How Media Mogul Tina Brown Learned to Negotiate—and Got a Million-Dollar Bonus
Money is power, and women aren’t getting their share of it. In America, men earn 20% more than women, and that disparity is even greater for women of color. Now is the time to close that gap—and these are the women doing it.
Throughout my 30 years as an editor turning around ailing magazines, few challenges daunted me except one: getting the salary I deserved.
When I was hired as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair in 1984, I was just out of my 20s and, as an ingénue Brit, only too willing to accept the offered salary. But after just two years, I had taken a failing magazine, bleeding $50 million a year, into an upward trajectory into the green. S.I. Newhouse, the late, great chairman of Condé Nast, which publishes Vanity Fair, expressed his admiration by summoning me to his office and saying warmly, “Congratulations. I’m going to increase your salary by $17,000.” My heart sank; I knew this was a fraction of what I deserved. But how did I respond? “Um, thanks so much, Si!”
Another three years went by and Vanity Fair had now become a publishing powerhouse making a major profit. Hearst, the rival magazine company, came after me to edit Harper’s Bazaar, and its offer happened to coincide with a little discovery I had made. The male editor of another Condé Nast magazine was being paid $50,000 more than me. His was a top magazine under the company’s umbrella, but Vanity Fair had now vaulted to become the company’s flagship magazine. Plus, the comeback I had pulled off, after the magazine’s disastrous launch, had saved Newhouse not just from financial losses but also from severe corporate embarrassment.
Now I was feeling loaded for bear. I wanted a quantum leap in compensation that reflected my achievement. But, despite our warm relationship, the thought of confronting my boss filled me with dread. I had the familiar female conviction that he would blow me off. Or worse, that he would again offer me an incremental sum and I would end up thanking him.
I wish I could say I barreled in and said, “Pay me what I’m worth.” But instead I sought help from my friend, the “super agent” Mort Janklow. And in one decisive, 20-minute-long meeting, he cut to the chase with Newhouse and got the job done. To keep me from leaving, Newhouse agreed to give me a 600 percent raise and a million-dollar bonus—in addition to paying off my mortgage! That summer day in 1989 is a day I will never forget. It was the day I had finally joined the boys' club.
Nonetheless, it galled me as the years rolled by that I would always be a salaried editor rather than a financial participant in the multi-million-dollar publication whose success I was driving day in and day out. By the time I left in 1992 to become editor-in-chief of another Condé Nast magazine, The New Yorker, we had increased Vanity Fair’s sales exponentially.
Eventually, after founding the digital news site The Daily Beast for IAC, I decided in 2014 to break my own glass ceiling by founding Tina Brown Live Media. I brought with me The Women in the World Summit, which I had launched as a passion play in 2010, as live journalism event that sees the world through the eyes of remarkable women. At a time when there were few convenings for women who want to change the world, our goal was to turn the summit—which started its life in a small midtown Manhattan theater and soon moved to the 2,500-seat Lincoln Center—into a global movement that would make feminism exciting again. Since then, Women in the World has expanded to summits in London, Delhi, Toronto, and Dubai and national salon events in LA, Washington, D.C., and Texas.
The experience of meeting the payroll for the remarkable and passionate women who work with me has been as liberating as it has been terrifying. It is also perhaps the achievement of which I am most proud. I have proven to myself, and everyone else, that I could create something powerful and meaningful—but this time without anyone to question what I am worth.
Tina Brown is the author of The Vanity Fair Diaries. She has served as the editor-in-chief of Tatler, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, and founded The Daily Beast. The Women in the World Summit will take place at New York’s Lincoln Center April 12-14 and will be live-streamed on WomenintheWorld.com.