The big ambitions behind Fortune’s 90th anniversary redesign

January 20, 2020, 9:30 AM UTC
A WORK IN PROGRESS: Fortune's layout board for the February 2020 issue. Fortune

A day before this issue of the magazine went to press in mid-January, I went to a hipster workspace in Manhattan to hear Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talk about the future. Naturally, he began by talking about the past. When Nadella joined the company as a 25-year-old computer scientist in 1992, Microsoft’s stated purpose as a corporation was to put “a computer on every desk and in every home,” as founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen famously enshrined it.

Under Gates’ successor as CEO, Steve Ballmer, the mission statement went through a wordy rewrite—one that seemed to lose both its clarity and its real-world ambition. And not long after Nadella took the reins in 2014, the statement got another revise, one that has stuck until now: Microsoft’s mission is “to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.”

“The sense of purpose and mission needs to be something you keep front and center,” Nadella said in his January remarks to a smattering of tech and business reporters. “Of course, you have to reinterpret this for what is a changing world”—an imperative that, it seems, is driving the CEO to rethink what Microsoft’s core aim is today, at the dawn of a new decade.

Indeed, it’s a worthwhile issue for every company and organization to ponder, and Fortune has been doing the same—a self-reflection timed to the start of our 10th decade. Yes, our sprightly magazine has just turned a youthful 90 years old.

Fortune’s inaugural issue in February 1930.

Fortune, as you’ll see with this issue and with our stories on, will continue to lead the business conversation. With the guiding wisdom of history and an unflinching eye to the future, we’ll report and reveal the stories that matter today—and that will matter even more tomorrow. That is the purpose that drives us. With the trusted power to convene and challenge those who are shaping industry and society around the world, Fortune will seek to light the path for global leaders—and give them the tools to make business better. (Fortune CEO Alan Murray, a seasoned editor himself, likes to shorten this to “making business better.”)

It sounds awfully highbrow, I know—and maybe just a bit precious. (Such is the risk when you put things down on paper: Just look back on the sweet sentiments you wrote in your high school yearbook.) But we mean it through and through. And, I’m thrilled to say, we’re investing like crazy in it.

In mid-January, we launched a new (and very fast) and an immersive video hub—which I hope you’ll spend hours exploring. Fortune chief technology officer Jonathan Rivers and his remarkable tech team—in partnership with digital edit leaders Andrew Nusca and Rachel Schallom, video czar Mason Cohn, and video strategist Gabe Boylan—spent months building them. (Coming soon: a new mobile app for iOS and Android.)

All of this, of course, comes with  a quid pro quo. We’re asking our  web readers to let us know who they are. For a while, we’ll continue to make our digital content free to everyone, but a paywall for nonsubscribers is coming soon. And the easiest way around that is to subscribe—which I hope you will do.

To that end, my colleagues and I present this reimagined print magazine as well—the most ambitious redesign in our history. We’ve upgraded the paper stock to showcase the striking design that creative director Peter Herbert has laid out so masterfully with art director Josue Evilla—and offers, in our view, a more generous template to the images that director of photography Mia Diehl and her colleagues have so carefully curated.

Our cover this month, illustrated by Craig & Karl, whose work has been exhibited at museums in Athens, New York, Paris, and Shanghai, is both a look back to Fortune’s many decades of bold cover design and a leap forward. (I can’t tell you how many hours the entire editorial team spent debating which of Craig & Karl’s compelling cover creations to run, so we ultimately opted for two. We hope you’ll mix and match at the newsstand.)

My editorial colleagues—led by deputy editor Brian O’Keefe, senior features editor Matt Heimer, features editor Kristen Bellstrom, the tireless and unflappable senior editors Daniel Bentley and Lee Clifford, and a host of others—have invested an unfathomable amount of time getting each story, large and small, to sing.

At the heart of each new issue you’ll find a deep exploration of a topic that every businessperson ought to care about. For February, we’ve chosen one of the more ineluctable aspects of technology today: artificial intelligence. Careful readers will get a glimpse of where Nadella seems to be leading Microsoft, whether by mission or by manifestation: figuring out new ways to use A.I. to empower customers and his company too.

In all, I might humbly suggest that our 90th anniversary issue embodies not only our new mission statement, but also our original one in 1930. “Fortune’s purpose is to reflect Industrial Life in ink and paper and word and picture as the finest skyscraper reflects it in stone and steel and architecture,” wrote founder Henry Luce. But above all, he said, we’ll make the discoveries of business clear, coherent, and vivid, “so that the reading of it may be one of the keenest pleasures in the life of every subscriber.”

Perhaps “one of the keenest pleasures in life” is too high a bar to hit. But we’ll keep aiming for it.

As always, please let us know what you think.

A version of this article appears in the February 2020 issue of Fortune with the headline “Mission Possible.”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—Inside big tech’s quest for human-level A.I.
—A.I. breakthroughs in natural-language processing are big for business
—Facebook wants better A.I. tools. But superintelligent systems? Not so much.
A.I. in China: TikTok is just the beginning
—A.I. is transforming HR departments. Is that a good thing?
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