Ann Moore ( HBS 78) – CEO and Chairman of Time Inc, one of the most prominent and recurring names in Fortune magazine’s list of ‘the most powerful women in American Business’, the orchestrator of 125 magazines, and the recipient of last year’s annual HBS alumni achievement award. Need we say more about the woman who needs no introduction?
Last semester, I was fortunate enough to travel back in time with Ann Moore as we talked about her life at HBS, long distance relationships at HBS in the 70’s, motherhood, work life balance and a lot more.
Ann Moore is a woman with a ravenous appetite for risk – A sparky, fearless, candid, warm and wonderfully humble leader that most of us can only aspire to be. I decided to steer clear from the questions she has answered numerous times in the past. Why not take an unconventional approach on a woman who told the Harbus that she is ready for any question..
Ann, thanks very much for granting me the opportunity to speak with you. I would love to scratch beneath the surface of your bio and numerous accolades to decipher what makes Ann Moore who she is. Why do you think you are successful?
I went to the right place. Success is about self awareness and self assessment. I increased my odds of success by knowing myself and understanding what is important to me – by doing that, I could outperform those who did not have the clarity.
I picked the right industry and company. I took my time to learn the business and did not jump around much. After running People magazine for 10 years, when the time came to take the corner office I felt very prepared for it.
I have never lost the enthusiasm for coming to work. I look back and say, ‘What an amazing 30 years I have had!’ I had dinner with Bono recently. I thought talking to Bono about topics that can shape the world is a very cool thing to do. Remaining excited about my job after 30 years is important.
Did you have a role model when you were growing up?
My father was my role model for going into business. However, I got my leadership skills from my mother. She was a stay-at-home mom but she was the CEO in the house, in the church, in the neighborhood and in the school. It was the mother of the 50’s who ran neighborhoods! She got people, over whom she had no direct authority, to do things.
Becoming a parent was my Aha! Moment. You learn as much about leadership from being a parent as you learn at HBS. All the leadership skills we use at home have an application in the market place – say please and thank you, do your homework, look both ways, and listen to your teacher.
Did the CEO position come at the right time for you?
I wouldn’t have wanted the job any earlier. It came at the time I was facing a much tougher job of getting my son through the college application process. It’s much harder to get your child settled in a good college than it is to be a CEO.
The CEO job is a 24/7 commitment so you have to careful what you wish for! I always tell people, ‘Don’t be in a hurry’.
What about your husband? You have mentioned in previous interviews that you have been lucky in finding him at the right time and not losing him. How has your relationship evolved – did becoming the CEO of Time Inc. affect your relationship?
Fortunately, he is a busy man himself with a very important job in a very different industry. Luckily, during the last 10 years he has worked at Rockefeller Center, so we actually commute together! It’s really great.
Coming to New York was professionally productive for both of us. Donovan is the one who is responsible for making me move to New York after HBS. He accepted a job in NYC during my second year at HBS so we were in a long distance relationship for a few months. It was a tough lesson and I realized that I could only do this long distance thing for a few months – people who say it is easy are fooling themselves.
Many HBS women today wait for the right moment to have a family and sometimes miss the boat. How many years after marriage did you decide to have a family?
Well, I got married when I was pretty young. I came to HBS married.
I was the oldest of 32 grandchildren on my mother’s side. I was so much older than my siblings that I actually drove my mother to the hospital to have my baby brother. I was the king of babysitters. I got married at 24 and didn’t have Brendan until I was 35 because I had been already been through child rearing.
I found the right guy – he just happened to come along. And I am glad that I am still married to him – happily!
Oh no, so there was no ‘Section Love’ for you at HBS?
Haha, no I certainly did not participate in it.
Was it a conscious decision to have only one child?
I think the complexity you add in your life with more kids is not linear – it’s exponential.
I decided to have only one. It’s easy with one, right? I hire help and I delegate.
Soon after getting out of the child rearing responsibility (my son graduated from Harvard last semester), I have inherited an 89-year old mother-in-law who lives next door and two aging parents out of state. We have been through two hip and two knee replacements in the last few years. So, expect to go from child rearing into elder care. You are never really out of the parenting business in America! Who is going to take care of you and me when we grow old? I think of this all the time.
Congratulations on Brendan’s graduation. If Brendan had not secured admission at Harvard (unlikely), what school would you have liked him to attend?
MIT. That’s where his father went. In fact, I am in touch with the Sloan school. I always entertain the Sloan fellows in NY at the Time Life Building. Or Princeton, where my grandmother lived and where my father grew up.
Hmm, not Stanford then?
West Coast. No way! That’s way too far for my only son to go!
How influential are you in shaping Brendan’s career? Does he actually listen to you?
No, I can’t even get my son to get a driver’s license. He’s very different from me. He’s very quantitative and smarter than I am. And I believe that I am very quantitative. I started out as a math major at undergrad.
It’s a very humbling experience to have a child and realize that you can’t help them with their biology after fifth grade because it is so much more technical than it was when you were in fifth grade. You are a part of a very savvy generation of young people. I am in awe of Brendan and his friends.
You mentioned that you enjoyed Math. What was your favorite subject at HBS back then?
I believe that being able to communicate is very important. My favorite HBS course was ‘WOK’.
They do not have WOK for us anymore but I am surprised you didn’t mention Lead and Organizational behavior as your favorite.
Actually, after WOK, I loved my finance class. I had not planned to go to Business School and had never even been exposed to finance or accounting at the undergraduate level. I loved studying subjects at HBS that I had never studied before.
I liked decision analysis and production ops management, too.
They call it TOM (Total Operations Management) now. It ended up being my favorite course at HBS in the first year. I stand in the Sushi queue at Spangler and think about TPT and work flow diagrams.
Is that what they call it now? It was a great course and I still stay awake thinking about how to remove bottlenecks myself.
Where did you intern during your summer at HBS?
Oh my goodness -that was a long time back. I was a media consultant with United Media in downtown Boston.
If you had not had a chance to work at Time Inc. right after graduation, where would you have liked to work?
American Express – I had a great offer, it is a great brand and offered me a gold card at no charge just for graduating from Harva
rd! I was intrigued! I loved American Express!
Did HBS Class of 1978 produce any visible CEOs other than you?
Let’s see. Stanley O’Neal from Merrill Lynch is probably the most visible. Kerry McCluggage was at Paramount. Oh my goodness, you are really testing my memory now.
You have often mentioned that you accepted the lowest paying job out of business school despite having 13 job offers and tried to avoid reunions after that. Tell us about that.
Yes, that’s right! I didn’t look so stupid at my 25th reunion.
Have you attended many HBS reunions after graduation?
No, I haven’t, unfortunately. My 30th is coming up and I am going to try to come to that.
That would be great because your 30th coincides with the school’s centennial.
Oh yes, I believe that you should not miss the hundredth anniversary of anything.
In terms of ethical choices, HBS has a renewed emphasis on LCA (Leadership and Corporate Accountability) post ENRON. Can you give HBS students a flavor of some of the ethical dilemmas that you have faced in your career?
I don’t think I have never been conflicted. I joined Time Inc. because we are a company driven by values. The company’s values are very compatible with my own personal values. I believe there are studies that show that there is a correlation between values and performance in the long run.
I have found that decisions have been easy. But I am in an unusual situation. We practice serious journalism at Time Inc. We do have a charter, we do operate with the public trust and we do have an obligation. Our end goal is not just profit generation.
Tell me about a business decision that has given you with the most sleepless nights?
Well, it’s definitely downsizing. We are in an industry in transition. You, as a consumer, have forced us to confront all the changes in consumer behavior, which is leading to changes in advertising behavior.
Therefore, we have had to conduct a very thoughtful analysis of our portfolio. We are in the final round of redesign in editorial.
I received a Google alert from Kuala Lumpur. ‘Ann Moore has fired 289 people!’
Yes, we had closed the bureau in Austin, Texas. But not one person in the world asked me the real question- why did we have a bureau in Austin in the first place? The answer is that we didn’t need a bureau in Austin. We needed reporters and we kept all of those. We closed some real estate but kept news gathering assets. Newspaper journalists seem to be confused between real estate assets and human capital. We did the right thing in doing a process redesign because we needed to free up old assets in order to invest in new assets.
Our online sites are doing unbelievably well. I am really proud of what the editors have accomplished. We have managed to add double digit growth to some of the oldest news brands like Sports Illustrated and Fortune. These are magazines that are 50/ 80 years old.
What has been your key revamp strategy for online media?
We accelerated the transition to a multi-platform world. You just cannot have a paper magazine anymore – you need a complementary website.
When we go to the Super Bowl, we shoot 15,000 photos. In the magazine, we use only a dozen. We have all this fabulous editorial left over. We can monetize some of it by using it on the website at little incremental cost, adding incremental advertising to an incremental bottom line.
I know we are running out of time so I will fast forward to the future. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Oprah’s Leadership Academy for Girls in Africa! I thought how much fun it would be to teach some courses and really think about what I have learned! If you can fix public education around the world, you will cure most of the problems of the planet.
I was moved when I watched Oprah’s work on television and wrote Oprah a note – Oprah thinks she can change the face of South Africa by bringing great leadership training to young girls in that country! I believe in leadership training.
Will you ever consider coming back to HBS as a professor/ maybe teach the RC Lead course ala Rob Kaplan?
< Ann squeals > You know, I would love to do that! There can’t be anything more fun than that! I would teach what you really need to know!