A long Times profile yesterday of Conde Nast chairman Si Newhouse describes him as a shy, unassuming man who putters around the office quietly in an old sweatshirt. This can lead to a pleasant work environment, but also some surprises: "Despite the influence he wields, Mr. Newhouse so defers to his editors and dislikes confrontation that a number of them have said over the years that their first indication of trouble came when he fired them." Notably, the piece gives no indication at all that Conde Nast is nervous about the struggles of its $100 million business magazine, Portfolio. But does that mean its editor, Joanne Lipman, is really safe?
With a boss like Si Newhouse, it seems doubtful that Lipman should get too comfortable. She does have a couple of things going for her: Her credentials (Ivy League, WSJ) are strong, which Newhouse respects; and the fact that she is a woman who has worked her way up. One only has to look at the histories of Vogue editor Anna Wintour and former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown to see that Newhouse has never backed down from supporting women in top editorial posts even when others questioned his decision. In those cases, his commitment paid off. With Lipman, the payoff is far less assured.
And here's what she should really think about: the newest rumor is that Conde Nast execs have now started to whisper about supposed distinctions between a "launch editor" and an actual, long-term editor. Lipman oversaw Portfolio's launch, and garnered herself a lot of critics in the process. Creating a situation in which "launch editor" was considered a job in itself-and not an automatic qualification as editor-in-chief for years to come-could conceivably be a way to gently ease Lipman out in favor of someone more popular and experienced. Thanks for the help with the launch, we'll handle the rest now, Joanne!
Would Si Newhouse buy into such a plan? It's impossible to know! He is loath to be pressured into decisions, which could actually work in Lipman's favor. Everyone will have to wait for the quiet boss in the raggedy clothes to make up his mind.