Story posted September 01, 2010
Author: Doug Boxer-Cook
Photography: Karsten Moran ’05
A Run of Good Fortune
Andy Serwer ’81 and Hugh Wiley ’82 were friendly in Brunswick, quick to say hello as they passed each other on the Quad. As they encounter each other 30 years later in the halls of the Time-Life building in midtown Manhattan, their relationship is a bit more complicated.
They are pillars of power in the publishing world, Serwer, as managing editor, oversees Fortune the news magazine. Wiley, the publisher, looks after Fortune the business. They are players in the precarious balance of journalism and capitalism inherent in virtually every American news organization — one that historically results, at least at times, in an adversarial relationship.
“So you have church and you have state,” Wiley says with a smile. “You can guess who ‘church’ is. Church is holier-than-thou. It is the editorial side, and state is the business side.
“You have to be careful,” Wiley allows. “As a publisher you can't ask for things that are going to erode the readership or put your editor in a difficult position. You've got to do a good job in the publishing side because you are feeding the revenue that floats the boat on the edit side. If things are clicking and things are going well and you are respectful of your editorial relationship, and your editor is working well with you to create an environment and help you create programs with revenue, then the relationship works great.”
In the case of Wiley and Serwer, the bonds of Polar pride are strengthened by genuine admiration and respect.
“Hugh has been a terrific colleague over the years, and a super-strong advocate of Fortune in the marketplace,” says Serwer. “I still can’t believe that the guy I saw walking around the Quad with the squash racket is the same guy I’m working with today.”
“Andy is one of the coolest guys in our business,” says Wiley, and calls Serwer, “the multimedia editor of his generation in our building.”
“At the birth of the Internet he started an online column called "Street Life," which before its time generated over 50-thousand paying subscribers. He is active on CNBC. He is at the helm of Fortune.com, which is on cnnmoney.com. He is a wonderful guy to work with in that regard because everything that we do today is multiplatform. So if you have an editor that thinks like that and can move content from one end to the other in a seamless fashion, it just makes your job much easier when you are packaging on the revenue side, which is my job.”
Wiley’s job has been a challenging one of late, as the publishing industry struggles to both sustain and reinvent itself in the Internet age against the backdrop of a limping economy.
“Revenues were down last year, but Fortune grew its share versus its competition both years, which in a down market is something you're always looking for,” says Wiley. “That's a healthy metric in and of itself, but we have weathered it well. We've resized the magazine. We have reduced its frequency; we are going from 25 issues down to 17.”
A redesign reflects feedback from Fortune’s readers asking for a return to the magazine’s long-form journalism roots, and what Wiley calls its core competency.
“If Fortune is about analysis, deep reporting, making sense of a complicated world, then going back to your long-form journalism roots is going to be something that your core readership is going to appreciate and never discard,” he says.
Wiley says his listening skills, deftly used now to hear what the market desires, are part of an inquisitive nature that was nurtured at Bowdoin.
Specifically, he recalls, Professor William Whiteside’s history class of about fifteen people.
“Where do you get that kind of ratio, to not just get lectured at, but to engage and have a conversation, have a fun debate, and even see your professors outside of the classroom?” Wiley asks.
“We used to go to Willy Whiteside's house. That was pretty cool. That was fun. I think that serves you well, because my side of the business is all about being curious. If you're not inquisitive, if you're not asking your customers questions, if you're not listening and exchanging, you're not getting the job done. Bowdoin was an exchange environment on a lot of levels. The classroom was an exchange environment. It was also a very social campus, which served me well I think on my job. My job is very social because it is interfacing with all of our customers.”
It is with a sense of history that Wiley reflects on Fortune’s origins and their juxtaposition with today’s economic challenges. “To think that you are now working at Fortune at the time that is closest to the environment that Fortune launched in the Great Depression and now in the Great Recession, that's a humbling if not scary thought. You hope someday when you look back on it post-retirement, that you can say you lived through it, and you survived. But, it is an interesting past-to-present scenario to consider.”
As Serwer’s book comments on the last decade and ponders the next, Wiley, too, takes stock. He is the proud publisher of one the world’s most venerated magazines. Having launched in 1930, seven years later than Time, its corporate sibling, Fortune is the second-oldest English-language global publishing brand, with a readership estimated at five million. “That's been a fun thing to have underneath your belt and to manage,” says Wiley, whose Bowdoin connections don’t end with Serwer. Wiley’s wife, Judith, is a member of the Class of 1984; their daughter Melissa is a first-year.
Ed. Note: As we were going to press, we learned that Hugh Wiley will leave Fortune to become the new publisher at Bloomberg Businessweek. We wish him the best in his new venture.
"If Fortune is about analysis, deep reporting, making sense of a complicated world, then going back to your long-form journalism roots is going to be something that your core readership is going to appreciate and never discard."