Alumni Perspective – Ann Moore (MBA '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?

We were fortunate enough to travel back in time with Ann Moore as we dissected 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..

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 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!

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. I still stay awake thinking about how to remove bottlenecks.

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.

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, and maybe teach the RC Lead course ala Rob Kaplan?
I would love to do that! There can’t be anything more fun than that! I would teach what you really need to know!

April 7, 2008
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