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Condé Nast Owner Si Newhouse Dies at 89

He ran the family's media empire for 40 years before retiring to chairman emeritus in 2015.
Si Newhouse | Source: Condé Nast
  • Chantal Fernandez

NEW YORK, United States — Condé Nast chairman emeritus Samuel Irving "Si" Newhouse Jr. passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. As the owner of the magazine publisher's parent company, Advance Publications, with his brother Donald, Newhouse led the business for forty years. Their father, Samuel Irving Newhouse Sr., bought Vogue in 1959.

Known for his unassuming personality and love of magazines, Si Newhouse became Conde Nast's chairman in 1975. Following his father's death in 1979, he expanded the magazine division grandly and rapidly throughout the 80s and 90s, relaunching Vanity Fair and buying the New Yorker. With his exacting eye for details, patience for navigating financially turbulent times and faith in the many "celebrity editors" he championed, Newhouse turned a small portfolio of magazines into one of the largest and highly-regarded media companies in the world. He never officially retired from the company, but was reported to have stepped back from an operational role in 2012 and became chairman emeritus in 2015.

"Si, as everyone called him, devoted himself incessantly and single-mindedly to producing the best journalistic products," wrote Jonathan Newhouse, chief executive of Condé Nast International and Si Newhouse's first cousin, in a piece for British GQ. "And it was this vision, coupled with commercial acumen, patience and courage, which earned Condé Nast its leadership position in the industry and the admiration of writers, editors and photographers along with the gratitude of millions of readers, even if they didn't know who was behind the shiny magazine they held in their hands.... Before there was a business plan, a marketing strategy, a mission statement, there was....a dream. Si Newhouse was a dreamer, and he made those dreams a reality."

"Si Newhouse was the most extraordinary leader," said Anna Wintour, Condé Nast artistic director and editor-in-chief of American Vogue, in a statement on "Wherever he led, I followed, unquestioningly, simply because he put as much faith in me as I had in him. Si never looked at data or statistics, but went with his instincts and expected his editors to do the same. He urged us to take risks and was effusive in his praise when they paid off. Every time I'd preview the latest issue of Vogue with him, he'd encourage me to go for the less expected cover, the more compelling image. Yet there was nothing showy about the way Si led."

"This humble, thoughtful, highly idiosyncratic man, quite possibly the least judgmental person I’ve ever known, preferred family, friends, art, movies, and his beloved pugs over the flashiness of the New York media world," she continued. "His personality shaped the entire company. It might have been a huge global media entity, yet Si, who arrived at 4 a.m. every day in an unchanging uniform, ran it like his own personal and very benevolent fiefdom. We’d regularly have lunch—lunches which were scheduled by him six months in advance—and he’d arrive with a yellow legal pad, with maybe three words written on it. So few words, yet somehow, they encapsulated so many lessons, lessons which I still strive to put into practice every day I come to work.”

"We've suffered the loss of a great friend, mentor, and source of daily inspiration," said Bob Sauerberg, president and chief executive of Condé Nast in a memo to staff. "He loved the work of magazine-making—and, later, of expanding to new platforms—and delighted in the details, the well-turned headline, the audacious article that challenged its readers. Criticism did not deter him. He wanted us to go too far sometimes, to dare. In business, too, he was motivated by boldness as well as by profit, by innovative thinking as well as by salesmanship. He gave the rare gift of independence to his editors and stood by them at the most difficult times.

“Si took great satisfaction in Condé Nast’s business success and he believed, as we do, that its best days lie ahead,” said Donald, Jonathan and Steve Newhouse in a joint letter to staff. “On behalf of everyone in our family, we look forward to celebrating Si’s legacy by continuing his passionate support for Condé Nast and for your extraordinary work. For Condé Nast, perhaps the best way to honor Si’s memory is to sustain and advance his vision of excellence in every photograph, video, design, post and story and to continue to inspire readers and audiences around the world. All of us are thrilled to travel with you on this important journey.”

“With Si’s passing, the big chapters in the history of magazines—as written by men like Si and Henry Luce—will have come to an end,” said Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter in a statement. “Si’s vision, and the soft manner in which he executed it, will be long remembered in these hallways and on newsstands around the world. He was a one-off in an age of carbon copies.”

"Si was a shrewd businessman who cared deeply about what his businesses were ushering into the world," wrote The New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick on "Each title at Condé Nast meant something to him, excited some passion of his, some aspect of his personality: architecture, literature, food, fashion, art, Hollywood. When he got to start a new title, he was thrilled, and when circumstances dictated that a magazine’s time had reached an end, or when a launch turned out to be a misfire, he suffered. The New Yorker was different from the other magazines he had husbanded—it had, and still has, its own set of standards, methods, and even eccentricities—and he would have had it no other way. When the magazine lost money for a while, he was patient; when it built upon its strengths, he was pleased. He was not unduly preoccupied with short-term setbacks and gains."

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