Arthur Sulzberger, Jr

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Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

The New York Times has been published for over 100 years, since Adolph Ochs purchased the newspaper in 1896. In 1992, his great-grandson, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. (born 1951), became the fifth relative to act as its publisher and has since established himself as a strong yet personable manager and something of a pioneer at the old "Gray Lady."

Sulzberger was born to Arthur Ochs and Barbara Winslow Grant Sulzberger in Mount Kisco, New York, on September 22, 1951. His parents divorced in 1956, but Sulzberger and his sister, Karen, still spent time with their father, often at their grandparents' estate near Stamford, Connecticut. The 262-acre property included a private lake taking up five acres, an Olympic-size swimming pool, and an indoor tennis court. As an adolescent, Sulzberger decided to go to Manhattan to live with his father and stepmother, Carol Fox Fuhrman, in their Fifth Avenue apartment. There he enrolled in a college preparatory academy, the Browning School, where he was on the debating club, played junior varsity football, and spent three years on the school newspaper. Though he went through a rebellious adolescence that lasted into his college years-growing his hair long, donning his father's old Marine Corps jacket, and getting arrested at peace rallies-he remained close to his supportive father.

Sulzberger completed high school in 1970 and attended college at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in political science. On breaks, he worked at the Boston Globe and Vineyard Gazette newspapers in Massachusetts, knowing that his future was in publishing. He told Alex S. Jones in the New York Times, "I was not pushed to do it either by myself or some strange sense of responsibility. It was something I wanted to do as long as I can recall." Sulzberger officially started his professional career at the Raleigh Times in North Carolina as a reporter in 1974.

Married Girl Next Door

While visiting his mother in Topeka, Kansas, during a Thanksgiving holiday, Sulzberger met the girl next door, literally. She was Gail Gregg, also a journalist. They were married in 1975 and moved to London the following year, where they held wire service jobs. Although Gregg was adept as a journalist, often beating her husband to stories, she opted for a change when the couple moved back to America in 1978, and became an artist. Sulzberger knew, when he returned to the United States, that he was preparing for a permanent career at the New York Times. He did not fraternize with staff members, causing a rift between him and some who used to be friends. "When I moved back to New York, I decided for my own mental health that my closest friends should be outside the Times," Sulzberger told Margaret Carlson in a Time magazine interview. "They can afford to be honest with me."

Learned the Publishing Business

Sulzberger held a variety of increasingly responsible positions on the newspaper. From 1978 until 1992 he was Washington correspondent, city hall reporter, assistant metro editor, group manager of the advertising department, senior analyst in corporate planning, production coordinator, assistant publisher, and deputy publisher. Although he knew that a path would be cleared for his advancement, Sulzberger did not take this for granted. He quickly established a reputation for being a down-to-earth, hard-working journalist. New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen told Carlson, "From the moment he walked in the door, there were people desperately trying to dislike him. It proved to be impossible."

After working in the Washington, D.C., bureau from 1978 to 1981, Sulzberger returned to Manhattan as a general reporter on the metropolitan beat, where he covered the second term of Mayor Edward Koch, among other stories. He was promoted to assignment editor in 1982, which he called "the single most exhausting job I ever had," according to Carlson. As a rookie manager, he endeared himself to the reporters, operating a democratic newsroom and being available to his workers. He also learned that motivation was the key duty of a solid manager. After gaining exposure to the editorial operations of the newspaper, Sulzberger transferred to the business side. In 1983, he began selling advertising and overseeing a team of sales people. Around this time, he seriously began considering his future role in the paper's management and assessing his own style of supervision. As he told Alex S. Jones in the New York Times, "I don't think leadership demands yes or no answers; I think leadership is providing the forum for making the right decision, which doesn't demand unanimity."

In 1985, Sulzberger spent some time as a senior analyst in corporate planning before taking the job of production coordinator. In that capacity, he spent two nights a week supervising the printing of the paper. He was named assistant publisher in 1987, dealing with budget issues. His father promoted him to deputy publisher just over a year later. In that capacity, he was in charge of both the news and business sides. He had a hand in redesigning the metro and sports sections and also worked to infuse color into the "Gray Lady." Sulzberger was eager to bring more women and minorities on board. Female employees had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the New York Times in 1978. Into the 1990s, senior management positions were still held by white males. Sulzberger was committed to the concept of diversity in the workplace.

Named Publisher

On January 16, 1992, Sulzberger was chosen to replace his father as publisher of the New York Times. He immediately pledged to continue the paper's outstanding quality, but also turned his attention to its financial health. Sulzberger announced in early 1993 that the paper needed to trim ten percent of its workforce. Also in 1993, the New York Times bought the Boston Globe for well over one billion dollars. In late 1995, executives reported that another 190 jobs would be cut. Despite the job losses, Ken Auletta in the New Yorker remarked that Sulzberger eagerly worked to democratize the office climate. He hoped to wage a war "against an authoritarian decision-making process that exists on both the news and the business sides of the Times—a process that he believes breeds insularity and saps initiative." Auletta noted that Sulzberger and his executive editor, Max Frankel had introduced many improvements. They "have improved the writing in the Times, have provided readers with more analytical stories, have sharpened the Sunday magazine and the sports and metropolitan sections, have hired more women and minorities for the newsroom, and have given individual writers greater freedom in how they write." Auletta added, however, that employees thought Sulzberger still appeared to focus too much on how far the paper still had to go, rather than how far it had come.

Although in 1993, the New York Times only boasted about ten percent women executives on the news side of its masthead, some workers pointed out that Sulzberger's pace was not to blame. Auletta quoted Rebecca Sinkler, editor of the New York Times Book Review, as saying, "The Times is so big and powerful that changing it is like teaching a hippopotamus how to tango. Moving the hippopotamus around is frustratingly slow," confounding even the publisher, Auletta commented. To help effect change more quickly, Sulzberger has held numerous retreats in order to encourage greater communication. "He believes that self-discovery and candor flow from conflict and adversity and that improved teamwork will follow," Auletta explained, noting that Sulzberger's theories seemed to stem from his experiences with the group Outward Bound, of which he was chairman for the New York City center. Sulzberger also actively recruited minorities by holding dinners at National Association of Black Journalists conventions, and noticeably stepped up coverage of gay issues.

One of Sulzberger's boldest decision was to introduce color into the newspaper's main sections late in 1997. Other newspapers had been adding color to their pages for over 30 years, but the Times never followed suit. Worried that some traditionalists would protest, Sulzberger nevertheless saw the need to give the "Gray Lady" a makeover in order to keep the readers' interest and attract newer, younger subscribers. "We admit we're taking a risk," he told Lee Berton in the Columbia Journalism Review. "But we feel that not changing would be even riskier with our readers and advertisers." Sulzberger also assured shareholders, Berton reported, that "color design will reflect the taste and moderation that have always distinguished the Times's news judgment."

When Sulzberger's father turned 70 in 1996, many were anxious to see who would become the company's chairman and chief executive officer. Though he had certainly earned the title with the sweat he had poured into the paper, Sulzberger also had four male cousins and a female cousin in executive positions at the New York Times. The New Yorker reported at the time that although "Punch" Sulzberger would probably like to move his son up into the position, he shared with his three sisters 85 percent of the controlling stock, and they may have other ideas. The senior Sulzberger remained tight-lipped about it before finally stepping down on October 16, 1997 and announcing that his son would assume duties as chairman while company president, Russell T. Lewis, would become chief executive officer.

Despite Sulzberger's privileged background as heir apparent to the New York Times, Margaret Carlson in Time magazine characterized him as making a conscious effort to be an "average Joe." Carlson noted that Sulzberger used public transportation, toured Europe on a used motorcycle, helped at homeless shelters, and preferred inexpensive eateries. However, his veneer is not quite so humble. Known as a dapper dresser, a friend of Sulzberger's at the New Yorker mentioned that he looked like "an English gentleman." Sulzberger, in his free time, enjoyed rock climbing and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He and his wife have two children, Arthur Gregg and Ann Alden. The family lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City since the early 1980s.

Further Reading

Columbia Journalism Review, September-October 1997, p. 42.

Editor & Publisher, January 22, 1994, p. 17; January 11, 1997, p. 3.

Fortune, November 24, 1997, p. 46.

HR Focus, May 1994, p. 22.

Mediaweek, January 13, 1997, p. 6; October 20, 1997, p. 8.

Newsweek, September 15, 1997, p. 76.

New Yorker, June 28, 1993, p. 55; June 10, 1996, p. 44.

New York Times, January 17, 1992, p. A1; December 6, 1995, p. C4.

Time, August 17, 1992, p. 46.

Wall Street Journal, October 17, 1997, p. B5. □