The Golden Newsletter /  SEPTEMBER 2011

Trust and Respect Trump
Management Skills

Consider Jack Griffin who, after a long and successful career at The New York Times Magazine, as President of Parade magazine, and as President of the National Media Group at Meredith (Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle and Ladies’ Home Journal) was hired as CEO of Time Inc’s prestigious publishing unit in August 2010, replacing 32-year veteran Ann Moore. Griffin faced a difficult task. The insular and famously change-averse culture at Time needed a rapid transformation to adapt to the changing publishing marketplace and technologies and Griffin was given lots of maneuvering room by Time’s corporate management and Board to effect this change.

Why then, was he out in less than six months after being ousted and replaced by an ‘interim management committee’ at a critical point in the company’s history? Here are a few quotes from insiders and observers that may shed some light:

““his leadership style and approach did not mesh with Time Inc. and Time Warner.”
–Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes

“He brought in consultants…to help put into effect elements of his reorganization a move that some employees took as an insult—a sign Griffin felt they were not up to the job.”
–The New York Times

“He annoyed other executives and managers by using consultants to aid in his reorganization of Time Inc. Griffin insisted that all magazines have a masthead, and his name appear on top of it. Some estimates show that his name took up space possibly worth millions in advertising…He apparently made obnoxious, possibly sexist comments
—Time Inc.

“lost its most senior African-American executive...and two of its highest ranking women.” According to, one of Griffin’s several gaffes includes making too many references to being Roman Catholic in the workplace, which included comparing Time Inc. to the Vatican — something Bewkes had to personally speak to Griffin about” –Business Insider

“The body rejected the transplant.” –Ken Doctor, Outsell

And those are some of the less inflammatory comments.

Griffin denies acting improperly, saying “I was recruited and hired by Time Warner to lead the business transformation of Time Inc., based on my clear record of success and results in the industry. Every action I took over the past six months was made with that ultimate goal in mind. My exit was clearly not about management style or results.”

Another case, this one from the public sector, illustrates similar characteristics. Cathie Black, a magazine executive, was a surprise hire by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to become Chancellor of New York City’s perpetually troubled School System in January of 2011, just when schools there were beginning to show some new life as a result of the strict approach of prior Chancellor, Joel Klein.. While her background in the media business was stellar, (publisher of Holiday magazine, President and CEO of USA Today, President of Hearst Magazines as well as President of the Newspaper Association of America, and serving on such distinguished companies as IBM and The Coca Cola Company) her background included no experience in education or the public sector. A profile in the Financial Times called her “the First Lady of American magazines.” A Bloomberg aide, speaking on background to New York Magazine, quoted the Mayor describing his new hire saying, “Great manager, totally against type. People will think I’m brilliant for thinking outside the box on this—and anybody that doesn’t get it is wrong. ”

Despite the hiring of a Deputy Chancellor to shore up her lack of educational background and the appointment of eight key aides to assist in administering the sprawling system, Black began her new role with a series of major gaffes in mid-January and things deteriorated rapidly from there.

Already portrayed as an Upper East Side elitist, she immediately alienated members of the Teachers Union, parents, and minorities. The line that got her in trouble [first] came in mid-January. Meeting with a group of Tribeca parents upset about school overcrowding, Black quipped, “Could we just have some birth control for a while? It could help us all out a lot.” She followed up shortly with a quip comparing the difficulty of determining priorities within the schools as “a Sophie’s Choice”, a reference to William Styron’s Holocaust novel. Unsurprisingly, New York’s Jewish community was outraged by the reference, further isolating Black from important constituencies. As she continued to travel in the City’s most elevated social circles and dressed like the proverbial ‘million bucks’, four of her eight key staff members quit and several public meetings with parents and teachers ended in jeering and shouting matches.

After 96 days on the job, Mayor Bloomberg asked for her resignation and the experiment with a manager from outside the educational community ended.

What happened to cause these two spectacular failures and falls from grace? It’s a fairly straightforward answer: Neither Griffin nor Black took the time or made the effort to establish trust and respect with their subordinates and other important constituencies before embarking on significant changes in their respective roles. As I emphasize in my book, trust, respect and leadership (and a little love) are the bedrock of both large and small companies. While management skills are a necessary condition of success they are not enough; leadership is the necessary condition for excellence.

Jack Griffin

Some estimates show that his name took up space ... worth millions in advertising…He apparently made obnoxious, possibly sexist comments

Cathie Black

Meeting with a group of Tribeca parents upset about school overcrowding, Black quipped, “Could we just have some birth control for a while? It could help us all out a lot.”