Player Profile: Calculated risk helps Fox Advance at Conde Nast

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In 1994, the publishers of Conde Nast Publications made an in-house video to welcome new President Steven T. Florio. It went fairly straight until it came time to film the publisher of Details, a thirty-something former Bergdorf Goodman executive named Mitch Fox.

"There he was with a baseball hat on backward and a beer, and smoking a cigarette-he swears it was a cigarette," recalled Mr. Florio. Somewhat audibly against a backdrop of the Black Crowes turned up loud, Mr. Florio said Mr. Fox looked up, muttered a curse, and said: "Is today that Florio thing?"

"Everyone else was trying to impress the new boss, and here you got a guy who used humor to make the connection," Mr. Florio said. "Certainly with me, it was effective."

"I knew that all of the publishers would play it very conservative and safe" in welcoming the new boss, Mr. Fox said. "That's not generally the way I approach things." Mr. Fox prefers "to take risks, to try and entertain. I was pretty confident [Mr. Florio] would be open to it."

Mr. Fox's current risk is running the third and newest magazine arm of the Advance Publications empire, the Golf Digest Cos., set up in the wake of the company's $435 million acquisition of the magazine and its related business from the New York Times Co. in January.

Mr. Fox has placed himself in the thick of a category undergoing great changes. As part of the Times Mirror Magazines acquisition last year, the other giant golf title, Golf Magazine, went from being part of a small magazine division in a newspaper company to part of Time Inc.

Time Inc.-ers claim to be paying scant attention to their rivals no matter that, as a privately held company, Advance is not subject to the budget-mindedness of Time Inc. in an AOL Time Warner world. Under AOL Time Warner, said Rich Alfano, president of Golf Magazine Properties, "we'll be in a much more significant position than we'd been before, irrespective of what Conde Nast does with Golf Digest."

Inveterate Advance watchers note Mr. Fox also now has his own horse to run in the mysterious races and machinations within the well-heeled Advance empire. Twice a publisher-first at Details and then at Vanity Fair-before heading up Conde Nast's corporate sales, he's now taken the next step few other hotshot publishers have-to run his own company. And in the gossipy world of Conde Nast, speculation inevitably spreads about what Mr. Fox's move may mean for the company's next generation of leaders.

"Mitch is an extraordinary talent," Mr. Florio said, who dismissed talk of potential rivalries among Advance's top ranks. "Good for Mary [Berner, CEO of Fairchild Publications]. She's done a good job. And good for Mitch."

For his part, Mr. Fox said his priority is "exclusively the Golf Digest Companies." Thus far, he picked up Golf for Women in May from Meredith Corp., and lured over his former No. 2 at Conde Nast corporate sales, Steve Binder, to be senior VP-publisher Golf Digest. Mr. Fox also reported being in negotiations for "quite a few" golfing schools. As for further expansion, he said "we would consider all ways in which to integrate golf and the golfing lifestyle either into existing titles, or maybe into a completely new freestanding magazine."

Since his promotion, every profile of Mr. Fox has mentioned all his hours on the links over the years. Sadly, Mr. Fox reports, things have changed: "I am a mediocre, avid golfer, who, since we acquired this company, has had very little chance to play as much as I used to."

Well, every promotion has its downside.

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