INTERVIEW

'For women of my generation, we wanted to be liked, we wanted to be nice. Women had a terminal case of gratitude.'

December 31 2007
INTERVIEW

'For women of my generation, we wanted to be liked, we wanted to be nice. Women had a terminal case of gratitude.'

December 31 2007

'For women of my generation, we wanted to be liked, we wanted to be nice. Women had a terminal case of gratitude.'

CATHIE BLACK TALKS TO KENNETH WHYTE ABOUT PROFESSIONAL RISKTAKING, THE PERILS OF ENTITLEMENT, AND THE ART OF PITCHING OPRAH

INTERVIEW

Cathie Black, the president ofHearst Magazines, is the woman who sold Oprah Winfrey on the idea of starting a magazine. She has also worked as the president and publisher of USA Today. She recently published a book, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) (Crown).

Q Why’d you write the book?

A: About two years ago or so, a couple of agents approached me, a couple of writers approached me, one of our editors said, “You know, you’ve got a lot of wisdom to share, especially for a young generation of women who are coming into the workforce, and why don’t you do it?” I kept that in my mind, that it could be both a survival guide and a refresher course for somebody over the age of 35. Perhaps it’s because it got on the Wall StreetJournal list, but now I’m hearing from men—either emails or letters—saying, “Why didn’t I have this book 20 years ago?”

Q: It did strike me that a lot of the things you’re advocating are just...

A: Common sense.

Q: Yeah, good basic conduct and career management, and in my experience I haven’t ?wticed that young women need it more than young men.

A: It’s true, but when I was starting out none of the doors were open to us so we had to be willing to work harder and fight harder and prove ourselves harder and have better results,

just in order to be on a level playing field.

Q: Do you find that the case with the young women that come to your lectures?

A: Well, I think the “millennial generation”—which is somebody around late 20s, 30—they are different, their set of expectations is very different. I think they really do believe that they want x and y and z and the companies are going to have to change. Now, a lot of the big companies, I’d say, already have begun to do that—I mean, none of this is brand new to them—flex-time and parttime and all those kinds of lifestyle demands. I think it’s more of a challenge for a smaller company, or even here. We’ve got production schedules that we have to meet and pressure every single day, and the travel that’s involved with these jobs, and as they move up the career chain they may change some of their expectations.

Q: Do you think their expectations are realistic? Is there a sense of entitlement?

A: Yeah, I think there is a sense of entitlement, and they may have a rude awakening at some point when someone else—another man or another woman—may be willing to work much harder. I kind of killed myself working in my 20s and up to probably in my mid-30s, and then you begin saying, “This is great and I really do love it, but I also want another part of my life,” and the phrase that I use, which is—it’s not original—“You can love your job but your job is not going to love you back.”

Q: You talk about risk a lot, and failure, and

the uncomfortable parts of working life that a lot of people just aren’t prepared for. Is there any way to teach that?

A: I think part of it is a learned behaviour. For women of my generation—we wanted to be liked, we wanted to be nice. Gloria Steinern has that phrase, which is women had a terminal case of gratitude. We’d worked so hard for that job that once we got it we didn’t want to take any chances and move on.

But then I think there’s another factor, and it really is the DNA factor. It is what makes you be who you are compared to somebody else. Somebody else is just driving for the top and they are willing to take the pressure, and somebody else is just going to be much more comfortable and they want a different kind of life. Someone once told me that there are two kinds of personalities.There’s the personality that if they’ve had an incredibly busy day they want to just come home and be quiet, and then there’s somebody else that gets an energy charge from walking into a room full of people. I’m probably more in that group. So, part of it comes with who you are.

I’ve actually counselled people over the years, [and] I say, “Look, when you’re thinking about companies that you want to work for, the pros and cons are the following. You go into a large company, it’s full of opportunity because you might be in one department, you can then be moved to another department or a different assignment or a new product, but you’re going to be more slotted.” Whereas at Ms.—where I was—when

there’s no one to do anything, you figure it out. It’s like diving off the high dive into the empty pool. You’re going to get a lot more, faster, in a smaller organization, if you’re raising your hand and saying, “How can I learn more to do that?”

Q: You mention a lot of people who are well known. The only person that you come close to gushing over is Oprah.

A: She is incredibly inspirational. I wouldn’t say the other people are necessarily inspirational.

Q: This was when you were presenting the idea of a magazine to her?

A Well, actually, all we were trying to do was to get an appointment. We knew other companies were pitching her but we didn’t know if anybody had really had an actual meeting, so we figured we’d better move fairly quickly. We got an appointment on Jan. 19,1999, and her then-lawyer/ business manager said, “Look, I’m not going to guarantee you that Oprah will be there, but I hope that she will be.” She came in within five minutes but, you know, she’s got this 100,000-watt smile and she exudes this just amazing warmth of spirit, and so she made for a great meeting. We had prepared to the absolute 100th percentile. I mean, we tried to think through every possible, “All right, how can we appeal to her?” We did this little video—and it wasn’t my idea—with this woman-in-the-street at some shopping malls in New Jersey and Virginia and then asked, “Well, what would you think of a magazine from Oprah?” and they all went like, “Oh, we love Oprah! Yes, that’s a great idea!” And we spent, I don’t know, an hour, an hour and a half with her. We knew that her homes are luxurious, and so we figured she’d want an oversized magazine like our Town & Country, or like Martha Stewart, and so we had paper samples, we had cover tries, we had logos. Of course we hoped she’d say she’d use her name, but we didn’t want to be presumptuous so we had Spirit and Aura and names like that, but at the end of it she said, you know, “If I do a magazine it will be with Hearst,” so we went very calmly out of the office and then went, “Yeeeess!!!”

Q: I’ve known magazines named after a person and magazines built around personalities, but I don’t recall any other magazine where the person who it’s named after appears on the cover every month.

A: Well, Martha was on all of her first two years’ worth of covers, so we kiddingly said we wanted Oprah at least to equal Martha or beat Martha.

Q: It’s been eight or nine years.

A: Seven. But, you know, it’s a big-time

commitment for her. She’ll do a cover shoot, and normally we hope to get three covers out of it, but it’s choosing the clothes, and it’s the makeup, it’s a good day or day and a half out of her schedule, so we do know at some point—we assume—she’s going to say, “Uhuh.” But we know it helps sell copies.

Q: You talk a lot in the book about manners and how to present yourself, but you also mention people you’ve worked for, UkeAlNeuharth [founder of USA Today/ and Rupert Murdoch. From what I’ve seen, they don’t play by those rules.

A: No, they certainly don’t! But most people are never going to meet Rupert Murdoch or Al Neuharth, so I thought some of the simple things that people will do or not do are just good rules of conduct. It’s not really etiquette, it’s just smart things I’ve learned that I think are going to advance your ball a little bit.

Q: Are the requirements different for men and women in that regard, or is this difference simply employee/owner?

A: That’s a good question. I’ve had great bosses, I’ve had good bosses, I’ve had some not-good bosses, I’ve had bad bosses. I don’t think it’s gender-specific, really. But I think trying to understand the way that a woman approaches decision-making and being a boss is probably more considered because many of us were raised with that sense of, “It’s not about not being able to make a decision, but being able to have more people involved in the decision means that you have more people buying into whatever your strategy or vision is, and it’s going to help you accomplish more, more quickly.”

Q: You talk quite a bit about the care and nurturing of bosses.

A: If you assume no one ever pats your boss on the back, it’s not about sucking up, it really is saying, “How can I be productive in helping that person do a good job?” I don’t mean running in there every day and saying, “Can I help you with that project?” It is understanding that they’re human, they have their own foibles, and so, if you can, figure it out, because part of your job is to ensure the success of your boss. Too often we only think of ourselves and maybe the people who work for us as opposed to thinking one level up.

Q: Did a good salesman when you were starting out have the same quality as a good salesman today?

A: I think that’s true, but what is different today is the Internet world that we live in. For me coming up, you always had an in-person call. It might be a telephone call, but your goal was to get an appointment. Today a lot of the transactions are all electronic, so the mechanics of the selling process unfortunately have changed.

Q: Does that make it harder?

A: Oh, much harder, because the way that magazines sell themselves is to an advertising agency or to what we call the client. So if the client at Ford or Ford’s agency is making a decision, you want to be in front of them because they might be comparing your magazine to a direct competitor and making a choice between those two magazines. It’s a lot harder to articulate those reasons in an email than it is to be showing a great presentation, or [to] have an editor there talking about their vision.

Q: So if you were going to be an editor, what kind of magazine would you do?

A: It would have been fantastic to be the editor of 0.

Q: The 360-degree life is your term for balancing work and family. It seems we’re beyond the stage where there is one template women have to follow.

‘If you want to have it all, it takes a village— and not everybody wants to have a village in their life'

A: You know, it’s that Oprah phrase that says, live your best life, or—I’ve said this forever—you have to define success for yourself. Very few people can have it all, and I like to say, “And God knows you can’t have it all on the same day,” but if you do want to be in the have-it-all department, it takes a village, and not everybody wants to have a village in their life. I work incredibly hard but I also want to enjoy my life, you know? So I think you just have to look in the mirror and say, “Who am I?” and “What is going to make me feel fulfilled and satisfied?” M