Felsenthal Rogers Leadership Speaker

Mr. Edward Felsenthal ’84, executive chairman of TIME and senior advisor, Office of the CEO, at Salesforce, spoke in Hyde Chapel as the 2024 Rogers Leadership Forum guest.
The former editor in chief and CEO of TIME stood at the forefront of innovation as the magazine evolved into a modern media company with a global events business and a film and television division. Earlier in his career, Felsenthal oversaw digital content and growth for a dozen brands at Time Inc., launched “The Daily Beast” with Tina Brown as its founding executive editor, and served as one of the top editors at “The Wall Street Journal.”

After an introduction by Headmaster Pete Sanders, English Instructor Norman Thompson recounted a story from Felsenthal’s days as editor of The Owls Hoot, which included a trip to the headmaster’s office after an op-ed on excessive library fines.

“This is an early example of Edward’s intrepid pursuit of truth on weighty matters,” Thompson said. “I am happy to introduce you to an influential leader whose easy-going manner and unpretentious modesty will make his message palatable to the intended ear. Please give a warm, homecoming welcome to one of our own. A friend of MUS and a symbol of what can be accomplished through diligence, perseverance, and especially attention to the career-assisting lectures of your classroom teachers.”

English Instructor Lin Askew said his former student embodies humility. “In our age of aggressive self-promotion, of branding, of how many clicks, how many likes, and how many friends, Edward has every reason to flaunt his accomplishments, and he doesn’t. We need more leaders like Edward Felsenthal.”

After Felsenthal marveled that it’s been 40 years since he sat in the seats of Hyde Chapel, he described how his MUS teachers instilled a love of learning and community. He recently contacted Askew for advice on what to say to an auditorium full of students of a variety of ages and received this recommendation: “The importance of seeing the world through other’s eyes, of broadening our perspectives, of collecting words. I loved that. He hit it on the head,” Felsenthal said.

“What he was expressing is what we try to do as journalists: see the world through others’ eyes, broaden perspectives, collect words,” Felsenthal said. “If we all lived alone, minding our own business, and rarely interacting, this wouldn’t be important. That’s not our reality. You’re each part of a community. Every one of us. Seven-hundred-person MUS community, 1.3-million-person metropolitan area of Memphis, a 330-million-person country, and an almost 8-billion-person planet. Like it or not we’re all connected to one another and more so every day.”

Felsenthal offered three tips for building leadership and a strong community, based on his experience covering news in the United States over a 30-year career.
  • Listening carefully and respectfully to others, even when we disagree with them. He cited the Guns in America project produced by TIME and French artist JR, which promoted conversations about guns among 250 people from a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints. “We need much more of this, more spaces that gather people instead of expelling them. More seeing the world through the eyes of others.”
  • Finding common ground with those you don’t agree with. Felsenthal said the podcast “You Might Be Right” by former Tennessee governors Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and Bill Haslam, a Republican, is an example of having civil conversations. “Their premise is that listening and compromise are key parts to leadership. It’s a simple message that doesn’t get as much attention as people in our culture whose bread and butter is saying outrageous things, but it couldn’t be more important.”
  • “All these conversations are pointless if they aren’t grounded in truth.” Felsenthal focused on the importance of journalism in the pursuit of truth. He referenced Thomas Jefferson and his ardent belief in the Fourth Estate. “He believed firmly that in a democracy and a government by the people, [journalism is] the best way we have of reporting the facts on which decisions get made … and holding the powerful to account.”
We live in a time when artificial intelligence is making it tougher to distinguish truth from fiction, he said. Felsenthal played an altered video that seemed to show, falsely, Ron DeSantis dropping out of the race for president. “This is what real fake news looks like,” he said and warned that it will only get more authentic looking.

Felsenthal offered three recommendations to ensure “facts triumph over fiction, that we find paths out of our silos and common ground as we face the challenges ahead in the world.” 
  • “I hope you’ll get engaged with the news from a few different established sources beyond social media. The Apple News app is really a pretty good place to start, giving you access to hundreds of trusted publications and thousands of perspectives.”
  • “Second, we live in the most information-rich moment in history. For all the challenges we face and the flood of fake news and traffic that is not credible, it’s really an incredible opportunity that we have. As Robert Davis ’82, my friend, likes to say, “Be a skeptic, don’t be a cynic.’ Amidst all this information, the skeptic approaches the flood of content with healthy caution. The cynic disregards it all and stays in the silo.”
  • “Finally, I want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zones and have a conversation or two or three with someone you disagree with. As Howard Baker said, ‘The other fellow might be right’ – or he might not. But you and all of us will be much richer for the discussion.”
In the Hyde Chapel audience were Felsenthal’s parents, Mrs. Gloria and Mr. Eddie Felsenthal; two of his three children, Louise and Eric; Mr. Robert Davis ’82; and Headmaster Emeritus Ellis Haguewood.

See photos from the event HERE.

Judy and King Rogers, parents of King W. Rogers IV ’98, provided the King and Judy Rogers Endowment for Leadership Development in 2000 to fund annual leadership development programs for MUS students. The income from the fund provides the resources to bring a renowned speaker to campus and sponsor additional leadership programs. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the program.