When Publishing Executive named Michela O’Connor Abrams one of its top women in magazine publishing earlier this year — the first of what the magazine plans to make an annual honor — it acknowledged how O’Connor Abrams has led Dwell into a success story. As president and publisher, Michelle O’Connor Abrams has turned the nine-year-old magazine devoted to modern architecture and design into a mini-modern empire, Dwell Media, with a TV show, a design studio, a home-building partnership, an annual Dwell on Design conference, even a limited-edition $120 modern sneaker — all the while raising a daughter, Taylor, now 11.
A working mother almost from day 1, O’Connor Abrams says she owes a lot to her mother and grandmother, her role models, and her husband, Alan, president and founder of Alan’s Wine Cellar. She lives with her family in Mill Valley, CA.
How did you handle childcare in the early years?
I had a boss who let me bring Taylor to work. I was the chief operating officer and I had an assistant who was fantastic. Taylor was like the perfect diversion; she had 50 nannies! And then we hired a nanny and built an apartment onto the house. A year later, Alan and I both started working from home. Even though we had help, I was with her morning, noon and night; we were attached at the hip. She went everywhere with me, even meetings.
By the time she was 2, we took six months off. The dot-com bubble had burst, and we traveled and had a blast. When Taylor was 5, my parents sold their house in L.A., and moved a mile away. I could never have done it without my mom and dad.
It sounds like you had a lot of flexibility.
I did. I had understanding bosses who saw that I was getting my work done. And I remembered that when I was president or CEO, that it was not a privilege only I would get. I always had this policy that we are a better workforce if we understand that life happens and people have children and in order to have a productive workforce, we have to be flexible about it. I was so appreciative of bosses who understood, it made me super-conscientious.
How did you end up as a publisher?
I graduated with a degree in journalism in 1980. I wanted to follow Woodward and Bernstein, and work at a newspaper. That didn’t happen. When I started my career, I honestly didn’t have a plan … to be a publisher, but I kept finding myself in these positions. One day, I said, “OK, I’m a publisher, and now what?” I love what I do, building teams of people.