At Portfolio, Prehistory Was Prologue

port1 At Portfolio, Prehistory Was PrologueIt turned out to be a dreary, rainy day back in 2005 when Joanne Lipman, the superstar editor from The Wall Street Journal, made her way to answer a summons to lunch at Si Newhouse’s apartment on the East Side of Manhattan.

A personal invitation from the venerable chairman of Condé Nast was unheard of in Ms. Lipman’s world; she was excited.

When she got to his apartment, which is within spitting distance of the United Nations, he answered the door and she was struck by his total lack of pretension: he was wearing a tattered green New Yorker sweatshirt. The apartment was not an Architectural Digest showpiece (though it had a dramatic view of the United Nations building). No servant presented the lunch. Mr. Newhouse simply led her to the dining-room table where they sat down to eat.

Mr. Newhouse started immediately.

“Condé Nast is thinking about starting a business magazine,” he said. “What do you think?”

“Oh my God, yes!” she blurted out in response. “Not only should Condé Nast start this, but Condé Nast is the only company that should be starting this magazine.”

They spent the next two hours talking about a business magazine and what Condé Nast could do. Beautiful photos. Smart stories. A well-paid staff.

She wasn’t offered a job, and she had no immediate intention of leaving the Journal, but when she got out onto the street, she was walking on air. Trying to hail a cab in the rain, she thought to herself, I could be hit by a truck right now and I would die happy.

The conversation meant that much to her. After all, she just had the rapt attention of Si Newhouse—that inscrutable, mysterious, press-shy leader of Condé Nast. She had met him once years before, when she scored an interview with the famously reclusive press baron.

Even in 2005, she barely knew a soul at 4 Times Square—or for that matter, outside of the sometimes almost cultish confines of the Journal. Her resume could have been rendered in a stipple portrait.

She had dreamed since teenhood of an internship at the Journal. Not knowing much about business then was not a barrier to this fantasy: she loved writing, and whenever her father left an extra copy of the Journal laying around, she was awed by the writing in the front-page stories. 

She scored that internship, as a Yale undergraduate, and then got a reporting job there. From a daily column she jumped to the position of Page One editor, and she was involved in the creation of two special sections for the Journal: Weekend Journal and Personal Journal. 

She rose so fast that when the year 2007 started to loom—the year managing editor Paul Steiger would reach his mandatory retirement age of 65—her name was often spoken of in connection with his job.

It wasn’t to be, though, because when she got back to her office in the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, an email from Si was waiting for her.

“Let’s do it,” it read.