WATERTOWN, Mass.—Adi Ignatius, the new editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review, spoke to the St. James Armenian Church Men’s Club dinner meeting on June 1 to a crowd of over 200.
Formerly the deputy managing editor of Time Magazine, Adi Ignatius became editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review in January 2009.
During his 12 years at Time, Ignatius covered business and international issues, served as editor of Time Asia and managed Time’s special editions (including Person of the Year and Time 100).
Paul Ignatius, Adi’s father, was Secretary of the Navy during the Johnson Administration and as such was the highest-ranking Armenian ever in any White House-appointed position. As was the case with his dad, the non-traditional Armenian name of Ignatius led most people, including Time readers, to be unaware of Ignatius’s deep Armenian roots.
“I am half Armenian and have always been conscious of my Armenian roots although I have never been professionally involved with Armenian activities or organizations. It was a personal thrill for me, and certainly a highlight of my life, to accompany my 89-year-old dad to eastern Anatolia. My visit in ‘06 to Yerevan was certainly a life-changing event in a wonderful way. Traveling with my father made it all very worthwhile and meaningful for me. We went on the 2006 NAASR led trip.”
As a student at Haverford College, Ignatius received his BA in history in 1981 and the prestigious Zuckerman Fellowship in 1990 to attend Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. Commenting on his early career, Ignatius said he studied Chinese while in college, and during the Carter years had the opportunity to travel and spend time in China. During those days when China had not been discovered by the tourists and it was difficult getting around, Ignatius said, “I felt like Marco Polo traveling throughout the country.”
Ignatius met his wife in Hong Kong and throughout his years with the Wall Street Journal and Time, where he earned the position as Beijing bureau chief, Ignatius lived overseas for 20 years. After September 11, he was brought back by Time to be associate editor of the magazine, and in subsequent years he climbed up the Time flagpole to become executive editor and later deputy managing editor of the magazine.
“The greatest thing about Time is that people will take your calls and do an interview with you,” he said. “When Time named Vladimir Putin as Man of the Year in 2007, I had the opportunity to interview him for three and a half hours. He never smiled once and the only jokes he told were at my expense, as he ridiculed me. He seemed to me like a man with a chip on his shoulder and he flew into a tirade during the interview…when he was asked very simple questions about how he thought the West misunderstood Russia. He had a dacha outside Moscow that I was invited to. I followed him down a path and I asked one of my Russian caretakers what would happen if I got off the path, and he said, You would probably be shot by one of Putin’s snipers. Russia was riding high in those days with the high price of oil and Putin often times demonstrated a wounded Russian psyche. He is not an easy guy to spend time with.”
Turning the focus of his talk on the future of the media, Ignatius noted that “the people who consume print are not in the desirable 18-35 demographic. They get their information through digital distribution, online sources such as Yahoo and Google. My 20-year-old son, for example, believes that if news is important it will eventually reach him through any of his online sources. He doesn’t have a compelling need to go out and seek news. And I believe that he is typical of his generation. The median age of the Time subscriber is 62. Advertisers are simply not interested in skewing that old in their advertising. All of print media is experiencing rapid and consistent decline. Their audiences are simply dying away.”
“There are exceptions,” he continued. “When Rupert Murdock took over the Wall Street Journal, many media observers thought he would ruin the newspaper because of his tabloid-style reputation, but he actually cleaned up the newspaper and it has a better reading format now. And like the New York Times it has a national audience. Those types of publications will survive. It is local papers like the Boston Globe that are in desperate straits and they haven’t been able to figure out how to monetize their online information.”
In addition to his Time editing responsibilities, in 2008 Ignatius was also editor of the book President Obama: The Path to the White House, which made the New York Times bestseller list.
Ignatius has a new book out that is bound to be both controversial and provocative, particularly to the Chinese Communist leadership. Ignatius is coeditor, with Bao Pu and Renee Chiang, of the book Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang. It is based on audiotapes that Ziyang, the former premier of the People’s Republic of China, recorded at home during 1999 and 2000.
“When I was bureau chief in Beijing for Time in the 1990’s, I became friendly with Zhao Ziyang’s chief of staff,” Ignatius explained. “Chiang was dethroned and disgraced by the Chinese communist leadership in the 90’s as he recommended against the use of the state’s authority and military to crush the Tiananmen Square demonstrators. He has gotten his retribution and revenge through 30 hours of audio tapes that he made in 1999. And because his chief of staff knew me the tapes were smuggled to me and I arranged for them to be published.”
“China is still a dangerous place,” he said. “It doesn’t have freedom of speech and media as here. People still disappear and torture is used on a regular basis with dissidents. The Chinese government has made a Faustian bargain with its people: The Chinese are allowed to get rich as long as they stay in line and don’t speak out, and recognize the power of the Chinese Communist government.”
During the Q&A session, Ignatius was asked about Obama’s failure to use the word genocide in the annual presidential statement on April 24. “I was surprised and disappointed, as I think most of us were, particularly when you consider that Samantha Powers is his close foreign policy advisor,” he said. “And there is no one who knows more about genocide than she does and is thoroughly familiar with Armenian issues and the details of the Armenian Genocide. I don’t think he will ever acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. The best chance for him to do so was this year.”