Daniel Salem: Publisher who expanded Condé Nast's operations round the world

Most women fell for him: his office manager’s job was to change the photographs in his flat when needed

Daniel Salem was the man who priced the sale of Condé Nast, publishers of Vogue, to the Newhouse family in 1958-59 and, as head of its international operations, helped it expand in Europe and elsewhere in the decades following. The story goes that Sam Newhouse asked his wife, Mitzi, what she wanted as he was going out shopping and she replied, "I've got everything but if you could get me British Vogue when you're out, dear." He returned not with a copy but the company. Apocryphal or not – and it is in the nature of legend become fact – it does give a flavour of a family company that expanded by instinct, combining arigorous attention to financial detail and returns with a broad-minded appreciation of quality and freedom of its editorial. If the eccentric behaviour of its editors has become famous, so has been the tightness with which the family has kept control to itself and to a few close advisers.

Salem was one of those. A master of figures and of style, he was the product of the cataclysm that befell European Jews in the 1930s. His father, Raphael, to whom he was devoted, was born in Salonika in Greece. While trained in the law and then a banker in Paris, he pursued a lifetime passion for mathematics and an obsession with the Fourier series. His mother, Adriana, who was a driving force with her children but, on his account, a much colder figure, came from one of the wealthiest Jewish families in Italy, Gentili di Giuseppe. When war came, Daniel's father went to London as a financial adviser to Jean Monnet in France's alliance with Britain. At the fall of France, Raphael stayed in London, instructing his wife and three children to steal by night to a safe house in south-west France to catch the last boat out of Bordeaux to Southampton. Raphael's mother, sister and his nephew were all arrested, deported and died in Nazi concentration camps.

From Britain, however, Raphael's reunited family were able to move first to Canada and then the US, where Raphael got a job teaching at MIT. Daniel started at Harvard, one of the youngest undergraduates there ever. At 18, to the shock of his parents, he joined the free French forces, trained in England and took part in the invasion of southern France in 1944.

He joined Condé Nast in 1950, left for a few years to work as a merchant banker with Lazard Frères to return to Condé Nast under their new owners. Appointed head of the International Company in 1964, he expanded the number of titles from an initial five in London and Paris to 30 in seven countries, including Vogues in Italy, Germany and Spain by the time of his retirement in 1991.

Like his father, Salem was a natural mathematician. He could read a balance sheet upside down from the other side of the table, add it up quicker than the accountant and spot a mistake. Bridge and backgammon were his compulsions and he became a notable player and regular at White's and the Portland Club. Words were his other obsession, particularly English words. "Tell me," he once asked an editor, his thick accent relishing the words, "What precisely is the difference between 'crotchety', 'cantankerous' and 'curmudgeonly'?"

A keen golfer, he fared less when attempting angling, catching his companion in Scotland when casting. His greatest passion, however, was music. His father had played the violin, and Daniel was friends with both composers and performers and was a regular at Glyndebourne, Salzburg and other festivals. His taste was conservative but refined; his 75th birthday was celebrated with a concert at the Wigmore Hall, with Mitsuko Uchida playing Schubert. As chairman of the Philharmonia, his 80th was greeted with a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.

Part of his strength lay in the trust he had from the Newhouse family, and in particular Sam's son "Si", who took over the reins in 1975. But it was also because of the ease with which he moved across the Atlantic and the Channel. He was the Englishman's vision of the perfect Frenchman, suave, slim and effortlessly chic. And he repaid the compliment by taking on a Frenchman's sense of what it was to be British. French by birth, American by education, English by domicile and Italian in affection, he was able to mastermind the launch of a succession of new titles, most notably in Italy, by the rare gift of getting the timing right and ensuring the right talent to staff them. If Condé Nast was able to pull off the difficult trick of entering new markets with magazines that retained the cachet of quality, it was in no small part due to his patience and persistence.

And then there was the Gallic charm. Few women failed to succumb to his looks or his manners. Rarely in the media world – uniquely, some might charge - he was a man who genuinely liked women and enjoyed their company as well as their attention. Married to Marie-Pierre, he later came to live with Martine Garel as "maîtresse-en-titre", and was ever prey to the attractions of young women, of whom there was an abundance in Condé Nast. It was the duty of the office manager during his early years of flying in from Paris to change when needed the photographs beside the bed of the chairman's flat. Yet he remained close to his wife throughout, spending a fortnight a year regularly at their house in Varengeville-sur-Mer in Normandy, his much-loved childhood home where his parents were buried.

To the English he might have seemed quintessentially French. In reality he never belonged solely to any one country. His experience of early dislocation lent him a certain reserve as well as a tendency to worry which he kepthidden. In today's world, his mathematical prowess and financial skill might well have made him a top figure in modern-style banking. But he was too human and too educated ever to have been happy with just making money. He was buried with full dignity in Paris (he was made an Officer of the Legion d'Honneur in 1990), his funeral was attended by both his mistress and his wife.

Daniel Laurent Manuel Salem, publisher: born 29 January 1925; married 1950 Marie-Pierre Arachtingi; died 21 April 2012.

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