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MIKE KLINGENSMITH EXPLAINS HOW HE MADE IT TO THE BIG LEAGUES IN THE NEW YORK PUBLISHING WORLD.


WHEN IT COMES to careers in publishing, Mike Klingensmith could write the book. His might be titled From Chicago Maroon to Sports Illustrated Chief in 22 Years or Less.

Klingensmith, A.B. ’75, M.B.A. ’76, didn’t plot out a publishing career from the start. A self-described "public school kid from Minnesota," Klingensmith had no intention of leaving the Midwest after receiving his M.B.A.

"I went to New York on lark," he says. "All of my interviews were in Minnesota or Chicago, except for one."

It was in publishing, he was interested, and he took the job. At the time, he viewed the entry-level accounting position as a "one- or two-year experiment" in the Big Apple before moving back to the Midwest. It turns out, he never really left, spending more than two decades at Time Inc. He served as circulation director at four different magazines as well as group circulation director for Time Worldwide, Fortune, and Money. From 1983 to 1986 he was general manager of Time Worldwide. But he started his "dream job" when he became the founding publisher of Entertainment Weekly (EW), a magazine he helped conceive and launch in 1990.

"Given a 90 percent failure rate for new publications, it was a big risk, but it was such a thrilling thing to get a chance to do," Klingensmith says of the EW launch. "I was very confident for our odds of success. I refused to acknowledge the fact that it might not work. That was pretty naive," he says with a laugh. "I should have been a lot more worried.

"We executed the magazine poorly out of the box, and that set us back," he says. "It’s hard to repair a weekly–it’s like trying to fix a bike while you’re riding it. But we got our act together editorially, and everything followed. Advertising will follow when you have a readership." Time Warner continued to fund EW because the staff was able to "demonstrate improvement and chart a course that promised hope," Klingensmith says.

Slowly their hard work and perseverance began to pay off. In its fifth year of publication, in 1995, EW won a National Magazine Award–the industry equivalent of an Oscar–for general excellence in a publication with a circulation of over one million. Shortly thereafter, EW began to turn a profit and became the first successful new entertainment weekly since People magazine–also a Time Inc. publication–debuted in 1974.

"There was a lot of pressure," Klingensmith says, reflecting on his time at EW. "I knew I would be wholly responsible if it crashed and burned. We had a lot of tough moments, but even then it seemed more fun than terrifying."

In February, after nine years at EW, Klingensmith returned to familiar and well-loved turf when he was named president of Sports Illustrated (SI). The former Chicago Maroon sports editor and business manager admits to a lifelong preoccupation with sports, including a short stint on the U of C basketball team. He was a financial analyst at SI from 1977 until 1980, and the new job provides the perfect opportunity to wed his love of the game with his publishing experience.

At SI, Klingensmith is in charge of business operations and consumer marketing, and in a few short months his position has taken him around the globe: to Augusta, Georgia, for the Masters; to Nagano for the Olympics; and to San Antonio for the Final Four.

Despite the perks, heading up SI isn’t all fun and games. Guiding a news magazine in the information age presents challenges. Although Klingensmith says that the proliferation of sports web sites has not detracted from the success of the printed magazine, it does mean that there are more players vying for the same advertising. "There is more competition for media dollars," Klingensmith says. "We’re finding our place in the new media mix."

In some ways, though, the flood of information has also been positive for the magazine. "People are overwhelmed with a barrage of information, much of it available instantaneously," Klingensmith said. "This plays into the hands of the magazine because people need someone to sort it all out for them. It’s the classic role of the news magazine. People want thoughtful analysis, well-written articles. And SI is well written and thoughtful and it has spectacular photography."

Easy going, down to earth, and quick to smile, Klingensmith seems to have adjusted well to the fast-paced publishing world and to Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and their two children. His children are already displaying early signs of their father’s love of sports: 10-year-old Carolyn is one of two girls on her west side Little League team, and 8-year-old Jimmy is fond of "all sports that require a stick"–namely hockey, baseball, and golf. Klingensmith himself continues to "play many sports badly" in his free time. As for his career, Klingensmith is clearly playing at championship level. As he talks about his two decades in publishing, Klingensmith makes his ascension at Time Inc. seem so–well, simple–and downright enjoyable. Has it been all that?

"I’ve worked very hard," he says, "The perception in the early days was that Time was Ivy League, an East coast establishment corporation. I was a midwestern guy with no work experience whatsoever. I wanted to do well. I worked hard."

So maybe it hasn’t been easy, but Klingensmith has definitely enjoyed the ride. "Even if it ended tomorrow," Klingensmith says, "nobody could ask for a more fun career than I’ve had."

–M.M.B.


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