Cathleen Black is the former chairman and president of Hearst Magazines as well as a best-selling author and investor and advisor in digital start-ups. Cathie is also a board member of several digital start-ups, to include Yieldbot, BarkBox and Daily Muse and others.
In addition, she is a popular speaker to business and women’s audiences. As board member of Hearst Corporation and President, then chairman, of Hearst Magazines, one of the world's largest publishers of monthly magazines, for 15 years, Cathie oversaw 20 titles in the U.S. and nearly 200 international editions in more than 100 countries including Cosmopolitan, Food Network Magazine, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, O, The Oprah Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics, Redbook, and Town & Country.
Cathie expanded Hearst Magazines, into a more highly visible and innovative division by rejuvenating its storied older titles, launching new ones Food Network and O, The Oprah Magazine – the most successful launch in publishing history – and extending branded content into digital venues. Cathie steadily increased revenues and profitability, broadened the company’s international reach, and acquired numerous digital brands and businesses..
Fortune Magazine named Cathie to its annual 50 Most Powerful Women in Business for 11 consecutive years. She has also been included numerous times on Forbes magazine's list of "The 100 Most Powerful Women" and Crain's list of New York City's "100 Most Influential Women in Business” and been called “The First Lady of Magazines”.
1) How did you get into the media/publishing industry?
While in college, I decided to major in English with the specific idea of moving to NYC afterward and going into publishing, advertising or public relations. At the time, I really didn’t have any big contacts or people that I knew other than one at a book publishing company and after talking about the long lead time for books, I thought I wanted a higher energy and faster time line for my first job, so I relentlessly called and sent resumes to magazine companies and advertising agencies. I finally got an interview at a large magazine publisher and immediately felt that the work and environment were well suited to my temperament and interests. My first job was not on the editorial side but in advertising sales and I was hooked. I liked the sense of owning my own accounts, earning a salary and commission and feeling like it was a great first start. I also had a female boss which was a good role model and quite rare in that era.
2) What do you believe has been your most successful decisions and biggest mistake and how did you learn from your mistakes?
Making mistakes is part of any job (and in life, for that matter). One learns from mistakes and hopefully you don’t repeat the same mistake. The point is to think about what happened and why; admit it was an error and don’t try to cover the mistake up as it will just get bigger and cause more anxiety or problems.
My most successful decisions always involved taking a risk. For example, early on when my first boss resigned to go to another publishing company, I immediately went to the publisher’s office to schedule an appointment to pitch for the position. It was a bold move as I was only 23 and my boss was probably a decade older but I had confidence that I would be able to handle the responsibility. I got the job and even asked for more money than the raise that was offered. The publisher was pretty surprised but I ended up not with what I had asked for but more than what they had offered in the first discussion. Getting comfortable negotiating is really, really important.
My biggest decision was to accept the presidency of USA Today which meant relocating from NYC to Washington, DC where the newspaper was headquartered. When USAT launched it was very controversial as it had four color printing, a different and breezier handling of the news and reader friendly format which was looked down upon by journalists everywhere. But it was a great move up and exposed me to the newspaper industry and Wall Street as the company was publicly held and a darling of Wall Street analysts. My real job there was to quickly figure out the advertising strategy as the paper was hemorrhaging red ink in the start up years. It took time and relentless selling but revenue started to come in and the paper was accepted as a great advertising vehicle with its large paper 4c format. The challenges were huge, the staff was many times larger than anything I had managed before but it was a fantastic opportunity for professional growth and experience.
3) At Hearst, what strategies did you employ to stay ahead of the competition? Partnerships or co-branding?
When I first came to Hearst I knew immediately that we had some of the great brand names in magazine publishing, like Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and another dozen equally storied titles. But I also knew that we had been complacent and not forward thinking enough. In the next years we launched the Oprah magazine, an effort which I led in pitching her personally in Harpo’s Chicago offices, acquired others, closed non performers, and strengthened both the editorial and advertising leadership to compete more effectively. It was also just at the beginning of the digital revolution so we staffed up to learn and participate in web site development leading to new relationships, new skill sets and tremendous change. It was a very exciting time. Additionally, we expanded greatly in global partnerships to extend our reach and footprint. For example, Cosmopolitan is now in nearly 70 cities worldwide from China to Russia.
4) What traits do you believe contribute most in your becoming a successful media entrepreneur?
One of the traits that I believe is most important in the media industry is curiosity. You have to be curious about trends, happenings, change and the future. I have always been comfortable in looking at the future as the past is not always the best predictor. It is why I have not been afraid of taking a risk, albeit hopefully a calculated one.
5) What’s next for Cathie Black?
Ever since stepping down from being Chairman of Hearst Magazines and a brief stint as Chancellor of New York City Schools, I knew I wanted to be my own boss. To that end, I have created a portfolio of young companies where I am either board member, advisor or angel investor or both. I find it incredibly exciting and stimulating to be around all these young entrepreneurs who have put their careers and capital on the line. It is fun and invigorating every single day and keeps me thinking about the future and new business opportunities while offering strategic advice. I have a particular interest in women entrepreneurs as well so a good amount of time is dedicated to them as well.
6) Who is your role model, either living or past, whose beliefs you would like to emulate?
Gloria Steinem has always been a role model for me as she was so brave and bold in the early days of the women’s movement and continues to advocate for women’s rights to this day. When Ms. Magazine launched, I had the privilege of being its first advertising director so I have been at the forefront of women’s advancement ever since.
7) Most visited websites on your browser?
Google, Facebook, Twitter, CNN, New York Times, NY Post, Amazon, Flipboard, Business Insider, Digiday, Open Table, Gilt…the list is endless.
8) If there were one food and type of drink left on earth, what would that be?
Mussels, baguette, cabernet sauvignon.
Black was widely credited for the success of USA Today where she was first president, then publisher, as well as a board member and executive vice president/marketing of Gannett, its parent company. She later became president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, the industry's largest trade group before joining Hearst. She began her career in advertising sales and made publishing history when she became the first woman publisher of a weekly consumer magazine, New York.
Her best-selling book, BASIC BLACK: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) chronicled her decades in the media business, and explains how to achieve "the 360° life"—a blend of professional accomplishment and personal contentment—as well as how women can seize opportunity in the workplace. "BASIC BLACK," now in its eighth printing (166,000 copies), reached No. 1 on the Wall Street Journal Business Books list (Nov. 6, 2007) and Business Week best seller list (Jan. 3, 2008), and No. 3 on the New York Times Business Books List (Nov. 11, 2007). The book has been translated into 12 languages for readers from China to Russia.
Black is a graduate of Trinity College, Washington, D.C., and holds ten honorary degrees. She lives in New York City with her husband, Tom Harvey. They have two college-aged children.