Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers on moving the magazine forward, and her competitive diving career
Robbie Myers, a former competitive springboard diver who grew up caring more about her execution score than the latest runway trends, didn't think she'd go on to be editor-in-chief at one of the world's leading fashion publications.
Myers, a Colorado State University grad and Elle magazine's head honcho since May 2000, transitioned success from diving into the pool to jumping in the publishing game, with her first post-college gig being at Rolling Stone.
espnW chatted with Myers from her office at the Hearst Towers in New York City, where the magazine is published, about competing as a student-athlete and navigating the magazine industry. She also delves into how there's no such thing as a typical day at Elle, and why the phrase "work-life balance" is a bit of a fallacy. Oh, and working with Grammy Award-winning artist Solange Knowles on the March cover, which hits newsstands on Tuesday.
espnW: As the editor-in-chief of Elle, what does a typical workday look like for you?
Robbie Myers: The only thing that's typical about each day is that I spend an immense amount of time talking to a lot of different kinds of people -- whether it's internally in-office or at various events, appointments and meetings. This is why I love my job. I'm constantly cross-pollinating with people from fashion, publishing, politics, music, entertainment and more.
espnW: How did you land your first job at Rolling Stone?
RM: I was offered a magazine job after graduating college [in 1983] but turned it down because it wasn't in editorial, and I really wanted to start on the edit [as opposed to the publishing] side of things. I ended up calling someone, who knew someone at Rolling Stone, who gave me [co-founder and publisher] Jann Wenner's number.
I called around 7:30 p.m. and by some miracle Jann picked up the phone. I started to introduce myself and he quickly said, "Send in your résumé," and slammed down the phone. So, I showed up the next day, at his office, résumé in hand.
His assistant was like, "What? Who? Why are you here? I don't have you on his calendar."
I reiterated how I had spoken to him on the phone the night before. She graciously invited me in to talk for a few minutes, and asked me to come back the following Monday to take a typing test. Funny thing, I was one of those women whose mother told them, "Whatever you do, don't learn how to type. You'll be a secretary your whole life."
So I had to teach myself how to type over the weekend! I took the test and fortunately there was an opening for an assistant job that had just come open. And that's how I got my first job.
espnW: What was your takeaway from that experience?
RM: Well, for me, it was that persistence mattered. Also, that you should call every person you know, as they are bound to know someone who knows someone.
On the one hand, it was ultimately through a connection that I got my first job, but it was my work that got me the next one and the next one. I wasn't a product of New York City private schools or even an Ivy League graduate, as most of my co-workers at Rolling Stone seemed to be. So I was lucky in that sense.
espnW: You went to college in Colorado. Is that where you grew up?
RM: I had a free-thinking mother and we moved around a lot when I was growing up. I was born outside of Philadelphia and then moved to St. Louis when my mother got married for the second time. I lived there until I was about 13 years old. I spent my freshman year of high school in Estes Park and Denver, Colorado, then we went on to Radnor and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before moving to the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. I went back to Colorado for college, and when I graduated, I drove with a friend straight to 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue in New York City.
espnW: When did you start pursing organized athletics?
RM: I played organized sports as a young kid and was a springboard diver in high school and college. I grew up playing tennis, softball and swam competitively in the summers. By the time I moved to Florida I was pretty strong and flexible, and during gym class one day, I was jumping on a trampoline and the diving coach walked by asked if I'd like try out for the diving team. Diving became my sole passion. I loved it. It absolutely changed and informed my life.
My children are now both in sports because I know the impact it made on me. My 14-year-old son plays basketball in a city league with his friends, but has been playing baseball since he was 5, where he's been on several championship travel teams as well. My daughter is a starting pitcher and will be co-captain of her high school softball team.
Sports teaches you just about everything you need to know to thrive in a competitive world. You learn a lot about yourself. It was an amazing experience for me and I miss it.
espnW: What have you learned from diving that you have brought into your work?
RM: The thing about diving, especially when you start as late as I had, is that you're throwing yourself off a 3-meter board, half-naked as people watch you fly through the air and then judge you on it. The chance of humiliation is so high, and I absolutely met that bar so many times. So it taught me that you can get over that feeling only by getting back up and trying again and again. Sports taught me how to lose, but it taught me how to win as well.
espnW: How do you maintain an active lifestyle?
RM: My husband bought me a recumbent bike, so I can work out at any time while reading manuscripts or responding to emails. It also helps that we have a gym at Hearst Tower. When diving in college, I would work out from 7-9 a.m., go to class and then I was back in the pool around 4 p.m. Diving was an organizing principle in my life for so long. I miss the vigorous physical demand. The thing about being a competitive athlete is that you have a goal and you know that you can get closer and closer to it every single day through training and working out.
espnW: Why did you choose Solange for the March cover and what was it like to work with her?
RM: Solange is very much her own person. She came out with a seminal piece of work last year in her album, "A Seat at the Table," and readers are really interested in knowing more about her. She talked with Elle about her family, work, intimacy of her music, feelings about women and race, and some of the most complicated things vexing our culture today.
espnW: What are your thoughts to those who may say, "Why am I finding politics when reading Elle?"
RM: Elle was born in France, circa 1945, out of the idea that a cultured woman wants to know about fashion, books, politics, art, beauty, popular culture and how all of those things interact with each other. We are a fashion magazine, but the definition of fashion is "that which is current."
Three years ago Ruth Bader Ginsburg told one of our Elle reporters on the record that she had no intention of stepping down. To my knowledge she hadn't uttered that publicly before. We heard that certain court-watchers were asking, "How did Elle get that? It's a women's magazine."
I say, dismiss us at your peril; it's just lazy and condescending, especially because they'd probably never even cracked a page of Elle to know what we're really about. Why wouldn't we use reporters who are deeply informed and ready to talk to arguably one of the most important women in the United States?
espnW: What does work-life balance mean to you?
RM: Work-life balance is one of those phrases that really bothers me. There's no point at which I switch off and stop thinking about my children and their needs, nor, even without mobile devices and email, does my mind ever really stop puzzling through work projects and ideas. Yes, it is a lot of pressure and can be highly stressful, but it constantly reminds me how lucky I am that these are the things -- the best path for my kids and how to get them on it, fighting for brain space with my interesting and challenging work -- that are my primary occupation.
espnW: How do you define success?
RM: I define success by whether or not my children are polite. What the means is having them move through the world in a way that asks for respect from others but also gives it. I want them to negotiate through life in a way that's happy and positive. I know that sounds corny, but my job is to raise my children. On the work front, I define success as doing the best I can to help my team be great.
This interview has been edited for length.
Gianina Thompson is ESPN's senior publicist for NBA and MLB on-air personalities and shows. She's sports all day, every day and lives for overtime games, unless it's on Thursday nights when she's locked onto "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," and "How to Get Away with Murder."