For all the technology we now employ in our business, magazines are still very much handcrafted products. They're only as good as the intelligence and creativity the top editor and his team pour into each page. This is why handing over the keys to a new editor can be a nerve-wracking experience for the poor stiff in my role.
I had no such trepidation, however, when I recently named Robert Safian Fast Company's new editor. I had followed his career for more than 10 years as he catapulted through the editorial ranks at
Safian's last job at Time was executive editor of Fortune magazine. But don't expect him to import great gobs of Fortune POV to Fast Company. He was drawn in precisely because he sees Fast Company as, in his words, "the only truly modern business magazine."
All aspects of business appear to fascinate Safian, but what gets him most excited is the drama and conflict that inevitably ensue as new things come along to replace the old. In his first issue, he has chosen to feature a 22-year-old Harvard dropout who had the confidence—or naïveté—to turn down an astronomical sum of money for social-networking site Facebook. Safian sees it as a way to explore the frenzy over Web 2.0, the power of new ideas, and the heavy pressures put on new firms by the VC community. Plus, Safian adds, he couldn't help but be intrigued by a kid who could pass up the temptation of instant riches: "If my son dropped out of college and then walked away from a billion-dollar payout, I'd kill him!"
To write the piece, Safian tapped a newcomer who packed her bags at Fortune to join him, senior writer Ellen McGirt. Her first glimpse of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was when she spied him climbing onto his bike outside the Facebook offices to head home. Earlier that week, McGirt later learned, he'd locked himself out of his house at 4 a.m. and had to call a coworker to let him in. "It's a growing business, in all kinds of ways," McGirt says. "Zuckerberg is charming and endearing and so supersmart. He doesn't say anything he doesn't mean to." McGirt got him and the other Facebookers to say plenty, creating the kind of in-depth, provocative, and memorable story that Fast Company has long been known for—and that you won't see anywhere else.
I also want to express our deep thanks to outgoing editor Mark Vamos. He helped direct the publication to new heights of visual and written expression. During his tenure, the magazine won more than a dozen editorial and design awards, including a Loeb, an Eddie, and an Ozzie. Vamos, who will continue to work on special projects for Fast Company, can take great pride in the magazine's bright outlook. Indeed, since its inception, this publication has been blessed with an amazing string of high-spirited, smart editors who shared a common belief: that business can be a positive force for change in the world and that work itself can be fun, self-actualizing, and even a little spiritual from time to time. With Safian at the helm, they can rest assured that the magazine they all helped create is in good hands.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.