Christine Osekoski – Publisher, Fast Company
Editor’s Note: Meet the publisher of Fast Company at PINK’s November 17th event in NYC!
Print Pioneer in a Web World
By Caroline Cox
Few can say they were instrumental in doubling their company’s revenue in less than five years – Christine Osekoski can. And her impact as publisher of business media brand Fast Company hasn’t just been monetary. She’s helped turn the once-floundering print publication into a multi-platform powerhouse that reaches readers when they want, wherever they are.
The daughter of a military man, she’s been described as “relentless” and a “supernova” when it comes to taking brands to the next level. She credits her success to meticulous scheduling, a knack for performing in front of crowds and her Girl Scout past.
Here, she talks to PINK about fearlessness, keeping a print magazine afloat and her childhood dream of being the next Tori Amos.
PINK: What’s your success secret?
Christine Osekoski: Fearlessness and my entrepreneurial high energy are two things that catapulted me through different phases in my career. A sense of fearlessness, energy and conviction to move forward are particularly important when you are in a higher leadership role, because one thing that holds a lot of people back is fear. If you can live with a sense of fearlessness, people are more apt to follow you through any kind of situation.
PINK: How have those qualities helped you excel?
CO: Before I joined Fast Company, the former CEO [of Mansueto Ventures LLC, which publishes Fast Company] John Koten interviewed me for the head of sales position after I’d been through a slew of interviews with other people in the company. Joe Mansueto, the billionaire founder of Morningstar, had just bought Fast Company. It was an interesting time because Fast Company had been this huge juggernaut through the tax boom and the dot-com boom. The new owners were looking to revive the brand, because the previous publishing house hadn’t really done much with it.
I went from working in big corporate type of organization to a start-up. When John interviewed me, we had an amazing conversation for about an hour and a half. He finally said, “You have almost zero fear.” And I said, “Are you kidding? There is nowhere to go but up.” That is my outlook.
PINK: What’s the biggest issue is for career women today?
CO: I wish there were more women leaders in the C-suite. A lot of times, I think, “Wow, I’d really like more role models.” Having role models in that position is a challenge for women in business. At the same time, in order to be successful, we need to channel our own strength. Oftentimes, women get to where they are because of their resilience, conviction and drive, and one shouldn’t be afraid of that. There are a lot of women who are afraid to show that force because it might be too masculine. It’s hard to watch and mirror other women doing that successfully, because of the lack of women in that C-title slot.
PINK: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
CO: Jack Griffin, a big person in the publishing world, said to me, “Keep on learning not to be careful.” Learn not to be careful, learn to take risks, learn to step out on the ledge. It may be cliché, but another piece of good advice is remembering that listening is underrated.
PINK: What’s your leadership style?
CO:I try to be an honest, trustworthy and collaborative leader. I like being involved with different aspects [of a project], even when I have to delegate something. I give people who work for me freedom, trust and a wide berth to create and manage on their own so they can grow and learn. People are going to fail. I might make a bad decision, someone else might make a bad decision, but allowing them to go on their own is a great thing.
PINK: What’s your biggest weakness as a leader?
CO: I can be overbearing. I’m an intense person. I had a military dad, so I’ve grown up caring too much and wanting to prove too much. I set a high level of expectations for myself. I manage to do 12 things in the time it takes people to do one. It’s just experience and knowing how to get things done quickly. I have to be careful to not de-motivate my team because of my intensity level. I literally had to say to them, “Here’s the deal. My schedule is different from yours. Some days, I will send you emails at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday. Don’t answer them. It’s really OK. I don’t expect you to work on a Sunday!”
PINK: How do you hire?
CO: I look for [qualities] that aren’t on paper – things you can’t train. I’m going to hire somebody with enthusiasm, integrity, strong sense of self, confidence, curiosity, good energy and creativity over somebody who is perfect on paper. There are certain aspects of being a salesperson that you can’t train. You could hire someone who is a great presenter, a great strategist and a firecracker, but you have to make sure they have confidence. How many times do people say [to a salesperson], “Nope, don’t want to meet with you, don’t want to buy from you, don’t even want to return your email.” So it’s a softer skill set, if you will, that I look for.
PINK: How big is your team?
CO: There are a little over 30 people across the U.S. on my team. We work with others, like the editorial team, but they don’t report to me.
PINK: How did you increase Fast Company’s revenue and branding ten-fold in the four-and-a-half years you’ve been the publisher?
CO: When I took the job, Fast Company really needed to be [revamped]. In addition, it wasn’t fully integrated yet – it was just the magazine. We had to strategically position ourselves within this “business magazine” category because that hadn’t been done before. One of the most important things was targeting [the marketplace] within our category and showing how our company is the most innovative, creative, progressive business media brand. Once we adapted the Fast Company website, we had successfully evolved the brand into this digital age and then we went “live” with events. Now, more than 60 percent of our advertising revenue comes from advertisers who buy the full brand experience.
PINK: What are your top tips for keeping a print magazine afloat today?
CO: If you have a relevant print brand, you should give people curative content where they want that content to be. However I do strongly believe, as so many of us do, that there is still an audience who loves to dive into the printed page. So, making the print experience fabulous is still important. At Fast Company, we talk about the innovation of design, sustainability and all that good stuff. That means that if you are reading us, we better deliver on those metrics and make the paper quality amazing and tactile, so you want to curl up with it. I can get my news and information on Twitter or my Google page. If I read a magazine, I want that rich experience that print can bring you.
PINK: When it comes to print, what common missteps should be avoided?
CO: Where I’ve seen the most missteps is thinking you can just take your print property and download it into a website. A lot of magazines have created a replicate magazine experience – that’s fantastic for the people who just want the magazine on their iPad. At the same time, you can use the functionality of an iPad to make it a richer experience.
PINK: What are your best Life/Work balance tips?
CO: I schedule everything – I have to. I schedule phone conversations with friends, yoga, personal training and every personal appointment. I even schedule in preparation and travel time in between. I’ve gotten better at it because – especially when you like your job – you spend a lot of time working, and it can go overboard.
PINK: You love to sing. How did that prepare you for your career?
CO: When I was in high school, I sang in a lot of bands. All I wanted to be was a professional singer. But, I couldn’t find my “voice.” I was so upset. I asked myself, “Do I want to be Tori Amos, Mariah Carey or a jazz singer?” Meanwhile, my dad is pushing me to go to college, even though I was accepted into really great music schools. I went to college and wanted to sing, but I didn’t have a specific goal. I was talking to my best friend and I said, “What do I do with this?” She said, “You have no qualms about singing in front of a thousand people. You have a stage presence.” I realized I could totally channel this into a different area. I ended up going into advertising and, ultimately, sales. Singing served me well because it gave me a sense of creativity that I need for my job now, and it gave me a sense of fearlessness. It shaped where I was going.
PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
CO: I’ve been a Girl Scout since I was six years old, and I was one of the first Gold Awards recipients in the state of New York and in the country. My 64-year-old mom still works for Girl Scouts – she’s a sales director in upstate New York. I’m always helping her out.
PINK: What do you do to relax and feel rejuvenated?
CO: You know when you’re little and your parents say, “You need quiet time?” I’ve traveled a lot, and there are certain places I find to be comforting in a [familial] way. Whether it’s Maine or South Africa, as long as there’s water, a beach and trees, I just want to zone out with Mother Nature. I’ve swum ever since I could walk – I love swimming. There’s a pool in my building, so I swim a lot. It’s a very “zen” thing for me.
PINK: What’s your favorite book or one you’re currently reading?
CO: This book I read in the ‘90s called The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women by Harriet Rubin. [Laughs] It’s kind of crazy, but that book had great stuff in it. She goes back in history and pulls out strength and leadership lessons from every major woman personality. It’s really lovely. And I just finished Tell to Win by Peter Guber. I’m a reader. It gets me to sleep at night.
PINK: What is one personal goal you haven’t yet achieved?
CO: You mean, like being independently wealthy and giving everything I have for the people I love? [Laughs]
PINK: Do you have a favorite quote?
CO: It’s funny you ask, because I literally just got off a plane. This makes me laugh every time I hear it because I actually say it out loud in meetings. “Put your mask on before helping others.” It’s so true.
PINK: How do you define success?
CO: As silly as this sounds, you only go through this life once. I feel like success is when one has daily happiness. We all get stressed out with our BlackBerrys and iPhones in front of us everyday. We’re always so scheduled out. I think to myself, “Am I happy today? How can I be happy today?” To me, that defines a successful life, that “joie de vivre” happiness. So many people lose that.
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