A publishing executive warned me yesterday that Steve Florio, the iconic former CEO of Conde Nast Publications, was even more ill than had been previously reported. Today I awoke, switched on the computer, and saw that he’d died at the preposterously early age of 58.
I covered the world of magazines more or less exclusively from 2000 thru spring of 2005. In a business full of big personalities, Florio’s was unquestionably the biggest. He maintained a Mad Men-esque swagger (and corresponding appetites for sharp suits, fine food, big boats, and expensive cigars) well into an era in which, it was clear, that magazine publishing had shrunk in cultural and financial significance.
Underlings and associates could tell you plenty about his rough-hewn style, and some Conde Nast-ies still smart over a particularly lacerating takedown on Florio penned by Fortune’s Joseph Nocera in 1998 (which spelled out in blunt detail his penchant for exaggeration, if I may put it as gently as possible). But, whatever his faults, he was the right executive at the right time for the decade he ran his company—an uber-salesman, a blunt and tough charmer, under whom Conde Nast’s portfolio and revenues swelled considerably. During his tenure, Conde Nast continually proved itself adept at generating revenues (if not massive profit) from buzz and glamour and thick paper stock--which long ago were the basic raw materials of a kind of monthly magazine publishing, back in the pre-Internet-ted age when the whole equation was much simpler.
Florio was full of stories, many of them unrepeatable and/or unverifiable, and once he was so irritated at my note-taking after a public appearance that he swatted a pen out of my hand. But you couldn’t help but like him.
He stepped down from his CEO role in 2004, settling uneasily into a figurehead role as vice-chairman of Conde Nast. He made noises about finding a new horse to ride, some other company to run. He didn’t, and now he won’t get to write himself another act. But he packed an awful lot of living into those 58 years.