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Cosmic Connection

BOSS Magazine, The Australian Financial Review | 13 June 2008

Luna Media CEO Kylie Ahern and editor-in-chief Wilson da Silva

Kylie Ahern is CEO and Wilson da Silva is editor-in-chief at Luna Media, publisher of science magazine Cosmos and environment-based G Magazine. They spoke to Deirdre Livolsi about living and working together.

What led to your working together?

Wilson: “Kylie and I had both worked for New Scientist. In 2004, we came up with the idea of a science magazine. I had met Alan Finkel [an entrepreneur, scientist, now chancellor of Monash University and chairman of Luna Media] in 1996, when I was editing 21C Magazine in Melbourne. We pitched [our idea] to him but also had other people in mind. We were just extraordinarily lucky that the first people we approached were wiling to do it.”

Kylie: “We always wanted to do a popular science magazine. We launched Cosmos in 2005 and in 2006 we launched G Magazine. In June 2006 we launched Cosmos Online, a science news website. It was a good time of life to do it as we were both experienced enough in each of our fields.”

“My management style is very collegial. I include everyone in discussions – even the interns get involved.”

What skills do you bring to the partnership?

Wilson: “My management style is very collegial. I include everyone in discussions – even the interns get involved. There are ways of seeing the world you as the editor might not be aware of. I like big-picture stuff, visionary stuff. I probably have a bit of trouble finishing things off – that’s something Kylie helps me with and my editorial colleagues all know about. I need to wait for the muses sometimes, for the emotion to be right, so that’s probably not a good business style.”

Kylie: “We have very complementary skills. I’m very organised, I like planning. I absolutely love marketing. I believe in great editorial product, but I’m very commercial; I love the sales side of the business. By tapping into Wilson’s creativity I’ve become a better marketer, and I’ve made him a lot more commercial.”

How would you describe each other?

Wilson: “She’s great at finding breaks through logjams. She sees things from a different angle – she’s very focused on results. She seems to be a natural leader; she encourages people.”

Kylie: “Wilson is very creative. He’s an ideas generator. I can pose any problem to him and he’ll come up with a large number of solutions. He’s a brilliant editor, probably one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”

Ahern and da Silva promoting Luna Media at an international publishing conference in Singapore

Describe your day-to-day work relationship.

Wilson: “We usually have a meeting in the morning. She likes to view me as the ideas guy. Sometimes I can be a pain in the butt – I get all excited about ideas and she’s taught me to see the commercial side. We do lots of strategy stuff in her office. We talk a lot after hours. I’m a bit of a workaholic; I don’t cut off after hours. That’s why when we go on holidays, we do something physically challenging so there’s no thought given to work-related issues.”

“Wilson is very creative. He’s an ideas generator. I can pose any problem to him and he’ll come up with a large number of solutions.”

Kylie: “It’s very verbal, very face-to-face. It’s a very close relationship. It’s not a big company so we don’t need to email unless we’re sending each other an article to read. Wilson reports to me, but it’s a very equal relationship. There’s not a lot of division between work and home. At the beginning we had a rule that we wouldn’t talk about work after seven o’clock at night, but we’ve long since forgotten that.”

How do you make decisions?

Wilson: “It’s divided along commercial and editorial lines. In magazines, the publisher makes the decision about the cover. I have always genuflected to that, but I didn’t quite like it in the beginning. If there’s a disagreement [about covers], she always wins. On average her choice has been much more accurate, so I’ve learned to trust her judgment. Editors fluctuate between trying to please the readers and trying to show off to them. Publishers are never going to be showing off – all they’re trying to do is sell as many copies as possible.

Ahern and da Silva on the day their first magazine, COSMOS, hits the newsstands

“Where editorial decisions will impinge on the commercial side of the business, I consult her. It’s simple things like should we use profanity, because we have a lot of school subscribers. We did a cover story on marijuana, and again it might affect the education market. I said, ‘I really want to do this story, it’s totally science-based, but there’s a risk.’ She consulted teacher friends of hers and they said go for it, kids are talking about this stuff. If you show the real science, you will be respected among the teachers. And we were.”

Kylie: “I’m the CEO so we have a very strict line in that sense. I make the final decisions on day-to-day matters. Strategy matters are always presented to the board. We’re a very traditional company – every month we meet with the board. We have an agreement with Alan that, on strategy decisions, he, Wilson and I have to be unanimous.”

What happens when you disagree?

Wilson: “I have a bit of a Latin temperament and sometimes I get so excited about something that I don’t think of the implications. Kylie tends to get me to think it through. At its worst, we’ll lose our temper, then apologise and see the reality that we have to work together. The problem with being partners in life as well as the business is that you can lose your temper. You wouldn’t necessarily do that in a professional relationship. But out of those occasionally fiery exchanges come really fantastic ideas.”

Kylie: “How we handle disagreements has certainly evolved. You can’t have a disagreement that lasts. We don’t have arguments in front of staff. Our disagreements are intense, they’re quick, and then they’re over. You tend to be more disciplined because you don’t want your business to become dysfunctional.”


This profile was originally published in BOSS Magazine on 13 June 2008.


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