Even though his father wanted him to become an engineer, Ilya Bezugly was always more interested in the humanities. In 1985, when Bezugly was making his career choice, glasnost seemed to him to be perestroika’s only concrete result. “So I chose the faculty of journalism at MGU,” he said. “I thought this had a future.”
Bezugly has not regretted his decision since. Today he is editor-in-chief of the Russian version of Men’s Health, one of the most successful magazines in the Russian market, with a monthly print run of 112,000. Readers accost him on the street, asking for an autograph, and each copy of Men’s Health in Russia is read by four people, meaning he and his team have brought the gospel of a healthy life style to at least half a million Russians.
In his fifth year at MGU (actually, his studies were interrupted by two years of military service), Bezugly was sent on a five month exchange program to Northeastern University in Massachusetts. He later returned to Boston on post-graduate studies for another nine months, working on his doctoral dissertation.
“When I got back to Russia I realized I wouldn’t write my dissertation. I needed to pay my bills, so to speak, and all the guys my age were already in business, riding around in Mercedes, while I felt like that eternal student from Chekhov’s play.”
After he endured some short stints with jobs in retail and travel, journalism again came knocking. In 1997, a friend with whom he studied in the US recommended him to apply for the editor-in-chief position at Men’s Health, as he felt the athletic Bezugly was better suited than him to head a fitness magazine. “I started reading the magazine when I was living in America,” Bezugly recalled. He had worked out frequently since that time and so the whole idea of teaching Russian men a healthier lifestyle appealed to him.
“Of course,” Bezugly continued, “the publisher admitted that publishing this magazine was a major challenge. Russian men are notorious for their unhealthy lifestyle, for the shortest lifespan in Europe and for their bad teeth and their addiction to vodka. ‘They will hardly read all of this,’ he said. So it was a rather ambitious, risky project ... I was given a pile of magazines, a room, and in four months I was supposed to come up with the Russian version of the magazine. That was a total nightmare. I was in a panic, as I had no clue as to how it all happened. It is as if I was put at the wheel of an aircraft full of people ... I had just a general idea of a magazine, as I mostly studied the advertising part of the media. And I knew no details ... At the beginning, I worked based on intuition.”
Intuition paid off. The magazine started as a bimonthly with a print run of 40,000 copies. In 1998, despite the financial crisis, Bezugly’s team was able to up the frequency to a monthly, increasing page counts and ad revenues in the bargain. This year, the magazine’s Moscow circulation surpassed the circulation of the Russian version of Playboy (the leading men’s magazine) in the capital.
Despite his position, the editor-in-chief of Men’s Health gives the appearance of an easygoing administrator, dressing in shorts, running shoes and a baseball hat for an interview, interacting with his 10 staffers as equals.
But appearances can be misleading. Bezugly admits he can be tough with his employees: “I don’t like kindergarten stuff, when people tell you why they cannot do something. I like people who get things done. I don’t like the old Soviet style. It is results-oriented work here.”
But the results Bezugly seems most proud of are the thank you letters the magazine receives, especially from female readers (who account for 30% of the readership of this “men’s magazine”). “They feel they are learning men’s secrets, about how we are going to win them over, then they take the issue to their husbands and say, ‘Here, now you read it!’ And it seems to bring positive results [in their family life].”
“Our readers,” Bezugly said, “want to live long and to live the right way.” The young editor is glad to show them the way.
Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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