the more than 80 magazines we publish. I study every financial report. And James Woolhouse (president of CN Asia Pacific and CN international planning director) knows if there is a mistake, I will find it. Editors know that if they make a mistake, I will call them about it. So everyone pays more attention. Business conditions are constantly changing, you have to be alert to problems and ready to act and react. The Germans have a world for it: fingerspitzengefuhl, or fingertip feeling’s. It means being sensitive to all aspects of the business.
KEEP THE NECESSARY PERSPECTIVE
Rule number four: wear bifocal eyeglasses. I mean this as an expression of speech, not literal reality. Bifocal eyeglasses are glasses with different lenses on the top and the bottom. The top lens is for seeing far into the distance while the bottom lens helps to view things that are up close. In business, you have to see like this. You have to know what is happening every day, and you have to be able to think about and plan for five years ahead. You have to shift from one way of seeing to the other, just as with bifocal eyeglasses.
USE YOUR HEAD
Rule number five: do not get carried away by emotion. The intensity of work can arouse strong feelings anger, frustration, joy, happiness and sadness. There is nothing wrong with having strong feelings, but it is a bad idea to make decisions on the basis of these feelings. Decisions should be made in a calm way, after you have taken the time to carefully reflect upon the question involved. Acting out of either anger or joy can be a big mistake. Above all, do not write a letter or memo when you are feeling very angry. A written document lasts forever, even after your anger has subsided. When you are feeling very angry, do something else. Walk around the block, or go home and please your spouse or lover.
Rule number six: learn how to handle mistakes. The best thing to do, of course, is not to make the mistakes in the first place. You have to try hard to avoid errors but it is inevitable that you will make mistakes, especially when you are doing something for the first time. In business as in life, when you make a mistake there are three things you
have to do this applies to every one:
1. Take responsibility and apologise if necessary.
2. Learn why the mistake occurred.
3. Don’t make the same mistake again.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Rule number seven: keep an open mind and try to learn things. No matter how much any of us think we know, there is much more we don’t know. And the world keeps changing. Keep your eyes open to what is happening around you, in your business, in other businesses, in the life of the community and in the world. If you see something going well, try to understand why it is going well. When an idea fails, try to understand why it failed. Be open to new ideas no matter who or what is the source of the new idea. A good idea does not have to come from a high ranking, educated staff member. A low ranking assistant might have a keen insight into a problem which a high ranking staff member could not solve.
Rule number eight: take care of your physical health. Work is strenuous, and your ability to do a job successfully is related to your level of physical and mental health. I may sound like your mother by saying this, but it’s true. You have to eat well, to get physical exercise and to limit smoking and drinking. In my own work, I am constantly travelling and supervising magazines around the world. Long ago I decided that the only way I could do my job the way I wanted was to train myself like an athlete. So I run 5 miles a day, eat carefully and I do not smoke or drink alcohol. My habits are extreme, and I don’t say you have to do the same. But if you improve your physical health, you will be capable of performing better professionally. Following these lessons is not a guarantee of success, but if you do not follow them you will greatly reduce your chances of having a successful enterprise.
Jonathan Newhouse is a keynote speaker on the second day (24 May) of the 35th FIPP World Magazine Congress. He has spent the last 25 years working at Condé Nast and, since 1989, has directed its international operations as chairman of Condé Nast International. Included in the company’s prestigious portfolio are titles Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Condé Nast Traveler, Jane, Wired, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
Source: FIPPs Magazine World, issue 43
Contribution Courtesy FIPP Magazine World www.fipp.com