She's been called the first lady of American magazines - she spent more than 40 years in the world of publishing. But Cathie Black became the subject of front page news herself in 2011, during her disastrous, and very brief, appointment as New York City’s Schools Chancellor.
“I thought that the opportunity to make a difference for the 1.1 million children in New York City public schools was just incredibly energizing, incredibly motivating. And I wanted really to do it. What I didn't realize and I don't think the mayor realized it either, was that I was coming up against…was a very strong union in New York.”
It wasn’t just the unions which fought her appointment, she said. “When I became chancellor of New York City schools, I had absolutely no idea what it would be like to be hounded by every possible critic imaginable. I mean, there were three television trucks in front of my building, reporters chasing me down the street…I mean, I was eviscerated in the press day after day after day. She resigned three months after her appointment.
Black, now 69 years old, made her name in publications. Her first venture in magazines began at “Holiday Magazine”. In the early ‘70s, she moved on to “Ms. Magazine”. From 1983, she was the president and publisher of “USA Today”, for eight years. Then, she ran Hearst Magazines as president and chairman for nearly 16 years.
At Hearst, she expanded the company’s publications to 200 editions around the globe. She approached Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV, with a proposal for a new magazine.
It was delicate courtship. “We began giving the whole presentation and she was just sort of very careful. And she was kind of looking at the paper samples. You could see her being pensive. And then she really, really warmed up. And at the end of the meeting, we were there for maybe 45 minutes or an hour she said, ‘if I'm going do a magazine, I will do it with Hearst,’ but then added, ‘but I have to pray on it.’ Black recalled and laughed, “well, the praying took about four months.”
Black says “O, the Oprah Magazine” was a huge hit with advertisers and readers. “It became literally an overnight success. I mean, it was profitable from issue number one. It was a huge circulation and sold out across the country. “
Black has been a member of the board of Coca-Cola, IBM and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today. “I'm at a stage of my life when I don't have to work, but I want to work. I've got tons of energy," she said.
She’s joined RRE Ventures, a venture capital firm involved in several start-ups which include the websites Business Insider, Bitly, BuzzFeed and Daily Muse, where she writes a career advice column.
“I've spent a lot of time thinking about resilience and reinvention in the last couple of years.” It’s a big change from her corner office but she says, “It's a charge to be around these 25- and 26- and 27-year-old entrepreneurs …their energy and their commitment and their passion… is contagious.
“I walk out of there feeling… like it's my company. And I believe in them. I believe in their ideas. I believe in their work ethic. … I feel like it's a really great place in my life right now.”