Samuel I. Newhouse Jr., the man who built and ran Condé Nast for half a century, who grew the company from a publishing boutique bearing just a handful of titles into an international media powerhouse with a portfolio that now includes 128 publications across 27 global markets, died on 1st of October 2017 in New York. He was 89 years old.
Born in New York City in 1927 to Samuel I. and Mitzi E. Newhouse, Mr. Newhouse – known to everyone as ‘Si’ – was the elder of two brothers. Beginning his career in the newspaper industry, Si spent the most formative years of his magazine education at Glamour and Vogue under the mentorship of his artistic adviser and friend, Alexander Liberman, who became the company’s editorial director in 1962.
At Condé Nast, Si was applauded for his passion and drive. Regularly arriving in his office at 4:00 a.m. each day, Si read each magazine issue from cover to cover, asking questions whenever he could. “There is nobody who ever met with him, no matter how early in the morning, when he hadn’t already read all the newspapers, all the trades, and didn’t have three pages of notes,” David O’Brasky, former publisher of Vanity Fair, once recalled.
In 1975, Si was appointed chairman of Condé Nast, a position that he held until 2015 when he decided to step down to become chairman emeritus. As chairman, copies of Condé Nast’s magazines and its competitors continued to cover Si’s desks in foot-tall stacks, laden with Post-it notes. He was remembered for counting ads by hand, diligently taking notes, often on yellow legal pads.
“Si Newhouse wasn’t incidentally in the magazine business,” said David Remnick, editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. “He loved magazines, he loved everything about them––from the conception of new publications to the beauty and rigour of the latest issue––and that passion, that commitment to excellence, free expression, and imagination radiated in every direction.”
In the process of nurturing the magazines, he also nurtured the talents of those he worked with. Two years after he arrived at Glamour, he oversaw the hiring of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland and photographer Richard Avedon at Vogue. Later, he would bring Anna Wintour, Tina Brown, Graydon Carter and Remnick, among many others, to helm titles at Condé Nast.
Si Newhouse, wife Victoria and Bill Cunningham at the Met Gala, December 4, 2000
“I am not an editor. I flounder when people ask me, ‘What would you do?’” Si said in a rare interview with The New York Times in 1989. “We try to hire people with intelligence and energy… Then they start to edit, and the magazine comes out in ways that are a total surprise to everyone. I didn’t know what Tina was going to do. Nobody knew that when Anna came to Vogue she was going to have a girl in a Lacroix cross and blue jeans on the cover. We feel almost that whichever way it goes, as long as it doesn’t do something absolutely screwy, you can build a magazine around the direction an editor takes.”
In 1981, Si resurrected Vanity Fair. For 47 years after its closing, it had been relegated to the spine of its sister publication Vogue. Reviving the publication, Si repositioned the title to combine literature, the arts, politics and popular culture through a thread of intellectual rigour.
Four years later, in 1985, Si acquired The New Yorker, at the time a historic yet fading weekly, which he had read since his high school days. Maintaining the tradition and spirit of the magazine, he rescued the publication, restoring it to its former glory.
“Si Newhouse was the most extraordinary leader,” said Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor-in-chief of American Vogue. “Wherever he led, we followed, unquestioningly, simply because he put the most incredible faith in us. Si never looked at data, or statistics, but went with his instincts, and expected us to do the same. He was quick to encourage us to take risks, and effusive in his praise when they paid off.”
During his 47-tenure as chairman, Si additionally managed the acquisition of titles such as Architectural Digest and Wired, and led the launch of Allure, Self and Teen Vogue magazines, amongst others.
Working with his cousin Jonathan, chairman and chief executive officer of Condé Nast International in London, Si grew the company’s presence across the globe, introducing its esteemed brands, including Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Architectural Digest, House & Garden, Wired, Condé Nast Traveller, Tatler and Vanity Fair to new markets internationally, from Latin America to the Middle East to Asia.
Donald Newhouse and Si Newhouse
“Si, as everyone called him, devoted himself incessantly and single-mindedly to producing the best journalistic products. And it was this vision, coupled with commercial acumen, patience and courage, which earned Condé Nast its leadership position in the industry and the admiration of writers, editors and photographers along with the gratitude of millions of readers, even if they didn’t know who was behind the shiny magazine they held in their hands” said Jonathan.
As the world evolved with the rise of digital, so too did Condé Nast. In the 21st century, Si modernised the company’s existing magazine portfolio for the digital age, while acquiring new digital assets such as Pitchfork Media and Reddit. Today, Condé Nast operates more than 100 digital brands in areas as diverse as travel, architecture, beauty, sport and music.
In 1999, Si facilitated the move of the Condé Nast offices from Madison Avenue to 4 Times Square. More recently, in 2014, he directed the move from Times Square to the landmark 1 World Trade Center building as the anchor tenant.
In conjunction with his role at Condé Nast, Si also served as the chairman of Advance Publications, the company founded by his father. In addition to Condé Nast and an array of newspapers and websites in more than 25 cities, Advance Publications also owns American City Business Journals, the largest publisher of metropolitan business newsweeklies in the United States; 1010data., which offers data platforms and analyses; Pop Inc., a digital marketing agency; as well as significant stakes in Reddit Inc., Charter Communications, and Discovery Communications.
Si was a humanitarian who saw a civic duty to enrich the lives of the public. In 1964, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University was made possible through a gift by Si’s father, Samuel I. Newhouse, to which a second building was dedicated in 1974. Most recently, in 2003, the S.I. Newhouse Foundation gave an additional gift to help fund a third building in the Newhouse Communications Complex.
Si Newhouse and the late Franca Sozzani, 2008
In his lifetime, Si was a regular supporter of many museums in New York and beyond, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, where he served as a member of the board for 27 years. His own private collection of art was extensive, including paintings by his friend Liberman, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
“Today, we lost a giant,” said Bob Sauerberg, president and chief executive officer of Condé Nast. “Si embodied creativity, curiosity and a commitment to excellence unlike any other, and he will forever be remembered as the man who built the most influential media empire in the world. We are honoured to work in this incredible business he created, and will strive to emulate his courage and wisdom.”
Si was predeceased by his son Wynn in 2010. He is survived by his wife Victoria, his children Samuel and Pamela, his brother, Donald E. Newhouse, his five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Read Jonathan Newhouse’s tribute to Si Newhouse here