Samuel Irving “Si” Newhouse, Jr., chairman emeritus of Condé Nast, passed away today after a long illness, a spokesperson for the family confirmed.
Newhouse, together with his brother Donald, owned Advance Publications, whose properties include Condé Nast and dozens of newspapers across the United States. The company was founded by their father in 1922.
Newhouse ran the company’s magazine division, Condé Nast Publications (publisher of over two dozen titles), and served as its famously exacting and faithful chairman for 40 years, as he painstakingly developed what would become the foremost magazine publisher in the world. He retired in 2015.
I started at Condé Nast at 21, my first New York, job, and “Si” as he was know, was the quiet Big Daddy upstairs and definitely in charge. But he defied what The New York Times called
“the image of the media baron driven by love of limelight, political influence, or money.”
He often wore simple slacks and a New Yorker sweatshirt to work. (For YEARS he carried a worn out silver bag with a Glamour logo on it. You’d often see him in the lobby leaving with it mid-afternoon.)
He long supported titles and projects that were often initially derided but eventually revered. Vanity Fair was for years a chronic money loser, it eventually became one of the company’s best-selling titles.
The New Yorker’s Editor in Chief David Remnick told New York Magazine,
“He loves magazines, meaning the whole and all of it, the variety of things published, the business details, the visions and actions and personalities of his editors, the problems, the problem-solving, the ink and paper . . . the all of it.”
Anna Wintour, Condé Nast artistic director and Editor in Chief of Vogue said,
“Si Newhouse was the most extraordinary leader. Wherever he led, I followed, unquestioningly, simply because he put as much faith in me as I had in him. Si never looked at data or statistics, but went with his instincts and expected his editors to do the same. He urged us to take risks and was effusive in his praise when they paid off.
Every time I’d preview the latest issue of Vogue with him, he’d encourage me to go for the less expected cover, the more compelling image. Yet there was nothing showy about the way Si led. This humble, thoughtful, highly idiosyncratic man, quite possibly the least judgmental person I’ve ever known, preferred family, friends, art, movies, and his beloved pugs over the flashiness of the New York media world. His personality shaped the entire company.
It might have been a huge global media entity, yet Si, who arrived at 4 a.m. every day in an unchanging uniform, ran it like his own personal and very benevolent fiefdom. We’d regularly have lunch—lunches which were scheduled by him six months in advance—and he’d arrive with a yellow legal pad, with maybe three words written on it. So few words, yet somehow, they encapsulated so many lessons, lessons which I still strive to put into practice every day I come to work.”
I have a funny secondhand story of Si, that by now I’ve repeated a dozen times. At Vogue‘s old offices at 350 Madison Avenue, there was a long hallway that ran down the editorial side. Assistants would sit in an outer office with no door, open to the hallway with their bosses, inside. (No, not like The Devil Wears Prada, but if you need a visual use a dingy, smaller 80s version…) The mailroom guys would deliver stuff up and down the hall to assistants all day long. You got to know them right away. A new assistant had started at Vogue and saw a short man in khaki’s, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt approaching and as he got near she stuck out her arm with a large mania envelope and said,
“Will you take this to the mailroom, please?“
The man stopped and looked at her, smiled and took the package. That man was her boss, billionaire, Si Newhouse.
Si Newhouse was 89.
(Photo, Wikimedia Commons; via Vogue)