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JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE: On Thursday at around 10 a.m., in the conference room of Condé Nast Traveler’s 14th-floor offices at 4 Times Square, staff gathered to hear from Condé executives after their longtime editor in chief, Klara Glowczewska, was fired a day earlier.
Thomas Wallace, Condé Nast’s editorial director and a former Traveler editor in chief, was there, as were chief executive officer Charles Townsend, president Bob Sauerberg, and Pilar Guzmán, the former editor of Martha Stewart Living who’d just been named the new Traveler editor in chief. There was another figure in the room who’d returned from vacation just for the occasion, Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and Condé Nast artistic director.
Her presence at the meeting was duly noted.
Glowczewska is the second editor in chief fired at Condé since Wintour took on the role of artistic director, although Wintour is believed to have had a bigger hand in the hiring of Guzmán than in the dismissal of her predecessor. And unlike at Lucky, where Wintour was deeply involved in the reinvention of the magazine and Brandon Holley’s exit, she didn’t spend much time tweaking Traveler. But her sign of approval was pivotal when Condé executives decided the time had finally come for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the “Truth in Travel” bible, several sources said.
For some editors at Condé, Glowczewska’s exit cast Wintour’s new outsize influence in sharp relief because for years the veteran editor had been untouchable, a protégé of Wallace who was immune to reprisal despite the dwindling profits of her magazine. That even she was fair game sent another reminder that while a handful of editors in the building might have tenure for life, most don’t. The only lingering question was: Who’s next?
Glowczewska, a Polish-born journalist and accomplished translator, was with Traveler since its launch in 1987. Sir Harry Evans, the magazine’s founding editor, recalled she was “first class on everything she did.” She rose from features editor to executive editor, and when Wallace became editorial director in 2005, she was handpicked to succeed him as the magazine’s editor in chief.
She was the quintessential back-of-the-class editor. She didn’t bother anyone, and no one bothered her. Under her watch, Traveler quietly chugged along like a regal, if antiquated, ocean liner.
She picked up a couple of National Magazine Award nominations, and her staff worshipped her. When Condé demanded cutbacks from all the titles, Glowczewska avoided layoffs by reducing salaries and hours. The inability to make staff changes also opened her up to criticism that the magazine was stale.
Circulation, down to 809,604 by December from 814,390 at the end of 2010, had improved in the first quarter thanks to digital replicas to 821,087, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Ad pages declined slightly last year, by 5.53 percent, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
But for years, even as far back as 2009, when the publisher was Chris Mitchell, now at GQ and Guzmán’s husband, the business side complained that Traveler was tired and thus difficult to sell. There was also frustration with the magazine on the 11th floor, Condé’s executive suite.
Glowczewska stuck it out anyway.
“She was Tom’s girl,” said a source, and everyone knew she was off-limits. Her exit now was the result of a combination of factors.
Traveler had once been the third-most-profitable magazine at Condé, in the early 2000s. But those profits have tumbled so that it’s now a second-tier brand, according to a source. At the Thursday morning meeting, Wallace told staff a change in leadership was necessary because while other magazines in the company had recovered after the recession, Traveler hadn’t.
“Something needed to change,” he said, according to two sources. Representatives for Condé Nast, Traveler and Vogue did not respond to requests for comment.
When she became artistic director, Wintour met with Glowczewska, as she had with all the other editors in chief, and explained Traveler was in need of a serious shoe shine. She suggested a more fashion-forward front of the book and more style features. Glowczewska seemed responsive.
“Klara was making an investment in trying to rejuvenate the brand. She kept an open mind,” said another source.
But Condé executives decided those changes would be cosmetic. The magazine needed to follow the model set by the overhaul of Bon Appétit, which got a new leadership team in 2011. After Bill Wackermann was moved over to Traveler from Glamour to make room for Time Inc. poach Connie Anne Phillips, formerly of InStyle, it became clear to some a new editor was needed as well. Wintour signed off on the move.
“Anna’s not afraid to make changes. She made [Townsend and Sauerberg] comfortable that it was OK, that she could find the right people to take over,” a source said. Guzmán, already an alum of Condé from her days as editor of Cookie, fit the bill — a young, energetic editor who could work with a publisher, and was married to a publisher to boot. Wallace, too, came to embrace the idea — the decline in profits had become inexcusable. He personally informed Glowczewska of the decision Wednesday morning, blindsiding the editor. She told her staff at 1:45 p.m.
One source concluded the reason for Glowczewska’s departure was she didn’t fit with the mold of the new, millennial Condé Nast, repeating the earlier criticism she didn’t move fast enough to adapt, or perhaps wasn’t willing to do so.
“Klara was a victim of her own largesse. She did not make some difficult decisions,” the source said. “She wasn’t willing to be ruthless, and that’s what it would have taken to stay in her position.”
A formal announcement about Glowczewska was distributed shortly after 6 p.m., as Condé brass gathered to toast Phillips with a high-rollers party at Marea that drew even Leonard Lauder. There, Townsend, flanked by Sauerberg and chief administrative officer Jill Bright, was already praising Guzmán’s return to the family.
On Thursday morning, at the staff meeting, “the atmosphere in the room was somber,” one source said. Some of the people in the room had worked with Glowczewska for decades. Wallace acknowledged the sensitivity of the moment, and the difficult transition ahead. After she was introduced by Sauerberg, Guzmán said a few words, and then they were off to a meeting with the business side. Glowczewska was not present. Guzmán’s transition is proceeding quickly. On Thursday night, she stopped by a GQ party at the High Line Hotel thrown by her husband, Mitchell. She said conversations with Condé began recently, and again acknowledged Wintour’s influence.
“Anna in her new role brings her incredible expertise, visual and editorial and incredible sensibility. In her new role, she’s been charged with reinvigorating certain titles, along with Tom,” she said.
Guzmán expects bold changes at Traveler.
“You have to assess what’s there and see who’s game, who’s willing to get on the change bandwagon. Sometimes it just takes an outsider to shift the focus. I’m sure there will be certain changes, but I have an open mind,” she said.
As the party was drawing to a close, Guzmán seemed pleased to have put Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia behind her.
“It was an honor to be able to shepherd a brand like that,” she said, sounding like someone who’d just completed a very long tour of duty. “It’s a very unique place. Everybody who has stayed there, who can survive there, really lives the life.”