Location: New York, NY
Marital Status: Married
Education: Bachelor’s Degree, Trinity College
Cathie Black attended Trinity, a small Catholic women’s college in Washington, DC, and came to New York as soon as she graduated, “I was dying to come to the Big Apple, dying to have roommates, dying to have a job. I wanted the whole thing,” she says now.
Well, she got it. At 66 her resume reads like a history of women in publishing. After an auspicious start selling ads in Holiday magazine, Cathie quickly got noticed. She was hired as the first advertising manager of Ms., then a few years later was named publisher of New York magazine (she was the first ever female publisher of a weekly news magazine) and later recruited to be President of the new USA Today, which many credit her for turning into the success it became. Today, as President of Hearst Magazines, Cathie oversees more than fifteen U.S. titles including Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping and O: The Oprah Magazine, one of the most successful magazine launches ever, plus a large international magazine portfolio. Her latest launch is the Food Network Magazine, already at 1.3 million circulation after just a handful of issues. All that, and she boasts a 27-year marriage and two children, 22 and 18.
But perhaps most important, she’s been refreshingly candid about her successes and her struggles. Her guide to career and life, Basic Black: The Essential Guide to Getting Ahead at Work and in Life, was published in 2006 and became an instant bestseller, selling 150,000 copies in the U.S. and now in 12 countries. It’s become a Bible for women, with some readers referring to it as their personal career coach. Its’ message: set your sights high and be the absolute best you can be. You deserve “the whole thing” is her mantra.
How do you define your style?
Smart and fashionable. I’m not cutting edge; I never have been. I mix old with new. I like designer clothing but I don’t have to be decked out head-to-toe in designers.
Do you have any favorite designers?
Oh sure. I love both U.S. and European designers. Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Chanel, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors. I love things that travel well. Clothes that feel comfortable while you’re on an airplane, and then when you get off the airplane. And of course, there are shoes and handbags. My closet is overflowing.
Whose bags do you like?
Prada, Gucci. I look for big pocketbooks because I live out of them, with all the accoutrements that most women lug around in their bags… makeup, a hairbrush, comb, Kleenex, wallet, cellphone, etc. My current bag is a big, pouchy Yves St. Laurent that I carry nearly every day. I can put a file folder in it; the newspaper, my Kindle, a magazine or two, plus everything else that lives at the bottom of the bag!
Where do you love to shop?
All over and whenever there is a moment to grab. When I go to another city, I will often bring a list of boutiques that that our magazines have covered. The last time I was in Chicago, after a meeting with Oprah at her Harpo studios, I went to Maria Pinto—the nearby store that Michelle Obama put on the map—and bought a beautiful shirt. And then I went to Jason Home and Garden, another favorite.
If you weren’t involved in fashion vis a vis your position, would you still be interested in fashion?
Oh absolutely. I love to shop—even if I don’t always have time. I just read this quote yesterday, “no matter where you are, pretend you are the hostess.” Isn’t that good?! I try to explain to young women that what you wear is a statement about you. You don’t have to spend a million dollars to look like a million dollars, but you should look smart and pretty, and your makeup should be done well, and your bag and your shoes should be good. As one of our editors, in noticing the summer attire of her young staff, said one day: “This is an office, not the beach. Dress appropriately for each.”
What has influenced your style?
I love interior design magazines, particularly House Beautiful and Veranda since we publish both. I also love the home pages in newspapers, and I wander in and out of home stores all the time. For me, being in a home, gardening or antique store is just a huge treat and always inspiring.
What person has inspired you most in life?
Katharine Graham, the owner of The Washington Post. She was fearless, elegant and very stylish. She was a woman of courage, thrust into the limelight and leadership of the Post before she was really ready, particularly when the newspaper published the Pentagon Papers. She opened the doors for many young female journalists when they were facing many roadblocks to advancement in very traditional, male-dominated newsrooms.
Who inspires you now?
Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.
Are they both leaders?
Yes, in quite different ways. Oprah because she has inspired millions of women to be their best selves and the First Lady because she has carved her own path already. Mrs. Obama clearly has her own opinions, her own fabulous style and seems to be a fantastic mother and role model for young women in this country and around the world. And certainly for her daughters.
Do you have a favorite perfume?
Chanel No. 5.
What’s your beauty routine?
I have gotten my morning beauty routine down to about 25 minutes: I come in from exercising, have a quick yogurt, shower, then do hair and makeup. I use LaMer moisturizer morning and night and many products including Chanel, L’Oreal, Lauder and Armani. One of the perks of my job is that I get sent a lot of beauty products, so I am always experimenting.
Do you have a signature item?
Two. My diamond stud earrings which are large enough to be gorgeous and my silver Elsa Peretti wide cuff bracelet that I’ve probably worn 2,000 times, literally. The Chanel J12 Watch is another fave and of course my many pairs of Chanel flats.
What’s your secret favorite spot in New York?
Central Park. I’m in it nearly every day, and when I look at the thousands of people running on the road or around the reservoir, I think, ‘what a great gift Frederick Olmstead gave to this city.’
What about your favorite restaurant in New York?
I zip around. I had lunch at Michael’s today—a great media hangout. I love Le Bernadine, for the classic elegance and best fish ever, and The Four Seasons. Ever since I was a young woman in publishing, the proprietress of The Four Seasons always gave me a good, well-placed table. Usually women were placed in Siberia at French restaurants! I love Serafina because it’s casual; it’s around the corner from our apartment, and it’s a place you can take your kids.
Do you have a passion project at the moment?
We just built a new home in Southampton so that has been my project of late. Now we are looking for art for it, which is really great fun. I also love the farmers’ markets in the Hamptons. I drive around finding the best one for corn or for raspberries. My husband and I compare notes at night, and decide whose corn is better based on what market. He recently retired and took a 6-month culinary course—he’s a wonderful cook, and I know how lucky I am to have a chef as a husband!
You’re not retiring are you?
Nope. I love what I do. But I do want to think about Stage 2, which would be equally exciting.
Great book you’ve read?
Tom Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0. I love anything that Tom Friedman writes because I think he brings insight and intelligence that is just remarkable. And I’m about to start Game Change.
Rarely been one I don’t like!
Your biggest indulgence?
Stealing time: Time with my family and time with friends around the table and having fun with gal pals.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
You have to be yourself. Most kids coming out of college don’t have a clue what they want to do. I say, don’t worry about what your parents or friends think you ought to do. Think about the things you like doing, and try to figure out what kind of jobs relate to that. If you like doing something, more than likely you will be good at it. If you hate what you do everyday, then change.
The other thing I’ve learned is not to take things too seriously or yourself too seriously. I like to have fun; I like to have great colleagues to work with, and I like to be stimulated and challenged all the time.