Reg Murphy to be No. 2 at Geographic Ex-Sun publisher to be vice president

April 09, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In a rare change at the top ranks of the National Geographic Society, Reg Murphy, former publisher and chairman of The Baltimore Sun, has been named executive vice president of the 105-year-old society.

The appointment, approved by the society's board of trustees ++ yesterday in Washington, is to be made public today.

Mr. Murphy, 59, will manage the financial operations of the nonprofit organization -- which had revenues of $453 million last year from publication of National Geographic magazine and other ventures. He will also oversee long-range planning, administration, information and computer systems and human resources.

The society, which enjoys a competitive advantage because of its status as a tax-exempt institution, is "in very good health," said senior vice president Robert B. Sims, who served as chief Pentagon spokesman during the Reagan administration. "We've maintained a high level of membership and have economized." Over the past four years, the company has cut its staff through attrition.

As the society's No. 2 manager, after Gilbert M. Grosvenor, its president and chairman, Mr. Murphy succeeds Owen R. Anderson, the current vice president of the board of trustees. Mr. Anderson retired as executive vice president in 1991 after nearly half a century with the society.

"Reg Murphy combines front-office financial and publishing expertise with a keen understanding of journalism," Mr. Grosvenor said in a statement. "His presence will allow us to reach more people with educational information about the world."

Aside from the monthly National Geographic magazine, the society, which claims 9.7 million subscribers, or "members," publishes the children's magazine World and a quarterly travel magazine, Traveler. It claims to be the nation's largest producer of television documentaries and also publishes books, makes maps and has an educational arm.

"As a young reporter, the one thing I always thought would be the best single assignment would be to write a piece for National Geographic," said Mr. Murphy, publisher of The Baltimore Sun from 1981 to 1990. "They're still not going to let me write a piece, but to work on strategic planning for the future of the society is an exciting concept. Their mission to conduct human inquiries ,, into everything in the world is exactly what I was interested in."

The addition of a National Geographic "outsider" such as Mr. Murphy to the highest reaches of the society's masthead is a fairly unusual move for the tightly-knit institution, which only started hiring senior managers from outside its own ranks several years ago.

Mr. Grosvenor, for instance, is the great-grandson of one of the society's early leaders, Alexander Graham Bell, and the grandson of the magazine's first full-time editor, Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor.

The new hiring pattern, in part, reflects changes at the society that involve new technologies and exploring new ways to reach its audience.

For instance, in response to the aging of the baby boom generation, which has enough money and time to travel, the organization this year started a touring division that organizes group trips for members to everywhere from Antarctica to Turkey.

Television and new technologies for the classroom, too, are expected to play increasingly large roles in the future of the organization.

For his part, Mr. Murphy, who starts work May 5, says he expects to be heavily involved in the area of new technology, looking at ways to put photography on computer discs, for instance. He said he doesn't envision making any major changes in the yellow-bordered flagship publication, which has the fourth largest magazine circulation in the country.

"The best thing I can do is let the people there continue to do what they do better than anyone in the world," he said.

Before joining The Sun in 1981, Mr. Murphy was publisher and VTC editor of the San Francisco Examiner and, before that, editor of the Atlanta Constitution.

He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Macon Telegraph in his native Georgia.

During his tenure at The Sun, revenues rose substantially, and he oversaw numerous changes, including the introduction of color photographs on news pages, the construction of a new printing plant at Port Covington and the sale of the A.S. Abell Co.-owned newspapers to the Times Mirror Co. in 1986.

Mr. Murphy, who made about $13 million in the transaction from the sale of his A.S. Abell stock, said he had turned down about 20 job offers since leaving the newspaper more than two years ago. He and Geographic Society executives started talking in January about the position.

"In a quiet way, this is the most exciting thing I can think of to do at this point in my life," he said.

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