What I Learned From Patrick McGovern

Shortly after I began working at IDG, I received a memo from the Founder and Chairman, Patrick McGovern, complimenting a news story I had written the previous week. The piece was mundane. I was surprised anyone, much less the billionaire head of a global company, would think anything about it at all.

Which was, I later realized, the whole point. McGovern, who died March 19, was a visionary entrepreneur. But part of his genius lay in the commitment he inspired by his personal attention to employees.

In 18 years I spent at the company, I never got another one of those memos. But every year (as numerous current and former IDGers are recalling now), when McGovern paid a visit to hand out holiday bonuses, he stopped to talk to every employee and thank us for the work we did. He would be briefed on each person’s achievements, so he could acknowledge them specifically. Because your boss had passed that information along, it confirmed how important that work was to her, too.

If you stayed with the company 10 years, he took you and other tenured employees to dinner. He told lots of people the same stories about opening the market in China, his investment in brain research, his trips to Antarctica and the Himalayas. But the conversation wasn’t all about him, or about work. At that dinner I learned that he spent time in the same small Oregon town where my brother-in-law lives. I also got to know a co-worker with whom I soon began to work more closely, and who remains a friend and colleague.

He treated input from employees seriously, asking for it during every encounter. And he held managers accountable for acting on people’s feedback, as well as for creating environments that encouraged people to do their best work.

Recognize individuals. Let them know, frequently, that what they do matters. Take an interest in employees’ ideas, and their problems. Connect with everyone you encounter as a human being who has something to offer. McGovern leaves many legacies—to the publishing industry, the technology industry, and to science—but his example as a leader of people transcends these.

Thank you, Mr. McGovern. Rest in peace.

3 thoughts on “What I Learned From Patrick McGovern

  1. This is wonderful, Alana. It really captures McGovern’s imprint on a culture that spread across all of the businesses, as different as they were.

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