Charles H. Townsend was the president and chief executive officer of consumer magazine giant Condé Nast Publications for 11 years from 2004. The company publishes prominent fashion titles Vogue, W, and Vanity Fair, as well as trade paper WWD. The publisher is an outspoken proponent of print media’s longevity in the face of an increasingly digitised industry. In September 2015, Townsend stepped down as chief executive — announcing Bob Sauerberg as his successor — to become chairman of the publishing company. In 2016, Townsend announced his retirement.
He navigated the company through the recession, when falling advertising revenue led the group to shutter four unprofitable titles in 2009. Despite those setbacks, Townsend remained optimistic about the enduring appeal of print magazines. “Our print business, even in the worst moment, continues to grow and the margins are sharper and the gross profit margins are mouthwatering,” he said in October 2012. “When this economy recovers, the print business is going to be on fire.”
While digital subscriptions and advertising dollars still represent “a fraction” of the company’s overall revenue, Townsend emphasised its importance in 2010 by restructuring the company to consolidate responsibility for digital content within each title. In 2012, he announced that the company would prioritise content for alternative platforms like tablets and bundles to supplement critically low subscriptions revenue.
Prior to taking the helm at Condé Nast, Townsend was chief operating officer of Advance Magazine Group, the parent company of Condé Nast, Fairchild Fashion Group, and Parade Magazine, among others. He has been with the group since 1994, when he joined as the publisher of women’s lifestyle magazine Glamour. He has a degree from the University of Michigan and has held a number of executive-level positions at Hearst Corporation.
Alongside his presence in fashion, Townsend also serves as Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, and a trustee and vice chairman of the International Yacht Restoration School. He also sits on the advisory board of the World Ocean Observatory. Townsend's philanthropic endeavours have also covered the Ocean Reef Foundation, the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the South Seaport and the Boy Scouts of America, among others. In February 2017, Townsend was awarded the Music Publishers Association Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual American Magazine Media Conference.