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James Truman’s Exit Interview

Before leaving Si’s court and moving to Spain, Condé Nast’s editorial director talks to Carl Swanson.

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Was your decision to quit a New Year’s resolution?
Not exactly. Last year, I installed as a screen saver a poem by Joseph Campbell that begins “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Every time I logged in, I had to read this damn poem. And it seemed to mock me.

Would you recommend Condé Nast as a place to work?
Absolutely. The caricaturish aspects of the place pertain to a very small part of it, and even there it’s hardly an imposed code of behavior.

Wasn’t this job an “appointment for life?” Back in ’94, did you think you’d get out of it alive?
Well, I don’t remember entering the job with a death wish.

What did you think your job was going to be?
I really wasn’t sure. Alexander Liberman explained the secret of it to me as being as Machiavellian as possible as often as possible. But Alex took a mischievous delight in motivating people that way, and he was brilliantly successful with it.

What do you think is your contribution to magazines?
I know there’s a perfect line to draw here between self-deprecation and self-congratulation, but I can’t find it.

Was there any title you wish you could’ve launched?
The art magazine was, to my mind, the most viable magazine we didn’t publish. But I was always somewhat fearful of how it would play out in real life, with a scent strip next to the Goya painting, and advertorials of young artists wearing expensive wristwatches. I believe art is better for not being the next hot commodity, though it seems to be headed there.

What did you tell Tom Wallace about his new job?
To be as un-Machiavellian as possible.

Ever regret having to fire someone?
I certainly regret the way in which I did it on several occasions—wanting to get it over with rather than paying attention to the other person’s feelings.

What are you going to miss about Si Newhouse the most?
I’ll actually miss Si a great deal. He’s brilliant and eccentric, and he really does have a sweet side, as well as a witty, gossipy side, as well as an obsessive, perfectionist side, as well as a reclusive, impenetrable side. He’s a fascinating combination of Darryl Zanuck and Bill Gates and maybe the queen, too.

Can we blame the deleterious effects of Buddhism for your not wanting to be a corporation man anymore?
I’m not sure Buddhism has deleterious effects, except for the occasional sanctimoniousness with which people proclaim themselves Buddhists. I don’t feel I ever was much of a corporation man. Or a Buddhist.


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