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Duncan Edwards: Head Above The Clouds and Feet Grounded On Earth — Inside The Great Mind Of The President And CEO Of Hearst Magazines International And FIPP Chairman. The Mr. Magazine™ Interview

October 19, 2015

CN Tower photo by Samir Husni

The Mr. Magazine™ Reports from the FIPP 40th Congress in Toronto, Canada.

“The future of print is good. It’s changed, particularly in the more mass market area of the business. It’s changed a lot. And consumers have not fallen out of love with what we do and our content, but their habits of buying printed magazines have changed. It’s much less so at the more high-end of the market where the products are very tangible and nice to have.” Duncan Edwards

HMI Duncan Edwards, president and CEO of Hearst Magazines International, has been elected as the new chairman of FIPP. The chairmanship of the international magazine media association was passed to Edwards after Fabrizio D’Angelo, CEO, Burda International, completed his two-year term. And for the man who spends half of his life above the clouds, but always has his feet on the ground, it is only fitting that he acquire yet one more title to his long list of accomplishments.

Duncan is man who is a clear leader as his strong convictions to brand, customers and Hearst management teams all across the globe are succinct when he talks about the future of the company. His dedication is superseded only by his love for magazines and what he does.

I had a chance to catch up with Duncan during the 40th FIPP congress and was able to engage him with a lovely and insightful conversation about his role as president and CEO of Hearst Magazines International. It was an intriguing trip inside the mind of yet another great magazine maker….So, I hope you enjoy this most cosmopolitan of conversations (no pun intended) with Duncan Edwards.

But first, the sound-bites:


On a day-in-the-life of Duncan Edwards:
About half of my working life is spent traveling outside the United States. And the other half, I’m in the office in New York. So, to be honest, they’re very different. When I’m traveling, I spend time with the management of our local companies doing all of the normal things that you would expect. I’m doing business reviews, talking with the senior management about the implementation of strategy and I try to spend time every day when I’m in a foreign country meeting editors of our products, print and digital editors. When I’m in New York it tends to be different; it tends to be more corporate-oriented, more budgeting and planning, administration and those sorts of things.

On which chapter of his professional life he prefers, overseas or New York City:
There’s nothing I like better than talking about product. So spending a day or an off-day with editors and product people talking about the content that we’re creating and the ways that we’re delivering it to our customers is by far my favorite part of my job. And if I could spend all of my time doing that I would.

On whether the globalization of many of the Hearst brands made his job easier or harder: Well, we’ve been fortunate in that the products that we create and the brands that we produce have always been desirable by international publishers as licenses. So when George Green drove that business for so many years and so successfully, he could choose between partners in most countries, it wasn’t like you had to really sell the idea of becoming a Cosmo licensee because everybody wanted to do it. And that was because it was pretty much a guaranteed way of making money. Clearly the world is changing. And certainly on the print side of the business it isn’t as easy as it was and the predictable profitability of magazines outside of the U.S. is not as much of a guarantee. On the other hand though, what we’ve created, particularly around Cosmo, but also around our other brands, is really strong digital products.

On the fact that Hearst has been reacquiring or establishing Hearst licenses in countries like Spain and the Netherlands and whether that was a corporate decision or more like a trend:
What happened was in 2010 we negotiated the acquisition of the Lagardere’s International publishing business, the Hachette magazines’ publishing business. And that was a deal that I led on behalf of Hearst to acquire a number of companies, primarily because they published Elle and we always felt that Elle was one of the true global magazine brands, alongside magazines such as Cosmo, Bazaar, Esquire and Vogue. There are only a handful of true global magazine brands and Elle was one of them. In the process of acquiring Elle, we acquired companies in different markets, like Holland, Spain, one in China and another one in Russia and also Japan. And so of course in that sense, that meant if we already had licenses then we were in a slightly complicated situation.

On what it is about himself that is said to attract people like magnets:
I’m an Englishman, so talking about one’s self is very difficult. (Laughs) But let me say this. I’ve spent my entire career in this business, from the age of 21 to now, 51. I’ve spent that entire 30 years in the magazine business and I’ve done lots of different jobs within that time frame. So, I know what good content is like and I know what good ad sales are like and also good marketing. So, hopefully some of that experience and knowledge I’m able to pass on as I go around the world.

On the biggest challenge he’s faced since assuming his present role with Hearst:
It was a challenge and a huge opportunity when we made the acquisition for the Lagardere Company. We acquired businesses in more than 10 countries, with a very large turnover, and integrating that business into Hearst and all of the issues that go along with that; the management teams becoming Hearst managers and getting everybody aligned, in terms of expectations and delivery was a hugely complex job.

On anything else he’d like to add:
The future of print is good. It’s changed, particularly in the more mass market area of the business. It’s changed a lot. And consumers have not fallen out of love with what we do and our content, but their habits of buying printed magazines have changed. It’s much less so at the more high-end of the market where the products are very tangible and nice to have.

On what motivates him to get up every morning: Do you know it’s funny; I’m such an enthusiast. I was born with the enthusiast gene. There’s almost nothing that I’m not interested in, whether it’s sports, books, music, politics or business. So, I never have any problem at all getting out of bed and facing the day because I know there’s going to be something exciting and interesting that’s going to be happening, whether it’s at work or in my personal life.

On what keeps him up at night:
Truthfully, first of all I’m an extremely good sleeper, which is also a good thing if you travel as much as I do. Work issues, they honestly don’t keep me awake at night. I have two young sons at college and worrying what they’re doing is much more likely to keep me awake.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Duncan Edwards, President and CEO of Hearst Magazines International.

Samir Husni: As the president and CEO of Hearst Magazines International, could you describe a day in the life of Duncan Edwards?

Town & Country Thailand Duncan Edwards: About half of my working life is spent traveling outside the United States. And the other half, I’m in the office in New York. So, to be honest, they’re very different. When I’m traveling, I spend time with the management of our local companies doing all of the normal things that you would expect. I’m doing business reviews, talking with the senior management about the implementation of strategy and I try to spend time every day when I’m in a foreign country meeting editors of our products, print and digital editors. And then I’ll spend time with our customers as well. I always like to see our advertising customers when I’m in a different country to make sure they’re happy with what we’re doing.

When I’m in New York it tends to be different; it tends to be more corporate-oriented, more budgeting and planning, administration and those sorts of things. Also, as I’m obviously an EVP of the magazine division as well, I spend a lot of time with my colleagues David Carey and Michael Clinton, and Troy Young from the digital side of the business; again, talking about strategy and execution. It’s a combination of thinking about what we want to do and then making sure that we actually do it.

Samir Husni: And which chapter of your professional life do you prefer, overseas or New York City?

Duncan Edwards: There’s nothing I like better than talking about product. So spending a day or an off-day with editors and product people talking about the content that we’re creating and the ways that we’re delivering it to our customers is by far my favorite part of my job. And if I could spend all of my time doing that I would.

I think second after that I really like talking to our customers. I’m ad ad-sales guy by origin; my entry into the magazine business was through selling advertising. And so I consider it responsibility and a passion to actually continue to be actively talking to our customers and supporting the sales organizations of our companies around the world. But you can’t travel all of the time though. At least, my wife would not thank me for doing that. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Duncan Edwards: So, it’s a balance, like any big, serious job. There’s a balance between that external facing functions and the more internal things that you need to do.

Samir Husni: Hearst has been a leader in licensing and in expanding and publishing a lot of its titles overseas, whether it’s Harper’s Bazaar or Cosmopolitan, which is the biggest one if I’m not mistaken. With the digital age coming upon us in 2007/2008; how did the licensing or the globalization of the brands that Hearst has in the United States affect your job? Did it make it easier or harder to preach the Hearst gospel overseas?

Duncan Edwards: Well, we’ve been fortunate in that the products that we create and the brands that we produce have always been desirable by international publishers as licenses. So when George Green drove that business for so many years and so successfully, he could choose between partners in most countries, it wasn’t like you had to really sell the idea of becoming a Cosmo licensee because everybody wanted to do it. And that was because it was pretty much a guaranteed way of making money.

Clearly the world is changing. And certainly on the print side of the business it isn’t as easy as it was and the predictable profitability of magazines outside of the U.S. is not as much of a guarantee.

On the other hand though, what we’ve created, particularly around Cosmo, but also around our other brands, is really strong digital products. And we’ve been as disciplined about that, in terms of creating brand books and processes to create really strong digital products, as we have been around the print side. So our partners, when they’ve followed our guideline as well, are also doing extremely well in digital.

Samir Husni: I’ve noticed that in some markets you’re reacquiring the licenses or establishing Hearst magazines, such as in Spain or the Netherlands; is that a trend or a corporate decision or is it that circumstances have forced you to move in that direction?

Harper's Bazaar China Duncan Edwards: What happened was in 2010 we negotiated the acquisition of the Lagardere’s International publishing business, the Hachette magazines’ publishing business. And that was a deal that I led on behalf of Hearst to acquire a number of companies, primarily because they published Elle and we always felt that Elle was one of the true global magazine brands, alongside magazines such as Cosmo, Bazaar, Esquire and Vogue. There are only a handful of true global magazine brands and Elle was one of them.

In the process of acquiring Elle, we acquired companies in different markets, like Holland, Spain, one in China and another one in Russia and also Japan. And so of course in that sense, that meant if we already had licenses then we were in a slightly complicated situation.

What we tried to do was take a careful and respectful approach to consolidating our licenses and we did. We took Cosmo back in Holland and Harper’s Bazaar back in Spain. We’re in the process of taking all of our licenses back in Taiwan, for example. And it makes sense; if you have your own company in the country, then having a license for one of your major brands with a third party doesn’t really make sense.

So, we’re respecting the contracts that we have, but in the end it is very likely that the magazines that are owned by Hearst, the brands that are owned by Hearst, will be published by a Hearst company if that company exists in the market.

Samir Husni: As you travel across all of these continents, cities and countries; I’ve heard a lot about you. There’s almost a halo around the name Duncan Edwards. When people say Duncan is coming, there is an angelic tone to their voice. But I didn’t hear the same about your predecessor; is it you or is it the way you interact with people? What makes you attract people that you deal with like a magnet?

Duncan Edwards: I’m an Englishman, so talking about one’s self is very difficult. (Laughs) But let me say this. I’ve spent my entire career in this business, from the age of 21 to now, 51. I’ve spent that entire 30 years in the magazine business and I’ve done lots of different jobs within that time frame. So, I know what good content is like and I know what good ad sales are like and also good marketing. So, hopefully some of that experience and knowledge I’m able to pass on as I go around the world.

Fundamentally, I’m quite an international sort of person. I don’t come to any country with any preconceptions of what it should be like. But I’m very respectful. I’m a huge believer, by the way, in the power and importance of local culture when it comes to editorial. We’ve learned, even though we have these incredible, global brands, that the most successful editorial content is the local content.

It’s impossible for someone sitting in New York or London to really know what’s going to be the most exciting content for someone in Southern Italy or Northern China. You’ve got to leave those kinds of decisions to the local management.

So, hopefully some of those kinds of things come across. You’d be much better off asking the people who say that about me than myself. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: One of the most amazing comments that I heard once was that although you’re the CEO and like the guru of Hearst overseas, when people are talking with you, whether they’re editors or CEOs themselves, you’re down-to-earth, with your feet securely planted on the ground, although your head may be repeatedly in the clouds the way you travel, and they only want to learn from the master.

Esquire Singapore Duncan Edwards: We’re all just human beings. We’re all employees of Hearst and we all have our different jobs to do and I think it’s not just true about me, but I think it’s true of Hearst, that we are not a big, kind of ego-driven organization. We are much more interested in the success of our company than we are in the reputation of ourselves as individuals. And that permeates through from the very top of the Hearst Corporation to management every level. We’re interested in what can we do to make our business more successful, rather than it being all about any one person.

Samir Husni: Since you took over this job; what has been the biggest stumbling block or challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Duncan Edwards: It was a challenge and a huge opportunity when we made the acquisition for the Lagardere Company. We acquired businesses in more than 10 countries, with a very large turnover, and integrating that business into Hearst and all of the issues that go along with that; the management teams becoming Hearst managers and getting everybody aligned, in terms of expectations and delivery was a hugely complex job.

And you couple that with the changes that are going on in the industry at the same time. So, not only have you just acquired this very big business, but you’ve also got these massive changes in consumer behavior.

And how do you deal with it? You deal with it step-by-step. First of all I think we’d look very carefully at the managers we had in those companies and quickly came to open conclusion as to whether they were the right people or not. Fortunately we felt in pretty much every case that they were.

And then what we tried to do was be clear about strategy and I think this is really important. Maybe one of the things that I do well is be very clear about what the strategy is and I try to be consistent about it so that we’ve been saying the same kind of thing for the last four or five years, so that our business and our managers and our partners know the direction that we’re going in and how we should align our businesses. There’s no secret sauce to any of this stuff. It’s about their being disciplined and well-organized and doing things step-by-step.

Samir Husni: Is there anything that you’d like to add?

seventeen Argentina Duncan Edwards: The future of print is good. It’s changed, particularly in the more mass market area of the business. It’s changed a lot. And consumers have not fallen out of love with what we do and our content, but their habits of buying printed magazines have changed. It’s much less so at the more high-end of the market where the products are very tangible and nice to have.

But at the more middle-end mass of the market, it’s changed a lot. We have therefore been building a digital business with real energy and real resources behind it. And we’ve deliberately not tried to do something twice, so we’re taking all the learning and knowledge from the U.S. company, where we’ve had real success, and we’re pushing that out around the world. That’s an important story and an important message and all our managers know that we are becoming a digital, mobile content company. And I use that expression sometimes in somewhere like Holland and it’s true. We’re really a digital content company that produces magazines, rather than a magazine company that produces websites. And it’s a mental switch and a semantic change.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get up every morning?

Duncan Edwards: Do you know it’s funny; I’m such an enthusiast. I was born with the enthusiast gene. There’s almost nothing that I’m not interested in, whether it’s sports, books, music, politics or business. So, I never have any problem at all getting out of bed and facing the day because I know there’s going to be something exciting and interesting that’s going to be happening, whether it’s at work or in my personal life. I was just born enthusiastic, which is a good asset when you’re dealing with jet lag as much as I am. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Before I ask you my typical last question, any message from the guru to your disciples all over the world?

Duncan Edwards: (Laughs) Just keep up the great work.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Duncan Edwards: Truthfully, first of all I’m an extremely good sleeper, which is also a good thing if you travel as much as I do. Work issues, they honestly don’t keep me awake at night. I have two young sons at college and worrying what they’re doing is much more likely to keep me awake.

But honestly, I’m fine. Work is work and it’s important to separate that from your personal life. You give your work everything and you do the best you possibly can, but it’s certainly not something you should lose sleep over.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. Superb interview. I think that Hearst Magazines International should establish a world magazine center to serve as repository and research center for magazines in all languages.



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