Ambidextrous Exec

Steve Murphy, president and CEO of Rodale Inc., on the need for flexibility, discipline, and his old dream of backing up Jerry Garcia.

Steve Murphy

President and CEO, Rodale Inc.

Privately held Rodale reaches more than 30 million readers through magazines (Men’s Health, Prevention, Runner’s World, etc.), books (The South Beach Diet, The Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies), and Web sites. Steve Murphy, 51, is the first nonfamily member to head the estimated $575 million company, and he has helped make it one of publishing’s hottest players. Talking with Fast Company, he revealed his early rock ‘n’ roll ambitions — and what he has learned since.


Growing up, I thought I had a shot at being the seventh member of the Grateful Dead as a guitarist. I was in high school, and I thought maybe if I could just be with the guys for a couple of weekends, I’d be in.

The expression “If you build it, they will come” is not true. We had lots of great properties at Rodale, but not enough of them were known. We needed to expose them to the mass market.

The business paradigm of any company needs to change at least every five years, and probably these days, every three. What doesn’t change are the values, the brand, the message, the mission, and the customer relationship. But how you do what you do, and what you offer, needs to change.

Good espresso increases productivity.

All great executives need to be ambidextrous. They need to have IQ and EQ in equal measure. Creativity and discipline. Love for high art and mass-market culture. To me that’s the holy grail. That’s why I love Target Stores and Disney.

The idea that creative people don’t like discipline is a myth.


At the highest levels of the company, I need visionaries who also make sales calls. If someone at that level says all they want to do is work on edit and not sell, I say, “Check, please.”

I look for people who own the project when they leave the room. I like people who thrive on accountability.

I waste the most time on anything we’re discussing for the third time.

You need to be in a conversation with your customers. There needs to be interaction. The old days of taking a year to do a research study, planning something, and launching it a year later is like throwing a pass to the end zone and then asking where the receiver’s going to be. It’s too late.

Interest groups are the new geography. Because of the Internet, old paradigms of demographic analysis and segmentation — by sex, age, household income, and especially zip code — are meaningless. People are gathering around their interests. The more we can identify those interest groups the better we can serve them.

We are too much in love with PowerPoint.


I’m envious of Apple’s design department and of Starbucks’ customer loyalty.

Enjoy your life, your whole life. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a home life and a work life, and they’ll make sense with each other. Having only one part is fundamentally unsatisfactory and unsatisfying.