Townsend started his publishing career in Miami in the early 1970s, selling ads for various magazines as an independent sales rep. Hearst acquired Townsend's rep firm several years later; he signed on as publisher of the Hearst-owned titles Motor Boating & Sailing and Sports Afield before heading up the book and business publishing division. He jumped ship in 1986, moving to the New York Times Co. as CEO of the women's magazine division. Just months before the Times sold off its ladies' publications, Townsend departed, joining Condé Nast as publisher of Glamour, later moving up to corporate to become the company's executive vice president. In 2000, he was upped to chief operating officer; four years later, he was named CEO following the departure of Steve Florio. Townsend now has the unique pleasure of arriving at the office before 6 a.m. every morning to meet with his demanding (and early-rising) boss, Si Newhouse.
Townsend oversees day-to-day operations at Condé Nast Publications, which is now the umbrella for all of the company's magazine titles including those once part of Advance (Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Vogue); Fairchild (W and WWD); Parade Publications; the Golf Digest Companies; and the web division. A mild-mannered, cerebral type—a stark contrast to his predecessor, Steve Florio, the freewheeling, tough-talking, cigar-smoking exec who passed away in early 2008—Townsend has pursued a path of cautiousness since taking over. With print media in decline, he's made efforts to cut costs, shuttering lagging titles like Cargo, Jane, and House & Garden. He's also looked to streamline operations and reduce redundancies across the legendarily spendthrifty media conglomerate. [Image via Getty, with wife Jill]