MEDIA HEADLINER: Visionary magazine editor to take plunge with own venture. Sally O’Sullivan is going it alone and is relishing the challenge. By Claire Beale

It’s hard to imagine Sally O’Sullivan being scared of anything; this woman reeks of self-possession like the rest of us smell of perfume.

It’s hard to imagine Sally O’Sullivan being scared of anything;

this woman reeks of self-possession like the rest of us smell of


Within seconds of talking to her, I’m back at school cowering under the

headmistress’s disapproving gaze, trying to hide my grubby fingernails

and worrying she’s going to bark a question I can’t answer.

O’Sullivan is not easily flustered. After all, she’s spent the past 20

years teaching the rest of us how to be the perfect


She’s not allowed to get rattled. But she is. She’s completely

terrified. And I think she’s loving it.

After years of playing corporate woman, O’Sullivan is going it alone,

launching her own company and taking some pretty big risks. OK, when

you’re one of the closest things the magazine world has to a celebrity,

launching a publishing company is hardly like jumping out of an

aeroplane without a parachute. O’Sullivan’s parachute is probably one of

the best going, including, as it does, a CV guaranteed to make your

average journalist weep.

O’Sullivan’s been the editor of six glossies and has worked for the

country’s biggest publishing companies. Add to that a husband who is

Charlie Wilson, a former editor of the Times, plus a host of

well-connected friends and celebrity supporters and O’Sullivan’s

trepidation seems misconceived.

But as she cleared her office at IPC last Friday, O’Sullivan was aware

that the buck now stops with her. Because it’s not just O’Sullivan’s

fortunes at stake. She is taking a team of handpicked talent with her,

professionals who have bought into her vision of a new type of

communications company, who trust her judgment and have faith in her

ability to get the project off the ground. ’I’m fortunate in having the

energy and drive to lead and inspire people,’ she admits but, even for

the woman described by Kelvin MacKenzie as ’the finest magazine editor

of her generation’, this is a scary prospect.

She describes her fledgling enterprise (details of which are still under

wraps) as a communications company. It won’t just be about making


It’s hard to put her project into a neatly labelled box. The closest I

can get, ahead of a full announcement of her plans, is the comment: ’The

walls between consumer, customer and specialist magazines are crumbling

and we’ll be at the forefront of the magazine market’s development,

building new, broader relationships with advertisers which go well

beyond display advertising. Magazines will be our core business but as

part of a wider communications vehicle.’

Yet O’Sullivan’s own belief in the wisdom of her decision is rock


It was watching IPC go through the tribulations of its management buyout

last year that provided the catalyst for her own entrepreneurial


’I’ve never been the sort of person who felt I should do my own thing,

I’ve always been extremely content and focused working within the

confines of a corporation,’ she explains. ’But the changes that stemmed

from the buyout set me thinking. I realised I could set up my own

company and run it the way I wanted. I could start with a clean slate

and didn’t have to carry on with a whole lot of practices that were

followed just because they always had been.’

She talks about the opportunity to build her own team and to maximise

their talent ’so they feel great about themselves’. She describes her

goal as ’to harness success, hard work and enjoyment’ - something

difficult to achieve when you’re focused on paying back the sort of huge

borrowings facing IPC’s management. She ’really, really’ enjoyed working

at IPC, the broad canvas she was given to operate on represented the

most stretching time of her career. But I think she’s saying she wasn’t

really happy there.

O’Sullivan has also come to realise that the world is not made up two

sorts of people - those who run companies and those who work for


’I realised I’m not a different species from the management and I had

the added advantage of actually doing the business, producing the


Even so, she knows people will think she’s mad, just as they did when

she gave up Good Housekeeping to join IPC a couple of years ago, turning

her back on a cushy little number. ’Just when I should be thinking I’ve

got this licked for a while ...’ she sighs, almost irritated by her

inability to take the easy route. Then the brisk poise returns. ’But

I’ve always been attracted by a challenge.’


1977: Woman’s World, features editor

1980: Daily Record, journalist

1982: Options, editor

1986: Country Homes & Interiors, launch editor

1988: She, editor

1989: Harpers & Queen, editor

1991: Good Housekeeping, editor

1996: Ideal Home/Homes & Ideas, editor-in-chief

1998: Launches own communications company


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