Hearst: The very name evokes magazines like Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping and Elle.
But the 136-year-old company is no longer dominated by its media assets. “What started as a newspaper company, then a magazine company, then adding a few TV stations,” has evolved through reinvestment and diversification, says David Carey, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at Hearst.
In 10 years, Hearst has spent $12 billion on acquisitions, many of them having little to do with consumer magazine publishing.
Take Fitch, a company that researches bond offerings from municipalities, nonprofits and nations, among other things. Acquired over an eight-year period, it accounts for roughly 3,000 of Hearst’s 20,000 employees and is “behind the recent success at Hearst,” Carey says.
Then there’s Bring a Trailer, a site for auto auctions, a business that moved online during the pandemic. In 2021, Hearst acquired Noregon, which helps companies that repair large semis, Carey says. “There are as many as 40 million of lines of code in the computers of those large semis. It’s a bear.”
Meanwhile, on the information side, “it’s more tilted to B2B every year,” Carey states. “B2B businesses provide about 40% of the corporation’s profits," compared to 10% a decade ago.
This shifting portfolio is one of the signal accomplishments of CEO Steven R. Swartz’s 10-year reign to date, Carey says. Overall sales totaled almost $12 billion in 2022. It had record years since 2019, and was only slightly off in 2020.
Carey’s own career reflects changing trends in publishing. He worked as a group president at Condé Nast, overseeing its media properties, and was publisher of The New Yorker from 1998 to 2005, At Hearst, he was chairman of Hearst Magazines, having served as president from 2010 to 2018, then stepped down to spend a year as a fellow at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative.
“Being on a college campus as an adult is a mind-expanding experience,” he says. At Harvard, he wrote a thesis on business as a force for good in a divided world. And in 2019, when he returned to full-time work at Hearst, his mandate was to ensure that the company reflects “how younger employees and business partners and advertisers want to see us.”
Carey boasts that there were “no layoffs during the pandemic, and everyone’s healthcare was only enhanced.” What’s more, Hearst paid out bonuses in February to every employee who had been with the firm for at least half a year.
“This is not to say certain businesses won’t have stresses during periods of macroeconomic noise,” Carey adds. True: Didn’t several hundred employees stage a half-day walkout just last week to protest their lack of a contract?
Carey responds that Hearst has many union employees in its newspaper and TV businesses. And he argues that Hearst has supported its newspapers even while other big companies were gutting theirs.
Under Carey in his new role, Hearst launched Hearst Gives Back, a platform that lets employees donate money to any charity they choose, with the company making a match of up to $10,000. Described by Carey as “one part philanthropy and one part employee retention program,” the platform is tied to news events -- say, a flood in Mississippi or the mass shooting in Uvalde. The only charities blocked are those on the Southern Poverty Center hate list.
Roughly 40% of the staff has participated in Hearst Gives Back.
Meanwhile, the company has reinvested more than $200 million in capital projects, acquiring more hardware and software to upgrade its workplace and services. It has also invested more than $100 million in incremental new product development. And Carey promises there will be brand-new additions to the company in the year or two to come.
Does all this mean editors and publishers are now seen as less glamorous?
Don’t believe it. “When editors of even medium-sized publications come into a restaurant, it’s like Beyonce came in,” Carey laughs.