Albert Read

Former Managing Director of Condé Nast Britain, Author of The Imagination Muscle
  • As both an accomplished business leader and journalist, Albert Read is able to bridge the gap between creative content and commercial success
  • Offers a wealth of experience in the world of publishing and media due to a proven track record of launching and leading businesses for Condé Nast across the UK, Europe, and Asia
  • Responsible for overseeing titles such as Vogue, GQ, Wired, Condé Nast Traveller, and Vanity Fair

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Albert Read took the helm of Condé Nast Britain (home of Vogue, GQ, Wired and Traveller among others) at an inflection point in its history.  A company modelled on a legacy, print business needed to transform itself into a series of multi-channel media brands.  To do so, required a mindset shift and a team with a new perspective and skillset.   With the appointment of editors like Edward Enninful, the Editor of British Vogue, the company reimagined itself as a business defined, as much as anything else, by purpose and a new way of looking at things.  Vogue was not only about fashion, but about inclusion: opening itself up to new voices, new faces, new points of view – as a result, drawing in a whole new audience and set of advertisers across its platforms.   

This shift that set a new zeitgeist, with a new cultural positioning, has resulted in one of the most successful periods in the company’s history.

Albert has also launched the iconic Condé Nast brands in China, India and the Middle East – and, on the quest for continual growth, in a business challenged by structural change, he has taken the brands in unexpected new directions.

Albert is now an entrepreneur, a speaker and an author.  His book, The Imagination Muscle (Little, Brown, 2023), highlights the supreme importance of creativity in business, science and the arts.  It is described by The Economist as ‘a beautifully written meditation’ and by The Spectator as ‘brimming with big ideas’ and ‘an extraordinary book’.  

Albert’s philosophy is to never stand still, to anticipate change, to create within your organisation an expectation of ideas and an atmosphere of psychological safety where these ideas can flow freely.  If, as a leader, you can tap into your own imaginative potential and that of your teams, the possibilities are limitless.

Albert studied Classics at Oxford University and has an MBA from INSEAD.

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Speaker Video

Albert Read - Speaking Introduction

How To Have Better Ideas & Improve Your Imagination | Albert Read On 'The Imagination Muscle'

Creativity in the Age of AI. In the new world of Artificial Intelligence, what is the role in business for human creativity?

Albert argues that the connection between the two is fundamental and, if handled correctly, will unleash thrilling new waves of innovation. 

AI is already solving some of the world’s most pressing problems — from discovering new antibiotics, better weather forecasting and finding new materials for batteries.

But it can also act as rocket fuel for human ingenuity.

First, it removes the lower level, time consuming tasks, freeing us up for higher level creative and strategic thinking.

It can also enhance human judgement. There is no shortage of ‘half good’ ideas but they tend not to progress because companies don’t have the time to evaluate them or merge overlapping, incomplete ideas.  AI can think in new dimensions and solve this.

Creativity depends on making new connections. New forms of synthesis at scale, made possible through velocity of connecting, will reveal new possibilities to be explored by the human mind. AI can connect the previously unconnected and thereby turbo charge the imagination.

AI can remove the weight of bias induced by experience. Domain experts are sometimes lost in the fog of their own knowledge, incapable of generating new ideas. This is known as the Einstellung effect, where previous experience prevents new ways of thinking. AI can help your business think afresh by having, in one sense, a beginner’s mindset.

AI enhances creativity by providing new asymmetries in business models: creative tasks that were once the preserve of large teams and large technology investment (e.g., special effects in films, video gaming) are now, thanks to new AI tools, accessible to a wider pool of talent. 

Like many inventions before it, the ripple effect of AI is going to be profound. Business models will change, unleashing — for those who truly understand it — new forms of creativity and economic opportunities.

Launching Vogue in 28 Markets. Albert spent a large part of his career at Condé Nast taking US brands — Vogue, GQ, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveller — and launching them in Asia. The arrival of Vogue China was one of the epochal moments in magazine publishing history but, behind the scenes, it was the result of years of hard work, diligence and cultural sensitivity. Similarly, the opportunities for lifestyle brands in the Middle East now presents enormous opportunities combined with considerations for a local perspective.

Operating in a business that has launched brands in 28 markets, Albert learnt a great deal about what to do and what not to do. He has grappled with the questions: how do you interpret a brand like Vogue and its values in a new culture? What are the sensitivities that you must be alert to? How does internal culture change from one market to another, and how does it stay the same? How do you manage a brand network across multiple markets in the age of social media? In what ways are the next generation of consumers coalescing around international brands and in what ways are they fragmenting?

In a world rendered borderless by the new digital landscape, the task of internationalising a brand is even more delicate and complicated than it used to be. But, with rising education standards across the world, together with increased prosperity, it is one rich with potential.

Perpetual Disruption: The New Rules of Leadership. How does a leader operate in the era of perpetual disruption?

The disruption caused by technology to business continues apace. The lifespans of companies are shrinking. The digital landscape opens up the field to new disruptors, more consumer choice, radically re-imagined supply chains and, more generally, new ways of doing things. 

Leaders must now not only possess the ability to make money for their shareholders, but also grasp a whole range of issues: the geo-political landscape, the emphasis on sustainability, the transformative role of technology, AI, the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and what – exactly – the workplace means for a new generation of employees.

Drawing on his own experiences at Condé Nast, running powerful consumer brands such as Vogue, GQ and Wired – Albert navigated the storm of perpetual disruption in the media landscape. He describes the mindset shift and the new skill-set he had to employ.  He has learned that the rewards for the modern leader go to those with an open mindset, those who can put aside the ‘need to feel right’; those who are externally focused, with the greatest networks, those trained in counter factual thinking who can engender a culture of psychological safety and a spirit of optimism…and those who can imagine the future.

Creativity: An Executive Work-Out. A poll of over 1,500 CEOs in 2010 ranked creativity as the most important leadership quality for success in business.  The World Economic Forum has called creativity “the one skill that will future-proof you for the jobs market.”

How do we ignite creativity within our organisations?  The clues are there in the behaviour of the great entrepreneurs, scientists and artists: How has Jeff Bezos created an idea driven culture? Why is it that the Nobel Prize-winning scientists also tend to be artists? What chain of thought processes led to the invention of the Post-It Note? Why was being fired from Apple one of the best things that ever happened to Steve Jobs?

On a personal level, how do we build our courage to be more imaginative? How do we rediscover the passion for ideas that we felt as children? Based on the research for his new book, The Imagination Muscle, and his leadership position at Condé Nast, Albert asserts that the human imagination is still paramount, that ideas are the source of all growth, fulfilment and success — and, above all, he says, “to imagine is to be alive.”

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