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Huey and the News

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But you can't have a new age without the romance of the new age. Gates and Buffett and Welch and Clark and Grove and Case and Karmazin and Yang are, of course, media creations. John Huey, arguably, bears responsibility for Bill Gates as much as Bill Gates does.

"Who do you think my hero is?" Huey quizzes me.

I reflexively guess Teddy White because Teddy White is the hero of everyone who works at Time Inc. (Although Huey, much of whose career was spent at the Journal, and who, in fact, lives in Charleston and commutes to New York, is not a Time Inc. regular.)

"No, that's Walter's hero," Huey says, laughing, meaning Time managing editor Walter Isaacson, with whom, it is said, he vies in a rivalry for the editor-in-chief job at Time Inc. now held by Norm Pearlstine, the former Wall Street Journal editor and lion of business journalism who made Huey managing editor at Fortune.

"I'll bite."

"Harold Hayes," Huey says, naming the great Esquire editor of the sixties. "And Clay Felker," he adds, naming the editor of this magazine in the seventies.

His point, in addition to putting himself in the best company, is that his influences have little or nothing to do with business, per se, and everything to do with pop culture -- even more to the point, the packaging of pop culture.

Now, there is a kind of good old business guy who collects back issues of Fortune. This is because Fortune was a class artifact. For 65 years, Fortune was associated with Anglo-Saxon industry (and industriousness). The business of America was serious stuff. It was in some sense secret stuff too. Clubby stuff. You had to pass a lot of tests to get into the executive ranks (special handshakes, special ties). What's more, business was, of course, no fun. But Fortune is, in fact, no longer for the guy who collects old Fortunes (Forbes may still be for that guy).

A reasonable definition of the new economy has little to do with economics and a lot to do with culture. Business changed because it bled into the other half of American life; there was a right-brain-left-brain crossover. Business became a lifestyle issue; the service economy, the financial industry, the media business, and personal technology entered our homes. CEOs came to have more influence on our daily lives than politicians.

"I knew there was a breakthrough kind of change when Fortune put Andy Grove on the cover because of his prostate cancer," says my friend Randy Rothenberg, the Ad Age columnist.

Counterintuitively, Huey went the other way from niche publishing. He took his business magazine and gave it wide appeal. Business, he foresaw in 1995 when he took over the magazine, was about to become the great American pastime. The new businessman was becoming the new cultural hero -- rebel, philosopher, authentic person as well as rich man (but the money itself was so vast, and so apparently easy to make, that it was beside the point; character was the issue). Business was no longer about the organization man but about expressing yourself.

"And Jane Amsterdam," Huey says, continuing with his shortlist of formative influences.

Which is an important missing link.

The first wave of provocative business figures (the Boesky and Milken generation) emerged in the eighties and was chronicled by Amsterdam's Manhattan, inc. Now, a good many of those figures were crooks, and their end, as well as the end of Manhattan, inc., was coincident with the collapse of the stock market in 1987. But what remained is an analysis that pushed business figures, men who controlled capital, who could imagine or reimagine the way capital could be used, to the forefront of the culture. Manhattan, inc. and the Wall Street Journal under Pearlstine (with writers like Barbarians at the Gate co-author Bryan Burrough, Den of Thieves' James B. Stewart, Laura Landro, and Jane Mayer) made an explicit connection between capitalism and character, money and drama.


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