David Snyder, Publisher, Crain’s Chicago Business

Our mission today is simple but gives us broad latitude to enter new businesses: Crain’s helps people succeed in Chicago. Everything we do fits into that goal.

August 2015

You’ve spent your entire career with Crain’s Chicago Business. How has your leadership changed with each role?

My leadership style has changed in part with age and job function. I started at Crain’s right out of college, and I was the low man on the totem pole. At that point, my communication style was driven by communicating up, not communicating down. When you’re a leader and managing a team, I think there’s a natural point when you must have a well-defined vision for the future of the organization and be able to communicate that clearly, confidently, and consistently.

As I moved into an editor role, most of what I did was communicate to our editorial team about the fundamental mission of Crain’s—what my expectations were.  The goals were very clear: we needed to break news before anyone else did. We needed to be first, and we needed to be right. Everybody got it because the message was easy to understand. It’s critical to let employees know what their role is in fulfilling the mission.

As the industry changed—and my duties expanded–the message became more complex and the goals evolved. In certain ways, expectations have become more demanding. Moving through the ranks to editor and ultimately publisher, I’ve always tried to express our broader mission clearly. Our mission today is simple but gives us broad latitude to enter new businesses: Crain’s helps people succeed in Chicago. Everything we do fits into that goal.

As a leader, how do you bring the efforts of others together as one?

It happens organically. We’ve got a great, cohesive team. Everyone is fully aligned with our objectives. We meet in the fourth quarter to decide our five objectives for the coming year that will drive everything we do. Everybody is on the same page. All that hard work is done in the beginning and everything connects to that plan throughout the year.

Now, if we have a super-successful quarter, we’ll celebrate that as a group – whether that’s an extra Friday off during the summer or going out for a night of fun. We want to show our staff that those wins are appreciated by me and by everyone else on the management team.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

That’s always something on my mind. I believe it’s important never to become complacent about the business you’re in. I’m always looking to start new businesses that are consistent with our mission of helping people succeed in Chicago but take us into whole new areas. For example, we publish all of the programs for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Joffrey Ballet. We like that business because the demographics are consistent with the Crain’s demographic and it provides our advertisers a captive audience. Now I know more about the theatre business than I ever thought I would. We’re also getting into the executive education business. We’re looking at acquiring various entities, I’m learning how to model and understand the financial metrics of an acquisition.

What has been your greatest leadership challenge to date? How did you handle it?

We went through some tough times during the recession, and like many businesses, had to reduce our staff. That was certainly the most difficult thing we’ve ever had to do, because we’ve not had a culture of letting people go. It was all about communicating that if we want to be successful and continue to thrive as a business, we need to make reductions to our staff. That needed to be done in a thoughtful way that had the least visibility to our customer-facing products. We needed to make sure that our readers were still well served while still communicating the economic realities of our business.

What does “Let Go and Lead” mean to you?

I’ll give you the ultimate example of how that motto translates even today. When I made the transition from reporter to editor, I spent the first three months wanting every story I edited to seem like I had written it myself. You learn quickly that’s not the way you lead. You become an effective manager by giving people the ability to do great work in their own style. You can set the standards of what you expect in the final product, but it does not have to read just like you wrote it. I think that was a turning point in becoming a leader: realizing everyone is very competent in his or her own way, and you have to let them succeed on their terms.

What words of advice can you offer aspiring young leaders?

Show you are hard working, you want to learn, want to take on tough new projects, and that you’re not rushing to do the next thing. Someone told me many years ago that you will always get more responsibility faster in an organization that knows you well. If you prove yourself in the organization you’re in, you will advance faster than if you were hopping from job to job. Now that’s not to say that you should stay in one place for 30 years like I have, but it doesn’t mean that you have to stay in one place for two to three years then hop to the next for two to three years. Build up your knowledge, credibility and relationships.

Any other ethical principles you strive towards as a leader?

It’s a cliché, but don’t do anything at work that you’d be embarrassed to go home and tell your mom, spouse or kids — or read about on the front page of the New York Times. That’s always a good standard. I think most people are honest. You’re either ethical or you’re not.

 

Interview By Victoria Gallagher & Katie Johnson

Fast Facts

Location
Chicago, Illinois
Number of employees
60
Time in current role
5 years
Previous experience at Crain’s Chicago Business
• Associate Publisher (6 years)
• General Manager, Interactive/Digital (4 years)
• Editor (6 years)
• Managing Editor (2 years)
• News Editor/Assistant News Editor (2 years)
• Reporter (5 years)
First job
Researcher - Crain’s Chicago Business, Washington D.C. Bureau
Leader you admire the most
I wouldn’t want to be boxed in by naming one. No single person is perfect, but there are great qualities we can glean from many leaders and leadership styles.

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