This Could Be Your Job: Magazine Guru

Cathie Black, also the author of “Basic Black,” shares her secrets to success and the sacrifices she’s made to make it to the top.
Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com Writer

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As told to Rachel Zupek

Full name and age? Cathleen P. Black, 63

Career background: I started in magazine advertising sales for Holiday magazine right out of college. I moved up in publishing management at Ms., eventually going to New York magazine where I became the first woman publisher of a national weekly consumer magazine. Then, for seven years, I was president and publisher of USA Today, with a five-year foray into the newspaper world as head of the Newspaper Association of America before I came to Hearst in November 1995.

Publications overseen: All 19 of Hearst's titles, including Cosmopolitan, O: The Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Esquire, Redbook, Harper's Bazaar, Seventeen, CosmoGirl!, Popular Mechanics, SmartMoney and Country Living. With the magazines' international editions, I'm actually responsible for nearly 200 magazines in 100 countries.

“President of Hearst Magazines” leaves a lot to the imagination as to what your job entails. Enlighten us: I am responsible for the financial performance of Hearst's magazine division. The magazines are just the start! I also spend about 20-30 percent of my time on digital media ventures, both to extend our existing brands and to launch new, online ones. I see print as the platform for our digital activities. Nothing will replace or substitute for magazines we know and love, but we are also committed to a strong digital presence. So far, we've launched 14 Web sites and nine mobile sites. We've also acquired four online companies and launched a new online-only site, thedailygreen.com. My job involves working with editors, publishers and directors who are committed to making Hearst Magazines a successful enterprise and a great place to work. It also involves a lot of travel, which I have always done and I love.

What is a typical day at the office for Cathie Black? There's no typical day, which is just one reason I love it! Every day has its mix of meetings with magazine editors and publishers, advertisers and digital mavens. My favorite days are when new ideas and solutions come to light. I make decisions every day on everything from approving a new hire or promotion, to setting a budget or green-lighting a new project. I'm a big believer in delegating over micromanaging - presumably you hire people to make more informed and better decisions in their areas than you can. I'm always thinking long-term: How will a day's activities fit into growing Hearst Magazines?

Three favorite things about your job and/or the media industry? Just three?!  The thrill of selling a big idea has always been such a charge for me. What really moves me about magazines and media is the service aspect – a story, column or photo can help someone, or even change their life. I also like that media is charged with making the implicit public trust of the First Amendment a living, breathing, thriving thing.

Three major dislikes about your job and/or the media industry? I have two: The 24/7 news cycle sometimes rushes incomplete information into the world, which is one reason I like the production cycle of magazines – it allows time to really delve into the research to get it right. The other is the sometimes disappearing distinction in public perception between journalists or editors and entertainers, pundits and any blowhard with a blog. Now, obviously, there are many responsible and wonderful examples of all of the above that do a great service in sharing their expertise and passion. This makes the whole, big media morph more confusing for everybody!

Biggest “lesson learned” as you've moved through the ranks throughout your career? That success is as personal as your signature. Define it for yourself. What do you want? That takes experience, self-analysis, maturity and honesty. What does it take for you to feel successful, happy, satisfied, inspired? Are you a 9 to 5-er or a 24/7 person? It's all about knowing yourself.

Describe in 100 words or less why you've been so successful? I've been lucky in two ways: I was born with self-confidence and I entered the work force just when the moment for women arrived. The rest of my story can be true for anyone: hard work, passion, not fearing success or failure. (Failure is the best "teachable moment!") The second is having the humility to look in the mirror and say, "I need to change" when I really did. My staff at Ms. threatened to quit if I didn't. I thought my management style was "direct"; they thought it was abrasive. No way would I resign! I toned it down, lightened up and have been the better listener - and professional - for it ever since.

What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to move up the corporate ladder? Mowing down others in the process. Do you really want to be the boss no one wants to work for? Learning how to be a manager and even, perhaps, a leader, means that you have to bring a team along with you to help make it happen.

A major topic in your book is about achieving “the 360-degree life.” What does that mean, how have you achieved it and how can others achieve it? "The 360 degree life" is my description of blending professional achievement and personal contentment. You have to define success for yourself in the personal realm, too. You can love your job but your job cannot love you back. It means deciding whether to form a partnership, have children, volunteer, travel. It also means feeding your soul with things like tending friendships. I couldn't be content without my friends to share my life and I, theirs. Our lives can truly be connected circles when we give up the myth of "having it all" for having all that we need.

When you started in the media industry 40-some years ago, did you ever think you would get to where you are today? I hear about people who knew when they were 15 years old they wanted to be a photographer; run IBM, the CIA or the PTA; or start a business. I knew I wanted to do well at something I loved. By college I knew I was attracted to publishing, advertising and public relations. I guess I achieved my goal! I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful that so many wonderful things came from that early dream. But that was only when I saw where my path could lead to.

What sacrifices have you had to make throughout your life to achieve success in your career? I don't believe it’s so much the word sacrifice as it is making choices. I've gladly given things up to gain something I wanted. It's about priorities. That said, I had zero time for myself when my children were small and I was running USA Today. Sure, there were times I wished I could get lost in a movie or a department store or a bathtub. I missed my own birthday for years. But sacrifices? You give things up to gain those you value more. However, I never missed anything important pertaining to my kids. I am there for every parent-teacher meeting, every birthday party and every performance. I wouldn't change that for the world.

What advice do you have for the many workers who aspire to be something more or do something other than what they are right now but feel like they can't? Know thyself. What do you really want? What do you need to go after it? I wrote “Basic Black” as a playbook to answer this question, among others. You usually have more choices than you think, but who can see objectively from "stuck and miserable"? Use resources to help and support you: family, friends, faith if you have one, and, yes... books! Sometimes you have to take the risk of knowing when a situation isn't working out and just move on. Plan your exit strategy and move forward.

By any standard, you seem as though you've already “made it” in terms of achieving success not only in your career, but also in life. What are your goals from here? I would hate to think that I've had my career capstone, whatever that would be! I want to continue to learn both professionally and personally, grow the business I love, and make every moment to come, with my family and friends and civic activities, count. Some goals are eternal: I'm a big believer in genuineness and generosity, whether you're mentoring new industry talent, helping your child with her science project, or contributing to vaccinating or educating the world.

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.


Last Updated: 25/02/2008 - 11:56 AM


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