NEW YORK Steve Florio, the colorful former chief executive of Conde Nast Publications, died midday on Dec. 27 from complications following a heart attack he suffered before Thanksgiving. Florio was 58.
Company chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. issued a statement saying, "Steve was a great executive and a wonderful leader. I'm very glad that we had many years together."
Florio, who has a history of heart problems, retired in 2004 as CEO and retained the title of vice chairman. He stepped down fully in January 2006. He started his career with CN back in the early 1980s, when Newhouse hired him away from Esquire to become publisher of GQ.
In his more than 25 years at the company, in which he also led The New Yorker for a decade, Florio cultivated a team of talented publishing and editorial executives, and turned the company's portfolio into a competitive luxe ad-sales buy. While the publishing industry was often derided for steep discounting, Florio earned a reputation for not negotiating ad rates.
Florio, the mustachioed "Italian Guy" from Queens, was larger than life, and his passing marks the end of an era in publishing.
Florio's outsized personality helped grow the company into the empire it is today, said Richard Beckman, CN Media Group president and former Vogue publisher. "The business needed to be given some persona and presence, and I think Steve was very much a presence for the company. It helped gather importance in the media community. He's probably the last of a breed, in many ways."
Florio was a passionate and charismatic man whose ability to identify talent and build teams was his greatest strength. "He hired me at 25," Beckman recalled. "I had this interview, and he was walking me out, and said, 'One day, you'll be publisher of Vogue.' He believed I could do things, and that was incredibly empowering."
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, noted Florio's hands-off style in the editorial realm. "His greatest act of generosity was leaving me free to do our creative and journalistic work," Remnick said.
David Carey, publisher of Conde Nast Portfolio and group president and publishing director, CN Business Media, said Florio championed big ideas at the company. Case in point, he said, was Florio's agreeing to provide the funding to launch The New Yorker Festival at a time when the magazine was struggling financially.
"He instantly grasped the idea and how it could warm up the brand," Carey recalled. "And we had the approval in four or five days. The idea that he wanted you to think big about your business, that was a good example. So many of these Conde Nast magazines have these big platforms, and he encouraged people to really swing for the fences like that."
Florio turned over the CEO reins in 2004 to Chuck Townsend, the then-chief operating officer whom Florio had brought to the company in 1994 as publisher of Glamour and whose understated style contrasted with Florio's flashy persona.
His two children followed him into the publishing business; Kelly and Steve are executives at Vogue and Details, respectively. He also is survived by his mother, Sophie; his wife, Mariann; and two brothers, Michael and Tom, publisher of Vogue.