Maclean’s publisher Segal smart, tough

Brian Segal's appointment as publisher of Maclean's was a knuckleball of sorts.Pundits of every stripe swung at the news and missed. It was all rather like American League players trying to read a career National Leaguer who has been traded.Yet despite...

Brian Segal’s appointment as publisher of Maclean’s was a knuckleball of sorts.

Pundits of every stripe swung at the news and missed. It was all rather like American League players trying to read a career National Leaguer who has been traded.

Yet despite the slight air of perplexity surrounding Segal’s appointment, there is little doubt the Montrealer is smart and tough, useful qualities for running a complex, often criticized national institution.

Gerald Quinn, vice-president of university affairs and development at the University of Guelph, worked with Segal during the latter’s four years as president of the mid-size school in southwestern Ontario.

Quinn is full of praise for the professionalism of his boss, who takes over at the weekly news magazine in September.

He calls the 49-year old Segal dynamic, quick-witted, street-smart, and a ‘great salesman’ with tremendous powers of persuasion.

That must be an accurate assessment. Quinn says in the last three years Segal has raised $32 million in private-sector money for his university.

He says Segal knows what he wants, and lets people around him know it.

‘[Segal] is totally intolerant of politics and game playing,’ Quinn says.

How that will go down at Maclean’s, where some nasty factional clashes have become public gossip, remains to be seen

Segal himself did not respond to Strategy requests for an interview.

Author and Maclean’s senior contributing editor and columnist Peter C. Newman says there is no mystery to Segal’s appointment.

Newman says the publisher’s job is a full-time occupation and current publisher Jim Warrillow, president of Maclean Hunter Canadian Publishing, has too many other responsibilities.

Furthermore, Newman suggests in a brief interview from Deep Cove, b.c., the extraordinary times facing the publishing industry require extraordinary individuals.

He says it is no longer enough to sit back and take advertising sales orders, they have to be pursued.

As for the direction Maclean’s will take under Segal, Newman predicts it will stay on its present course, becoming more interpretive, predictive and analytical.

Warrillow, naturally, is bullish on Segal. He says the new publisher is a strong leader who is goal-oriented. Warrillow expects Segal to bring new ideas to the magazine but no preconceived notions.

Robert Young, senior vice-president at media management firm HarrisonYoung Pesonen and Newell in Toronto, urges Segal to use caution and to talk to a good cross-section of the magazine’s readership when he becomes publisher.

Young speculates it is likely lots of the 2.3 million readers of Maclean’s like it the way it is.

Not expected

Paul Jones, publisher of Canadian Business and a former associate publisher of Maclean’s, admits Segal’s appointment was not expected, but does not see how that would have any deleterious effect on the publisher’s office.

Jones says publishers should provide leadership, noting Segal is used to running complex, major institutions. Before his stint at the University of Guelph, Segal was the president of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto.

(Running complex institutions seems to be something of a Segal family trait. Segal’s high-profile younger brother Hugh is chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office.

(An older brother, Seymour, is a well-regarded Montreal painter but is little known outside artistic circles.)

Sunni Boot, vice-president and managing director of Optimedia in Toronto, is not sure what to make of Segal’s appointment, wondering if he will have the autonomy to effect change.

Nonplussed

Val Ross, publishing reporter at The Globe and Mail and a former reporter for Maclean’s, is nonplussed by questions about Segal’s new job, suggesting he has to cut costs, find new revenues, maintain quality and keep a high profile.

Ross also thinks it is smart politics to have a publisher whose brother works for the prime minister during a time when the Canadian magazine publishing industry is in the doldrums.

As for what Segal should do at Maclean’s, opinion ranges from caution to hope.

Boot would like to see some minor reformatting of the magazine and some more visibility for its columnists and editors.

Geoff Heinricks, the frequently acid media columnist for eye weekly in Toronto, says Segal should hire some writers with real voices, letting them come through rather than having their copy edited to conform to house style.

A frequent – but off the record – complaint of many Maclean’s reporters is the magazine’s relentless editing.

Certain words and expressions are prohibited for reasons that defy explanation. ‘Gritty,’ apparently, is or was one such word.

It might be time to let that adjective and a few of its synonyms back in.

Segal has a union contract to negotiate with Maclean’s editorial staff almost as soon as he lands in the publisher’s chair.