Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Anomaly of Long Tenure

I come to work this morning wondering if I am the longest-tenured editor of a national magazine currently active in the industry.

On this day in 1981 I joined Directors & Boards as a senior editor, and within months took on full editorship of the journal. Thus I begin my 30th year with the publication.

When I am asked about my career, I whimsically describe it in one word: "Preposterous."

How many people have the opportunity in this era to spend that kind of time with one organization? Rare. And especially in publishing, how many editors have that kind of tenure atop one masthead? The rarest few.

In the modern media business, editors are a high-turnover lot. Many editors have the kind of tenure that CEOs have — five or six years being a good run (Mark Hurd, e.g., who joined HP in 2005). Case in point in publishing: the Harvard Business Review, which has had eight editors of that august journal during my tenure here.

I have a few years to go before I reach the lengthy reigns of my two idols:

• In the business magazine category, Jim Michaels (top) was editor of Forbes for 38 years, from 1961-1999.

• And in the general magazine category, William Shawn (bottom) was editor of The New Yorker for 35 years, from 1952-1987.

On my tenure milestone, let me note with admiration a few others in this rare breed:

George Plimpton, editor of the Paris Review, with a tenure record that likely will never be equaled, having co-founded and edited the literary journal from 1953 until his death in 2003.

William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review and its editor for 35 years, from 1955 to 1990.

Paige Rense Noland, editor of Architectural Digest for 35 years, from 1975 until her retirement earlier this year.

Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan for 31 years, from 1965-1996.

Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's for 28 years, from 1976 to 2006 (taking a two-year hiatus from 1981-1983).

Stephen Shepard, editor of Business Week for 21 years, from 1984-2005.

Art Cooper, editor of GQ for 20 years, from 1983-2003.

Walter Anderson, editor of Parade (the newspaper magazine supplement) for 20 years, from 1980-2000.

I know of one long-tenured active contemporary: Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, who has been the guiding force of that magazine for 22 years, since 1988. There may be others, but certainly not many.

What is the secret to being a long-tenured editor? I again have a one-word answer: "Publisher." You don't get to enjoy a lengthy run as editor unless you have the backing of the publisher.

I have been blessed to have the equally long-tenured father and son ownership team of Milton and Robert Rock, who purchased Directors & Boards right before I came aboard and who have had the confidence in me all these years to produce this "journal of thought leadership in corporate governance," as our tagline goes. (Or, as the New York Stock Exchange once said of us in its own nyse magazine: "Directors & Boards is to the field of corporate governance what Variety is to show business.") Simply put, Milt and Bob have been the most supportive publishers that any editor could hope to have.

Just as I now embark on this milestone year of 30, Directors & Boards is entering its 35th year of publication, which will culminate in a special 35th anniversary edition in fall 2011. More news forthcoming on that. Right now all I can do is think back to that 21st day of September in 1981 and be astonished at the anomaly of it all.