Leading A Glamourous Life: Ellen Payne ‘81

by Anne Dullaghan

It’s not a stretch to say that Ellen Payne creates adventure. After all, she just returned from a climb nearly to the top of Cotapaxi in Ecuador—the world’s highest active volcano. (She reached 16,000 feet out of 19,000 feet total.) No small feat when you consider that the scramble to the summit begins in darkness, with a quick ascent over freezing snow and ice ramps to reach a 16,000-foot glacial platform at dawn. The final portion of her climb includes snow bridges, yawning crevasses, and a barely-time-to-catch-your-breath altitude that pushes most athletes to their limits. Near the summit, however, the rewards await: stunning views of Cotapaxi’s 1,000 deep-foot crater and surrounding ancient peaks.

This quest for excitement—the new and the different—has helped Ellen scale the heights of the publishing world as well. As the former executive managing editor of Glamour magazine—and now Hearst Magazine’s director of editorial operations—no two days are alike.

“This new job is a corporate position answering to Cathleen Black, the president of the company,” Ellen says, “I’m very excited about having the opportunity to work closely with her. I will be overseeing editorial budgets, technology, and any other issues that pertain to editorial business for all the Hearst magazines. I’ll also work closely with the editors-in-chief, managing editors, and the art directors to achieve the company’s goals.”

A glance at any magazine stand reveals just how extensive and varied Ellen’s job is: Hearst publishes Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Popular Mechanics, SmartMoney, Town & Country, and Victoria, among others.

Ellen credits Scripps with giving her the tools to pursue her career goals. “When I started out at Scripps, I was so shy that I could barely speak up in class. By my second year, I was participating fully, expressing my ideas. In that time, I gained an enormous amount of self-confidence.”

Backed by that strong self-assurance, Ellen has been able to parlay her keen business sense into several coveted editorial positions. “I really didn’t expect to get a second chance,” she confesses. “I thought I had sacrificed my career to be a stay-at-home mom. I freelanced off and on for about eight years before going back to work full time as managing editor of Los Angeles magazine. Networking led to the Los Angeles magazine job. Everywhere I freelanced, I figured out who seemed like the smartest or most connected person and made sure they knew I could do more than just that assignment. It eventually paid off when they called me for the managing editor job.”

Ellen’s move up the magazine masthead eventually meant one-thing: a 3,000 mile relocation to New York. And for a native Californian, it presented quite a challenge. She took the plunge, riding on the buzz her former Los Angeles magazine editor-in-chief generated when he moved to New York to run Details magazine. “I knew I needed to make my move right then,” she recalls. “I asked my husband if he would be willing to relocate, and he said yes (great guy!).”

A quick four-day trip to the city to interview and see if she could imagine living and working in New York sealed the deal. “In a week-and-a-half, I had the job as managing editor of Cosmopolitan,” she notes. “What got me my Cosmo job was enormous self-confidence and a funny resume. I was afraid that nobody would read mine because I came from a small regional magazine. So I added a funny accomplishment to each job that I had had. AT one job, I learned that if you don’t get paid by 5 p.m. on a Friday, it means your paycheck is going to bounce! It worked. The editor-in-chief read my entire resume, loved it, and wanted to meet me. Then, when my editor-in-chief from Cosmo went to Glamour, I went with her.”

Over the years, Ellen has learned to be part diplomat, part psychotherapist—with the competitive drive of an Olympic athlete.

“My biggest challenge (at Glamour) was managing 85 people and getting the magazine out on time and on budget,” she says. “Creative types tend to operate in nontraditional ways. It’s my job to get what I need from them for the magazine without frustrating them too much. I have to be very intuitive and temper my approach according to the type of person I am dealing with. To have your career advance, you need to not only be capable and hardworking, but also politically savvy and driven. But, I don’t think that’s any different from any other field.”

Whether it’s marveling at the accomplishments of her three year old daughters (ages 7, 11 and 14), collaborating with her Glamour staff, or reminiscing with her Scripps friends, Ellen appreciates the power of women. I love the company of women and working on a magazine that cares about women’s issues and health. For those considering a magazine career, I say go for it. It’s a fun, exciting business that attracts a lot of interesting people. Sometimes if feels like being back in the dorm, talking about guys, sex, birth control, abortion rights, women’s issues.”

“Except,” Ellen points out, “you can make a big difference at a women’s magazine—Glamour reaches 12 million women! All this relates back to Scripps and why it was so great for me. It pushed me to the next level. Scripps changed my life.”