Neil Stiles has some big shoes to fill. Earlier this year, the veteran British publisher assumed that post at Variety, filling a position that his predecessor, Charlie Koones, held for 17 years. His move comes at a precarious time for the iconic movie industry trade publication: Its Anglo-Dutch parent, conglomerate Reed Elsevier, announced plans to sell off its business publications division, including Variety. But the 50-year-old Stiles claims not to be too worried, nonchalantly shrugging it all of with the comment: "You could say I'm on loan from the U.K." Stiles has spent much of his career in publishing and sales on the other side of the pond, covering the music industry and then becoming a trade journal specialist, with more than 20 markets under his belt. Now, at Variety Group, he is responsible for the global business operations of the franchise, including several editions of Variety and trade publications such as Video Business and Tradeshow Week. He's also overseeing the group's move from its longtime home at 5700 Wilshire Blvd. to a refurbished Wilshire high-rise across from the L.A. County Museum of Art. Since taking the reins at Variety earlier this year, Stiles has adapted to Southern California and Hollywood with ease, living in a modest Beverly Hills condo with his girlfriend, Marla Brown, and cruising sunny Pacific Coast Highway on his black Harley-Davidson. But, he left two adult daughters back in England and misses them a lot.

Question: What attracted you to Variety?

Answer: Variety has a very, very discernable character. It has edge. You can describe what it's like. You can take a simple exercise like if Variety were an animal what would it be? Maybe it would be a tiger. I also like the fact that it has a particular type or style of writing. There is a very discernable language of Variety that if you can read it and understand it, you're part of the in-crowd. And if you can't, we don't care.

Q: Why would you take this job if you knew Variety was up for sale?

A: I don't worry about the ownership of a company. I've always said that it's better to be owned by someone who wants you, than to be owned by someone who doesn't want you. I'm not saying that Reed doesn't want us, but we just don't quite fit into their future business plans. It's always better to be sold or traded to another business entity than to have a company just keep you around and muddle away.

Q: What's your backup plan if Variety's new owners decide to clean house?

A: If whoever buys us decides that they just don't want a Brit around here, then I'll go back to England and continue to work for Reed or focus more on my real estate company that I've owned there for about 12 years. But I don't much like real estate because it's boring, really.

Q: Did you always want to be in journalism?

A: I always did have a hankering to be a writer. I always thought that the life of a journalist, the Woodward and Bernstein type, would be a glamorous one.

Q: So did you study it in school?

A: I was a classic dropout. I just couldn't make sense of school. I always felt like I was swimming the wrong way up a river. Everyone was going one way and I was going in completely the opposite direction. But I did like music.

Q: Did you follow that tune?

A: Like all young guys in the early '70s, I thought that I was going to be the next Jimmy Page. The only problem was I didn't have any talent. So, in 1974 I joined a paper called New Musical Express, NME. That was a legendary publication in the music business during the 1960-70s.

Q: What was your first assignment at NME?

A: It had very little to do with journalism; I was an editorial gofer: delivering mail, going around to the record companies and picking up records. Being new at a place like NME meant that you did whatever the journalists wanted you to do and then, one day, you got your chance.

Q: What was your big break at NME?

A: Honestly, I was a below-average writer. But my girlfriend at the time, Chris Ridgen, was the publisher's assistant and she said to me, "You know, I think that you're really in love with the music business and not journalism and I think that you should go and find out if you are really in love with journalism."

Q: Did you take her advice?

A: Yes. I applied for a job as a junior subeditor on a trade magazine serving the construction industry called Contract Journal. After six months on the copy desk I figured out that journalism would be better off without me and I would be better off without journalism. I just couldn't get excited about covering that industry.

Q: What did you do next?

A: I was lucky enough to have the help of John Osborne, the editor of that publication, a great mentor and a good friend to me. He told me, "You're young and you have the opportunity to go and find out what you're better at than anybody else. Because if you're the best, that means you're going to have a good career and a good living. If you're just average or below, you're always going to struggle."

Q: How did you find out what you were best at?

A: My father always told me that I had too much mouth. "You ought to go out a try to be a salesman," he said. So, I applied at a number of jobs where they provided training. One of the companies that I applied for was the same company that I was already working for, IPC Business Press.

Q: What was that like?

A: I joined a telephone sales team. It was like being plugged in. They were all like me, swimming against the tide, noisy and extremely competitive. I went on to work with a number of telephone sales teams, field sales in about 20 different markets over a period of 10 years, ranging from commercial real estate, electronics, footwear, fashion; all trade markets.

Q: How did you get into publishing?

A: I had done pretty much everything that I could do when it came to sales. I wanted to get into a management position. And what intrigued me was publishing.

Q: What intrigued you about publishing?

A: It's about balancing the demands of your readers with the demands of your advertisers. The people who represent those two camps are your sales force and the editorial team. For me, that creative tension is what makes a newspaper or a magazine work. If you don't have that creative tension you have a barren publication, without any life, without character.

Q: What made you think that you would be a successful publisher?

A: I figured that knowing what I did about sales and about editorial, I would be something unusual. Because publishing is a business where people don't often cross over. There aren't too many sales people who end up journalists and vice-versa. I had watched other people in that position do it and I felt that they were just missing the mark not hitting the balance point.

Q: What do you mean by "hitting the balance point"?

A: Every advertiser would ideally like reporters to write an article about them and take an advertisement out next to it. What that fundamentally does, often, is insult the reader. And if you think that the reader is stupid, you probably don't have a long career in publishing. It's very obvious to a reader whether something is biased or unbiased.

Q: What was your first job as publisher?

A: I was given six months to turn around a magazine called Computer Talk, a computer magazine for computer operations people that had absolutely no character. But I was fortunate enough to have worked with an incredibly charismatic editor named John Charlton, and he had a knack of finding the pulse of a readership better than any editor I have worked with to this day.

Q: How did Charlton find the pulse of the pocket-protector crowd?

A: Because he discovered that they were a quirky bunch, who cased each other around the office, played poker and listened to blaring rock and roll while they were working at fairly boring jobs. So we wrote about them. And they wanted to read the magazine so that they could read about their friends and themselves. It turned out to be incredibly successful financially.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish while you are publisher of Variety?

A: I want us to take advantage of all of the very dynamic changes that are taking place in television and film, such as the corporatization of Hollywood, the impact of the Internet and how the cinema will continue to bring people in. By corporatization, I am speaking about the Foxes, GEs and Sonys that are changing the way Hollywood has operated traditionally. And when I speak of the Internet I'm envisioning the way it will influence television and film like it's already done the music industry.

Q: Considering the popularity of the Internet, do you think there is a role for print in the future?

A: Yes. Absolutely. Media typically doesn't completely dispose of media, you just get more of it. TV didn't dispose of radio, it's just defined radio in a different role. The real question is which would you rather own, a TV station or a radio station? I suspect it'd be a TV station.

Q: Does that mean that you believe the Web is the more profitable publishing endeavor?

A: There is a generational issue, in that the way information is consumed is going through a shift. Magazines have adjusted to this shift much better than newspapers. While I believe that news is vital, we also often risk overstating just how vital it really is.

Q: How is Variety adapting to this generational shift?

A: The biggest problem with all magazines and newspapers has been that they've had a damn good ride and they're holding on to grim death, in a defensive posture. At Variety we're taking an offensive posture, asking what are the opportunities that we have now. While Variety.com is a great Web site now, we will be redesigning the site and implementing new operations that will help us better seamlessly integrate content from the print edition with our Internet site.

Q: What else takes up your day?

A: Of course, I am spending a lot of time making sure that everything is set up just right for our planned move to our new location down the street (at 5900 Wilshire Blvd.). It is very important that everything at the new location not only is designed to take advantage of all developing technologies, but that its functionality, from a design point, be most effective.

Q: When did you meet Variety editor Peter Bart?

A: I met him at Campanile on La Brea in October 2007. I wanted to meet him prior to making a decision as to whether I would come over from the U.K. We complement each other because he knows all about the business of motion pictures and I don't. And I know all about the world of publishing.

Q: What is it like to be Bart's boss?

A: I really don't think about it in those terms. I'm Peter Bart's partner. In the end, we have a job to do and whatever moves this publication forward and however it gets done, I'm comfortable with it. If the hierarchy gets in the way of getting the job done, then it's a problem and we'll have to do something about it. But Peter's been a fantastic partner.

Q: What makes Peter Bart a good partner for you?

A: He's like me in that we both swing the wrong way frequently. He's a bit of a bad boy, like me, and we tend to walk in sync-step with each other. If the corporate body says do this, he and I are in step doing the opposite. Granted, we're not easy to look after so and manage, so I think Tad Smith, my CEO, has his hands full.

Q: You have two daughters from a previous marriage. You must miss them terribly being here.

A: Yes. Absolutely. The oldest, Lauren, is working as a deckhand on a yacht in the Mediterranean having the adventure of her life, so it's a bit difficult to arrange a visit. With my youngest, Natalie, she is living with her mother in England and I'll be visiting her in September. But since she's a teenager, I suspect that I probably see her as much here as I would if I were living over there. Her social life is much more important to her right now than anything else.

Q: Where are you living?

A: Just a few minutes from the office down Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills with my girlfriend Marla Brown. It's just a simple rented condo. I don't see living in Beverly Hills very long. When I first arrived in L.A., Marla and I thought about buying your typical ideal of a home in the Hollywood Hills or the Santa Monica Mountains. But after looking we thought it best to just rent and take our time deciding where we want to settle.

Q: So, what's the best thing you like about the city?

A: First of all, the weather. You just can't beat the weather here. And I like that on the weekends I can jump on my Harley-Davidson and ride up Pacific Coast Highway. It's a wonderfully free feeling. While I like the Harley because of its American heritage, I've now got my eye on a Ducati.


Neil Stiles
Title:
President and Publisher of Variety Group
Company: Reed Elsevier Business Information
Born: 1957; South London
Education: High school
Career Turning Point: Joining the advertising sales team at U.K.-based IPC Media
Most Influential People: Former editors John Osborne and John Charlton
Personal: Lives in Beverly Hills with longtime girlfriend Marla Brown; daughter Natalie, 18, lives with her mother in the U.K. and daughter, Lauren, 22, is a deckhand on a yacht traveling in the Mediterranean
Hobbies: Motorcycle cruising, Formula One racing and yachting

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