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Hurst CEO of 135 Years of Business and New Ventures

Hurst is celebrating its 135th anniversary this year. Privately owned global conglomerates own many newspapers, magazines and television companies, but are also diversifying in the automotive, medical and financial industries with the acquisition of many business-to-business transactions.

In 2019, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Hearst President and CEO Steven Swartz. Now in the midst of high inflation and supply chain issues, we checked in with him to see how the company manages its business. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: Well, I came to New York three years ago, went to the very cool Hearst Tower and had a long chat. This is what I want to get started with. The economic situation is very different now and three years ago. What is your sense?

Steve Swarts: Well, as you know, so far this year we have had a very good year. And obviously, we are all concerned about what is happening in the outlook for inflation, basically the war in Ukraine, and the recession not only in the United States but around the world. So we have a very cautious outlook for the rest of the year, and perhaps until next year.

Ryssdal: Are you delaying hiring when you say “cautious outlook”? Are you doing something different? Do you care about your P and Q?

Stephen Swarts, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hearst Corporation (Courtesy of Hearst)

Swarts: No, as you know, we are not delaying hiring. There are many exciting in-house growth projects. But, as you know, we’re certainly lowering our expectations and don’t look rosy. And there may come a time when you feel that some spending is unnecessary or some need to be slowed down. But so far it hasn’t done that.

Ryssdal: As you know, I was surprised in the process of reading this interview. Everyone had just purchased Bring a Trailer, so I was surprised that you are in the car now. And my question is, are you worried about spreading yourself too thin?

Swarts: That’s a very fair question. And we are always looking at it. We have a lot of business, but I think we’ve been in the automotive business for a long time, Kai. We own a motor database. We own a blackbook database of used car prices, Car and Driver and Road & Track. And it was my colleagues who found the Bringa Trailer. Bring a Trailer is the leading online platform for buying and selling classic cars. The business was just a rocket ship. It’s a really amazing business.

Ryssdal: And it’s a lot of fun. Like a guy flipping through the internet, it’s cool to see all the old cars I sometimes do when I’m randomly wandering online. But let me ask — this is a kind of process question. Did it reach you when a Car and Driver colleague found “bring a trailer” and said “listen and buy this”? How is that decision made for a conglomerate like you?

Swarts: Oh, absolutely. Well, we try not to be too bureaucratic. But we have a small team. My senior and I considered the acquisition and brought it to the board of directors. And, as you know, even though they were relatively early in the pandemic, they wouldn’t have been able to help any further. And they were very happy because it turned out to be a great business.

Ryssdal: Let’s talk a little more about life after a pandemic in Hurst. Do you have supply chain concerns when you see what you are trying to do? Are you worried about inflation? So, as you know, these are worries for business owners around the world.

Swarts: Certainly we think we have all of the above. I don’t think they are crippled. And, as I said, so far this year, so far, our profits have exceeded last year, and last year was a record year. Again, for a company with a history of 135 years, that’s not too bad. Our greater concern is how inflation, rising interest rates will affect the general economy, and thereby our ability to grow and continue to sell our products and services.

Ryssdal: Without making this a softball question — and I understand that I’m undercutting myself a bit there, but what the heck — why do you think last year was a record year for Hurst? ?? So yes, there was a lot of economic growth everywhere, why are you specifically?

Swarts: We have this heritage and a history of developing skills and finding adjacent areas with significant growth. One of the things we do is that it’s a good home for entrepreneurs who are trying to sell most of their business but are looking for a home that will not be resold within a few years, such as private equity. But we are also moving forward. As you know, even some of the oldest businesses, such as newspapers and magazines, made a strong comeback last year, but so far they have continued to grow this year.

Ryssdal: The last question, then I let you go, Sir, and it looks like this: 135 years old this year, Hearst Corporation. If the original Hurst-William Randolph-walked through the hall today and knocked on your door, what would he say to you about the condition of his company?

Swarts: Not only did he continue to build his favorite media business, but he was delighted and surprised that we redefined high quality. information. It’s important, but it’s not just news for consumers, but we’ve shown that we can move into all these B2B sectors, equip them with those skills, and find new growth. So I want him to be, he will be happy with what he sees.

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