Hearst Magazines International CEO George Green Speaks about Success in Publishing
George Green’s first trip abroad was to Norway when he was thirteen years old. He lived for a few months with a Norwegian family, which turned out to be a far different experience than he’d expected. “Norwegians didn’t think the way I thought or live the way I did,” he said. “It was a very important lesson for me.”
For Green, who spoke February 12 as part of the SOM Leaders Forum lecture series, this insight has essentially governed his professional life. He entered the magazine business soon after graduating from Yale College in 1960 and has steadily worked his way up through the industry, becoming the president of the New Yorker in 1975 before joining Hearst Magazines in 1984. He was named the president of Hearst Magazines International (HMI) in 1989, a post he continues to hold, while adding the title of CEO. Under his leadership, HMI has gone from 18 licenses for foreign editions of Hearst magazines to 152 licenses or joint ventures in 47 countries. While the publishing business is a unique industry with its own path to success, Green stressed that the tactics he’s utilized often apply to anyone involved in international business. The first lesson of international business, he asserted, is not to sit in your office in New York and expect to understand the rest of the world. “I needed to get on an airplane and find out what was going on in the world,” he said. “The way to do it over there is not the way we do it here.”
A result of this attitude can be seen in the Hearst publications. Although one can go to Russia and find Esquire or Cosmopolitan, the editions aren’t mere copies of the American flagships. In each country where HMI starts a magazine, it uses an entirely local staff, allowing them to determine the look and feel of each edition. “I have two concerns about a new country: there needs to be a readership and there needs to be advertisers,” he said. “If there’s both, I’m there. I allow the local publication to interpret the brand.” HMI brings the staff of each new magazine to New York for training, but after that takes a mostly hands-off approach. “At times, they embarrass the brand,” Green said. “But that’s what planes and phone calls are for.”
Green’s business philosophy can probably be reduced to a simple phrase: Trust your gut. Although he meets with consultants and gathers data on each new venture, he relies on his gut to make the ultimate determination. “Your gut is the accumulation of experiences over a lifetime,” he said. “Trusting my gut is probably the best asset I’ve ever had. It hasn’t always been right, but it’s been right far more often than wrong.”
Watch or listen to George Green describe his business philosophy and the ways in which it has guided the course of his career at Hearst Magazines International.