The genius of Pat Mcgovern is the way he makes things all about you. That impressed me hugely, because when I first met Pat back in 1989 I wasn't the sort of person anything was all about. I was a new copy editor at CIO magazine; Pat was (still is) the founder and chairman of CIO's parent, International Data Group, a then $400 million technology publishing and research empire. It hadn't occurred to me that the twain would meet, so I was startled (confused, marginally freaked) when a tall, ruddy man loomed in the entrance to my cubicle a few weeks before Christmas.
Pat thanked me for my contributions. He asked how things were going and looked vaguely disappointed when all I could muster was an unilluminating "Fine." Then he complimented me on a column I had ghostwritten for some technology honcho. The column was my most substantive accomplishment to date and the thing I was proudest of. But my name didn't appear on it anywhere, so how did he know? After three or four minutes, he handed me my bonus and proceeded to the next cubicle.
The formula for Pat's Christmas calls--expression of gratitude/request for feedback/congratulations on specific achievement/delivery of loot--never varied, even as IDG grew into the $2.4 billion global behemoth it is today. To personally thank most every person in every business unit in the U.S., more than 1,500 employees, takes almost four weeks, he told me years later: Managers provide him with a list of accomplishments for all their reports, and Pat memorizes them the night before his visits. He does this because he wants employees to know that he sees them--really sees them--as individuals, and that he considers what they do all day to be meaningful.
Not only does Pat care about his people; he also believes in them. His commitment to decentralization has created a constellation of motivated business units that make their own decisions about everything from how to reward staff to what new businesses to launch. He also treats his end customers--the readers of such publications as Computerworld, PC World, and Macworld--with consummate respect. At IDG the quality of content is sacrosanct, a tough ideal to sustain when advertising pays so many of the bills.
Did I mention that he's giving $350 million to MIT to create an institute for brain research? Maybe I shouldn't: I don't want to lay it on too thick.
Another small-company tradition Pat has kept up over the years is taking each employee out for a meal at the Ritz on his or her 10th anniversary with IDG. I left CIO after only seven years (to work for Inc., where I could write about people like Pat and not just work for them), so I never got my anniversary dinner. Too bad--it would have been a class act. And I'm not talking about the restaurant.--Leigh Buchanan
Leigh Buchanan is a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review.