Michael Loeb takes over this week as director of SI's circulation department, replacing Lindsay Valk, who becomes chief of the circulation staff at our sister publication PEOPLE. "I've got incredible respect for the job Lindsay did," says Loeb, a member of SI's circ team since 1983. "His are going to be big shoes to fill. [Big indeed—Valk wears a size 12.] One of the good things is that I've been very much involved in setting the direction of the department," says Loeb, 31, son of FORTUNE managing editor Marshall Loeb. "I'm going to try to steer the same course." That course has been a remarkable one. In each of the last six years, the department's staff of 13 has helped SI reach more readers. Currently, nearly three million copies of the magazine are bought every week, through subscriptions and newsstand sales, up from 2.25 million in 1981.
Says Loeb, "We refer to those figures as the Revenge of the Nerds. We're SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S number junkies. Our job entails a lot of marketing but it borders on the financial, too. That's why we're supposed to be SI's nerds—the least athletic department at the magazine."
That is a misconception. Valk, for instance, was—and is—a golf fanatic with a six handicap who lettered in the sport as an undergraduate at Colgate. Hilleary Hoskinson, in charge of Christmas gift subscriptions and insert cards, was an All-Ivy lacrosse defense-man for Dartmouth in 1983, and Loeb himself was a Division III All-America as a 134-pound wrestler at Amherst. He used to grapple in practice with a wrestling aficionado and visiting professor at nearby Mount Holyoke, novelist John Irving. "I'd like to think some of the inspiration for the wrestling scenes in The World According to Garp came from our team," Loeb says.
So what do the nerds do when they're being, well, nerds? They sift through heaps of paper, stacks of computer printouts and mounds of market research, all in the constant effort to identify potential subscribers.
SI sells an average of 128,000 magazines each week on the newsstands, but that number can vary greatly, depending on the cover subject, the importance of the events covered and even where copies of a particular issue are distributed. In 1986 the circulation department had to calculate how many extra magazines should be printed and shipped to Chicago after the Bears won the Super Bowl: Valk ordered an additional 100,000 magazines sent to the Windy City, of which about 60,000 were sold.
Last week, Loeb was doing calculations of a different kind. He realized he was promoted to assistant circulation director on the same day—Aug. 21, 1985—that his first child, Michael, was born. And last week's promotion came exactly 25 days after the birth of his second child, Katharine. "My wife, Gail, and I aren't planning on having any more kids," says Loeb, "so I guess I'll be here a while."