If The New York Times’ new paywall does somehow end up being the success the paper sorely needs, one man may benefit most of all: David Perpich, the Ochs-Sulzberger heir you’ve never heard of, the man who, if the paywall works, will look very much like his family’s best hope.
The 34-year-old Perpich, who joined the family business as executive director of paid products at NYTimes.com last year, is a fifth-generation Ochs-Sulzberger, the grandson of former Times publisher and chairman Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger. Earlier in life, Perpich had opted against a career at the Times. But then, while many of his fellow heirs are still off writing novels and pursuing music careers (not counting Perpich, five of the 27 fifth-generation Ochs-Sulzbergers are currently working at the Times, including, most notably, Kansas City bureau chief Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, the son of current company chairman Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger), he left a promising career outside the Times to help it with the digital innovation efforts seen as so crucial to keeping his family in newspaper money.
Perpich’s ascent at the Times was not always a foregone conclusion. After graduating from Duke in 1999, he spent the early aughts as director of operations at Scratch DJ Academy in New York, a training ground for aspiring disc jockeys. It wasn’t a natural fit for him, at least musically. “If you asked David what four beats to a measure were, he’d give you that typical ‘white-bread’ look,” says Reg E. Gaines, co-founder of Scratch and writer of the Tony Award-winning musical Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk. But according to Gaines, Perpich made up for that with his work ethic. “David was, most of all, efficient. Nothing wasted, mentally, physically, or analytically.”
After a few years in the DJ biz, Perpich buttoned up and headed off to Harvard Business School. Afterwards, he interned at About.com, the rare growth property among Times holdings. Then, in 2007, when the time came to decide whether to join the Times or branch out, Perpich chose to prove his worth elsewhere. He settled on Booz Allen Hamilton, where he was a senior consultant in its consumer media and digital practice. “David is very smart, with a lot of professional integrity. He’s a hard worker,” said Tiffany Franke, a former Booz co-worker.
Not everyone is so complimentary. When he was first hired, Business Insider reported some grumbling from Times employees. But he’s already regarded as an up-and-comer in a family famous for its devotion to the paper. If he can succeed, he might just have the inside track for the top job.