Jann Wenner has picked his son, Gus, 22, to head up Rollingstone.com, overseeing its editorial and business operations. And while critics were quick to cry nepotism, the senior Wenner told Adweek that his son had to prove himself like anyone else.
What does Gus’s new role entail?
He’ll oversee all the aspects of the dot-com—edit, advertising, social, the whole picture. It’s 15 to 20 people.
Was this appointment the plan all along?
I didn’t expect this. He was initially brought on to be an assistant to the chief digital officer [David Kang], and then David assigned him to this site redesign project. It’s a multidisciplinary project that involves every department we have. He’s led that, and made substantial contributions, and really shown what a good leader he is and how deeply he understands it, and impressed me more than anyone.
What in particular impressed you?
All of it. You have to bring a disparate group of people together and get them to buy in to a project they don’t own. To do that takes drive and discipline and charm, and all the things that show leadership.
What’ll readers notice when the redesign goes live in September?
It’ll be a more attractive, modern, Internet-friendly sort of thing. It’ll be just a lot more functional, and a little more exciting.
You were 21 when you founded the magazine. How is entering the business different today for someone that age?
He’s smarter than I am. Young people today are a lot more savvy than people were 40, 50 years ago. They’re better educated. And he’s a college grad. I wasn’t. He’s grown up around me and the company. But there’s an inborn level of maturity and intelligence and smartness and ambition…trust me, he’s a lot better trained and educated. His judgment is a lot better. I just had this one big idea.
Are you going to be as tough on him as you are on everyone else?
I’m not too tough on everybody. I let everyone do a good job and have fun. Gotta meet those standards.
Do you expect him to encounter any resistance in the job, being so young?
He’s worked at Rollingstone.com for the past six or seven months. He’s reporting to people who are really smart. And he’s not doing any reckless things.
So now you have two kids working in the business, Gus as well as Theo…
Theo is a freelance photographer. He does commercial work for fashion houses. He’s been training for a long time. So when the right subject comes up, we come to him. He just did that Bruno Mars cover.
Are you grooming Gus to take over for you one day?
Who knows, who knows, who knows…It’s premature. He has to make up his own mind. It’s a path open to him if he wants it.
He’s in a band, too. Do you influence each others’ musical tastes?
[My kids have] been coming to concerts with me for years. Last night Gus and I went to see Tom Petty. We saw the Rolling Stones together, we saw Eric Clapton at Madison Square Garden. He turned me on to…new stuff like The Strokes.
Are they as good as the Stones?
Well, that’s a pretty high bar for anyone to meet.