NEW YORK — While Cathie Black’s new book on getting ahead at work and in life is called “Basic Black,” her shoe sensibility runs contrary to the title. The president of Hearst Magazines prefers footwear with flair, since shoes, more so than a colorful jacket or skirt, can jump-start a conversation.
“Shoes are going to be my thing for all of this,” she said after just filming “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Tuesday in Chicago, “because people always comment on them.”
For the show, Black wore a pair of BCBG grape-colored quilted shoes with a gold trim. “They’re fun and flashy,” she explained.
“Basic Black,” which hits bookstores Oct. 23, has the same fast-paced, direct tone as Black herself as it offers advice for a fulfilling career and personal life. “This is really not a management book; it’s a coach and a mentor and it is about having a 360-degree life,” said Black. “It’s not only about your life in business, it’s about your life outside of work. I hope it becomes a refresher course for someone who’s 30-plus or 40-plus, and it will be the go-to guide for women in their 20s.”
Black’s career encompasses a rise through publishing’s biggest organizations. She started as an ad sales executive for magazines such as Ms. and New York, where in 1979 she became the first woman to become publisher of a weekly consumer magazine. Then she helped put USA Today on the map as president and publisher. After serving as president and chief executive officer of the Newspaper Association of America, she took her current post at Hearst Magazines, overseeing titles such as Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping, and oversaw the launch of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Many of her former employers and employees provided color in the book to help frame practical advice, including USA Today founder Al Neuharth, former Seventeen editor in chief Atoosa Rubenstein and former Cosmopolitan editor in chief Bonnie Fuller, whom Black uses as part of a case study when Fuller unveiled her redesign of the women’s title. And while Fuller might have left Hearst on less-than-friendly terms, Black uses her in a positive way — sort of. The ever-changing Fuller is offered as an example of a way to “refresh and reinvent” as Black admits in the book, “I wasn’t a fan of everything Bonnie did” before adding that “Bonnie’s term as editor was a net positive.”
This story first appeared in the October 19, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Though Black didn’t speak to the above as she gathered her notes, she hopes they’ll be supportive of their inclusion. “I had gotten a letter from Neuharth early last week,” shortly after the 25th anniversary party for USA Today, which Black attended. “He said, ‘Send the book, even though I many not like everything in the book.'” As for Rubenstein, whom she uses to illustrate how the gumption of a 26-year-old led to the launch of Cosmogirl, and how the editor left Hearst to follow other passions, “I think she’ll get a huge kick out of it.”
Black discusses with humor her triumphs, such as successfully pitching the idea of an Oprah magazine to Winfrey, as well as her travesties, like when she accidentally took a sleeping pill instead of aspirin during a board meeting for Coca-Cola. (“So much for getting caught up in the idea of power! The only thing I caught up on that night was my sleep!”) The advice ranges from traditional business book-speak — don’t accept no for an answer and do ample research before an interview — to the less conventional, such as to always book a room at least one room away from co-workers on business trips. (“You don’t know what your colleagues will be doing during their free time on business trips. And sometimes, you don’t want to know.”)
Another Black mantra? Don’t send potted plants as a follow-up — unless they’re orchids. “There are no potted plants in my office except for those beautiful orchids that people send to me with the long stem with five or six flowers on it,” Black said. “For me, they last about three weeks. But I can never remember to water it.”