Katharine Graham Leadership
Katharine Graham (1917-2001)
American owner (pictured right) of the Washington Post during its investigation of the Watergate
scandal that led to president Richard Nixon’s resignation (made into a film, All the president’s Men).
Nixon had authorized the break-in of the Watergate hotel in Washington during the Democratic Party
Why was she a great leader?
1. Courage and determination
Despite the shock of her husband, Philip’s, suicide in 1963, she took over control of the
She risked prosecution over her publication of Watergate, despite her natural insecurity and fearfulness.
When she took it over, the Washington Post was only an undistinguished regional newspaper.
But she wanted it to become internationally recognized like the New York Times, bringing “readers
the information they need in a democratic society”.
A vital step in achieving this aim was her courageous publication of the Pentagon
Papers in 1971 that revealed government dishonesty over the Vietnam War (pictured right at the time
with her editor, Ben Bradlee).
3. Pioneer for women’s rights
She gradually gained confidence and authority after overcoming initial sexist opposition from
many of her colleagues.
In a male dominated business world, she was the only female boss in publishing and became a supporter of the
fight for women’s rights, promoting sex equality at the Washington Post.
4. Great people
She hired a great editor, Ben Bradlee and talented journalists like Bob
Woodward and Carl Bernstein (pictured right together during Watergate), who
uncovered the Watergate story.
Dick Simmons, president of the Washington Post 1981-91 was also a great help to her.
But the greatest influences on her life were her father, husband and close friend, Warren Buffett (pictured right below).
Before she joined the Washington Post, she had been a full-time wife and mother and had little business
But she learned gradually (and sometimes painfully), relying on her great employees and
listening to their advice.
6. Integrity and purpose
People loved and respected her because she was decent and did what she thought was right.
Her aim was to make the Washington Post a world-class quality newspaper based on her journalistic values of
public service, balance and fairness.She evauated any reporting with three questions:
- how could we have done it better?
She fought for moral values and freedom of the press against a hostile government. Her honesty was illustrated
by her candid discussion of her husband’s mental illness in her autobiography.
She was born into a wealthy family, and she inherited the Washington Post from her father, who bought it in
She could be tough as well as kind, as she showed during:
- a union strike by printers in 1975 (using non-union labour to defeat it)
- her battles with the government.
- her harsh criticism of any under-performers.
Key quote on women in
Power has no sex.
If one is rich and one’s a woman, one can be quite misunderstood.
Key quote on business
It's a pretty hairy existence, and nobody has it made. The minute you
think do, you don't
Key quote on
To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?
Key quote on age
No one can avoid ageing, but ageing productively is something else.
quote on marriage
When marriage works - and it does take a lot of work
- it's the best way to live.
Key quotes on
A mistake is simply another way of doing things.
Some questions don’t have answers which is a terribly difficult lesson to learn.