Remembering Pat McGovern, the technology media tycoon you never knew

pat mcgovern

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He was the media tycoon who flew beneath your radar. And yet Pat McGovern, who died last night at the age of 76, is the reason PCWorld—along with hundreds of other technology-oriented websites, publications and events—is here today.

We’re here because Pat believed in the power of technology and the need to educate people about what it meant, and how to use it. In the last 24 hours at PCWorld, we’ve posted breaking stories on new Intel chips and DirectX 12 graphics from Microsoft. We’ve reviewed Toshiba’s Kirabook and six mechanical gaming keyboards. We’ve posted a feature on Excel tips and tricks. If you’ve read and liked any of those stories, then we’ve fulfilled what Pat wanted from the start.

It was always all about the technology for Pat, who started following the industry in 1964 when he founded International Data Corporation, a research firm that remains a leader in its field and is now a subsidiary of our parent company, International Data Group. Pat had already founded trade IT publications, including IDG’s flagship Computerworld, when in 1982 he invested in the fledgling personal computer magazine PC World. Founded by David Bunnell and Cheryl Woodard, it quickly became a leader in covering PCs and everything connected to them. Now called PCWorld (we dropped the space), we celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2013.

From the beginning, Pat McGovern championed an independent editorial voice. Robert Luhn, who joined PC World’s staff shortly after its launch, recalls, “We were given the freedom to report and write and say what was what. I think that’s why people ultimately ended up trusting PC World more than its competitors.”

PCWorld Photograph by Robert Cardin

Through IDG, Pat McGovern funded the fledgling PC World, founded by David Bunnell and Cheryl Woodard, with Andrew Fluegelman as the first Editor in Chief. 

“I always felt that he had my back in terms of editorial matters,” says former Editor-in-Chief Harry McCracken, who abruptly left PC World in 2007 over an editorial dispute with our then-publisher. “When I chose to quit PC World, he called me directly and said I could publish any story I wanted to.” (IDG resolved the dispute, and Harry returned to PC World for another year.)

Steve Fox, who was PCWorld’s Editorial Director until 2012, says, “In the same way everyone talks about Steve Jobs being Apple, for those of us who were at IDG, we understood that in just the same way, Pat McGovern was IDG.”

Pat McGovern built a culture at IDG that had two centers: technology and people. He believed that high-quality publications started with hiring and training the best people and keeping them as happy as possible. This was a tall order in the hard-charging, high-pressure world of journalism, but Pat persisted. Whether it was the signed memos he sent to individuals whose work he had noticed, or his yearly tradition of handing out the holiday bonuses in person, we couldn’t fault his friendly touch.

“In my short time at IDG, I only got a single chance to meet Pat,” says PCWorld Editor-in-Chief Jon Phillips, “but his legend preceded him. I’ve heard ‘Pat stories’ at company meetings, and in training sessions, and even from employees who’ve left the IDG fold. He was basically a founding father of tech media, and the magazines he established in the ‘80s created a blueprint for so much of the tech journalism we still read today. The fact that IDG is a three-pronged effort of tech media, tech research, and tech-focused venture capital says so much about his ambition level. And his fascination with brain research, via all his work with MIT, tells us that this guy’s sense of wonder and intellect ran really, really deep.”

So when we say goodbye to Pat today, we’re not saying goodbye to your standard-issue CEO, who has to be smart, and good at building businesses and making hard decisions, all while maintaining a company’s public face. Pat could do all of that. But he also brought a specific passion for technology to his job, which drove his ambitions for all of IDG’s businesses. And he had a very warm and humane approach, which made him “Uncle Pat” to many of us, even on our hardest and longest days.

We still can’t believe he’s gone. He had always seemed to have boundless energy and enthusiasm, despite a work and travel schedule that would have exhausted any normal person. “He had the vigor that comes from loving what you do and loving your life,” Steve Fox told me, and may we all be so lucky. Thanks for everything, Pat.

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