The sudden ouster of Troy Young as president of Hearst Magazines has left the publisher with a major role to fill, and it’s already getting to work on a plan of action.
First up, name an interim president. The company quickly selected Debi Chirichella to take the reins for the time being, WWD can first report. She is currently executive vice president, chief financial officer and director of global operations for Hearst Magazines and has been with the company since 2011, making her a hire under previous magazines president David Carey. Carey was succeedeby Young, but late last year rejoined the company in new role overseeing public affairs and societal work, which he continues to do. Prior to Hearst, Chirichella spent several years at Condé Nast in various executive positions, where she would have worked with Carey.
In a note to staff, Hearst chief executive officer Steve Swartz noted that Chirichella and other executives within the magazine group “will lead a process of listening and discussion so that we can together plot the course for the next stage of our magazine company’s transformation.”
He also mentioned initiatives in diversity and inclusion will continue and seemed to allude to the alleged issues with Young’s behavior toward colleagues, made public in a New York Times story published online Wednesday and in print Thursday, the same day Young was forced out.
“Our company is 133 years old and we havw thrived for this long because our founders and previous generations of Hearst colleagues have passed on to us a culture of innovation, service to our communities and, above all, care and concern for each and every one of us who work here,” Swartz wrote. “I am committed to making sure those values carry on and will be passed on to Hearst colleagues for generations to come.”
However, talk of Young’s lewd behavior at work has been common since he was promoted to president in 2018 and started interfacing more with editorial staff. It has been previously written off by executives as “rough edges.”
But with an interim president in place, who will immediately take over the day-to-day duties of overseeing all the magazine brands and their businesses, Swartz will have time to conduct a proper search for a permanent replacement for Young. His effective removal from the company (he was allowed to officially “resign” on Thursday evening) was not planned and the company had no one lined up to take over.
Young was expected to maintain his position until last week, when executives learned The Times would be publishing something of an expose on his alleged habit of lewd work behavior and comments and treatment of colleagues.
Although names tossed around over the last day for interim president of the magazines’ division included Kate Lewis, who succeeded Joanna Coles to be chief content officer under Young and his right hand, for better or worse, it’s thought that her time with Hearst could be coming to an end as well. This is due in large part to her avowed professional alignment with Young and her years spent working directly for him. She worked for him even before Hearst at Say Media, where Young was president until joining Hearst in 2013. But her tenure may not come to an end until a permanent new president is selected. New executives are normally given the chance to build their own teams, as Young did, extensively.
As for the permanent successor to Young, who was president for just under two years, Swartz is more focused on internal candidates in the U.S. with a strong financial ability, as the role of magazines president requires it. External candidates will be considered, too, but with the history of failure among external high-level hires in media, an internal promotion is most likely.
It’s thought that one person already in early consideration for the role is James Wildman, president of Hearst Magazines in Europe and ceo of Hearst U.K. Although based in London, Wildman is said to have earned a good reputation with his successes in Europe.
He joined Hearst in London in 2017 and is credited with turning around the magazines there, getting them back to profitability in 2018 after years of decline. Hearst magazines in the U.K. have been changing more significantly than in the U.S., like Esquire, which in 2018 went to six issues a year and refocused on live events and product.
At other European titles, circulation results have been mixed, but Wildman said last year that he was pleased with the company’s performance overall.
“I’m delighted that our total revenue is in growth,” he said. “Hearst continues to go from strength to strength.”
But Wildman will certainly not be the only candidate considered. And depending on how well Chirichella does in the interim, it could be months before a permanent successor is named.
As for Young, his name has already been scrubbed from Hearst’s corporate page and additional accounts of his allegedly crude and harassing behavior have started to circulate on Twitter.
As recounted in The Times story, Young allegedly suggested to a female colleague during a work holiday party for Cosmopolitan that she insert her fingers into herself before a date.
Nate Hooper, who previously worked at Esquire and went on the record with The Times as a witness to this incident, explained Thursday on Twitter that The Times “did not print the full vulgarity” of Young’s remarks at the party.
Hooper also took issue with Young’s comment to The Times in response to the allegations against him, which he did not deny but instead tried to characterize as part of the Cosmo brand of “candid conversations abut sex.”
“Troy’s remark undermined the ‘candid’ culture he pointed to, as if to say he was embodying that culture,” Hooper wrote. “His words ended an open conversation. The person who deserves credit for candor is the woman who started the discussion, not the man who stopped it.”
Abby Gardner, a writer and current freelancer with Glamour, a Condé Nast brand, who previously worked with Cosmopolitan, wrote Thursday on Twitter of Young: “I honestly never thought this day would happen and I have tears of relief and shock streaming down my face for all the people at that company who will never have to be bullied or harassed by Troy Young again.”
Another Twitter user, who claimed to have worked for Young at Hearst, wrote: “He was one of the worst and enabled a culture of misogyny throughout the heads of other departments, too.”
Amy Laine, another former Hearst employee who, according to LinkedIn, left late last year, responded to that by writing: “You are spot on about the culture and I know it too well after several years there. I am waiting hopefully that others will be swept out in this.”
Beyond allegations of lewd and inappropriate workplace behavior, Young’s run as president was not without other incidents that could have been perceived by executives as missteps.
There is the sidelining of revenue from print advertising, which while on an undoubted decline still accounts for a larger share than digital, which is volatile and has been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
And there have been some more public issues with the magazines division. Last year, contributors to Esquire claimed publicly that an investigative story into the movie director Bryan Singer and his allegedly extensive sexual misconduct and abuse was “killed” just before publication. One writer of the piece, which ended up being quickly picked up for publication by The Atlantic, pointed the finger for the decision directly at Young and Lewis and called into open question their lack of editorial and journalistic experience.
There is also the more recent and widespread union effort by magazine staffers at Hearst. This is said to have peeved Swartz in particular and Hearst has not welcomed the union effort, instead choosing to fight it. Carey, who generally was popular among Hearst staffers during his decade-long tenure, was brought back into the fold not long after employees went public with their unionization effort.
Not only did Hearst executives decline to voluntarily recognize the union, handing over the decision to the federal National Labor Relations Board, the company has also been accused of engaging in a number of union-busting tactics.
Hearst’s anti-union tactics have been such that the Writers Guild of America East filed an unfair-labor-practice charge against Young with the NLRB, which deals with labor disputes and decides if an election can happen when a company participate. The union has accused Hearst of “unlawfully” engaging in surveillance of employees’ related activities and allegedly solicited, encouraged, and provided assistance to employees to withdraw union authorization cards, as well as other methods.
Through the NLRB, the election was able to take place earlier this month. The ballots will be counted Wednesday, but it may take a week for an announcement to be made. If staffers vote in favor of a union, they will be able to head toward the bargaining table.
Sources said it could be beneficial to the union effort to have Young no longer involved, so long as Lewis is not given more responsibility. People see her as having adopted the same hard line against unionization.