Condé Nast Titan Florio Dead at 58

Tough-Talking 'Pirate Captain' Boosted Presence of Publisher in '80s and '90s

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NEW YORK ( -- Steven T. Florio, the magazine executive who used his larger-than-life persona to run Condé Nast Publications during what may turn out to be one of the last big boom periods for print media, died Thursday from complications due to a heart attack he suffered the week before Thanksgiving. He was 58 years old.
Steve Florio
Steve Florio Credit: Scott Gries

Mr. Florio was well known within the magazine industry for his swashbuckling demeanor and street-smart style, but he also helped move Condé Nast into bigger arenas. "Back then, we were a group of eclectic and high-quality magazines, and I think he created a persona and presence for the company," recalled Richard Beckman, president of Condé Nast Media Group, who worked for Mr. Florio for just under 20 years. "He gave us a presence much larger than our actual size demanded."

Aggressive salesman
Behind the bluster and tough talk, however, was a determined and aggressive salesman who wanted more of the same in the ranks below him. Mr. Florio was known to rise early in the day to meet with S.I. Newhouse Jr. -- chairman of Condé Nast and head of its parent, Advance Publications -- at 5:30 a.m., then work steadily through the evening until after a business dinner.

Mr. Florio began his publishing career at Esquire, rising from research Associate to VP-advertising director within nine years. He moved to Condé Nast's GQ, serving as publisher there for six years and overseeing some of the fashion-oriented men's title's best days during the 1980s. In May 1985, Mr. Florio was appointed president of The New Yorker, when the company was purchased by Advance. In January 1988, he was given the additional title of CEO. The New Yorker's paid circulation rose 60% during Mr. Florio's tenure.

Mr. Florio was named president of Condé Nast in January 1994 and CEO in 1996, overseeing the company's popular magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Gourmet and Bon Appetit. He was named vice chairman of Condé Nast in 2004 and retired from the company in 2006. He had had heart surgery a few years before stepping down from the CEO job and had several minor health issues since, but he told Advertising Age at the time that a desire for a change in lifestyle, not health concerns, had prompted him to move to the vice chairman role.

Still created stir
Even after leaving the day-to-day job, he could create a stir. In 2005, word surfaced Mr. Florio wanted to write a memoir, believed to be chock full of detail about the personalities that made up Condé Nast, a company that has long been hard for media scribes to penetrate. He decided to abandon the effort.

Mr. Florio's legendary temperament matched the times. When he was on top, the magazine industry was thriving, with new launches and booming ad pages the order of the day. The internet was in its infancy, cable offered tens rather than hundreds of channels -- and magazines were still seen as the leading way to reach large audiences interested in attractive editorial niches such as fashion or food. A senior Condé Nast executive told Advertising Age in 2006 that Mr. Florio was viewed as something akin to "a pirate captain" -- the better to do battle with publishing rivals or network TV for marketers' ad dollars.

"This was a person who believed entirely in the medium and brought all that enthusiasm to it and to clients, and he really encouraged his management team and people to think big ideas. This was Condé Nast. You are playing for the Yankees. He wanted you to swing for the fences," recalled David Carey, a group president and publishing director at Condé Nast, in an interview. Mr. Carey oversees Portfolio magazine and was publisher at both House & Garden and The New Yorker during Mr. Florio's tenure.

A father figure
While Mr. Florio was a tough warrior, he had a tender side as well, Mr. Carey remembered. "He was a ferocious competitor externally, but inside the company he had a very warm and endearing style. It was an interesting contrast," said Mr. Carey. "Indeed, he had a father-figure-like quality to many people in the organization." Mr. Florio is survived by his wife, Mariann; daughter Kelly; son Steven John; his mother, Sophie Florio; and two brothers, Tom and Michael. Tom Florio is publisher of Condé Nast's Vogue.

Mr. Florio held sway at a time when the media industry was less fragmented and complicated and fewer marketers clamored for finer measurement of the effectiveness of their advertising. A persona such as his may not be able to emerge when the process of wooing ad dollars has grown so onerous. "He would see himself as one of the last of the Mohicans," said Condé Nast's Mr. Beckman.

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