THE BIZ: The Advance of Steve Newhouse

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It's happened quietly, but Steve Newhouse-nephew of Conde Nast and Advance Publications Chairman Samuel I. "Si" Newhouse Jr. and son of Advance President Donald Newhouse-now appears the next head of the intensely private media empire.

Last year Newhouse, 44, without fanfare added oversight of Advance's Golf Digest Cos. to his responsibilities. He's editor in chief of the Jersey City, N.J., Jersey Journal, and the company's go-to guy in that paper's fight for union concessions. He's also chairman of Internet arm Advance.net. Executives familiar with the company say he's become a key player in reviewing potential transactions.

This makes him the only next-generation Newhouse with such diverse executive responsibilities. And, says one company staffer, who like all others interviewed spoke only on the condition of anonymity: "He's becoming more of the public face of the company."

"Well," the staffer continues, pondering the famously publicity-shy clan, "as public as the family is going to get."

All top family executives at Advance-Si, Steve, Donald and cousin Jonathan, who runs Conde Nast International out of London-declined to comment. Steven T. Florio, president-CEO of Conde Nast, was in Italy and unavailable.

Advance Publications, according to Ad Age figures, is the 12th-largest U.S. media company, owning properties as glamorous as Vanity Fair and as prosaic as the Staten Island Advance. Its estimated net revenue in 2000 was $4.5 billion. (This figure does not include the recently acquired Golf Digest Cos.) It runs the country's third-largest magazine group, encompassing Conde Nast Publications, Fairchild Publications and Sunday newspaper magazine Parade, which had estimated 2000 revenue of $1.8 billion. It has a cable partnership with AOL Time Warner, and owns the nation's fifth-largest newspaper company, which accounted for an estimated $2.8 billion-62% of net revenue.

The company's newspapers capitalized early on the potential to serve as online regional info hubs-as with New Jersey Online-but its magazines have had a rockier time navigating the Web's shoals. Still, the fits and starts of the magazines' Net ventures (and Fairchild's scotching a pricey, subscription-driven wwd.com) have apparently not affected Steve's stock.

In 1994, Si Newhouse told Ad Age his cousin Jonathan, now 48, "will take my place" at Conde Nast, prompting speculation Jonathan would run the empire. But insiders say Jonathan's absence from stateside power centers and social gatherings-like the holiday lunch at New York's Four Seasons-is telling.

"You'd think in a company with a [74-year old] chairman," says one company executive, "that if Jonathan was truly the designated [heir] they would start a program to have him have personal relationships at the company." But this hasn't happened. "Now, what does that mean?"

Jonathan Newhouse, who also spent time in Paris, is viewed as the family hipster, sporting a stylishly shaved head. Steve is seen as more approachable and outgoing than his uncle Si, whose legendarily laconic ways have accumulated much mystique over the years.

Steve's ascent comes as the company, long renowned for its lavish expense accounts and magazine budgets (if there were budgets), shows signs of increased attention to the bottom line. Last year the company hired management consultants McKinsey & Co. Late in the year, Advance began merging back-office operations across the company's units. (Executives expect further action in that arena.) Conde Nast also trimmed corporate staff and closed Mademoiselle. In October, Advance moved staffers who'd been housed in another building in Manhattan to its Conde Nast headquarters, saving what one company executive said was $6 million a year.

But if the family has shown signs of demanding more fiscal prudence, some say the heir-in-waiting shows few signs of feeling any heat.

Steve "takes his position, if not his responsibilities, lightly," says a Conde Nast executive. "For my money," the executive added, "I hope [Si's successor] is Steve."

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