9 Questions: Jonathan Klein, Getty Images

Jonathan Klein discusses photojournalism, hiring, and the seeds of his success.
Editor, Editors
September 27, 2011

Before entering the world of photography, Jonathan Klein was a leader in the media industry working for Hambros Bank Limited. But when he paired with Mark Getty in 1993, his life changed as he took the photography world by storm and co-founded Getty Images. Now the CEO—listed as one of the "100 Most Important People in Photography" by American Photo in 2005—Klein combines his penchant for running a business with his passion for social responsibility, making Getty the strong force it is today.

Q: What personal trait has been most critical to your success?

A: Determination, focus, warmth, empathy, sense of humor, natural intuition, willingness to learn and improve, genius and modesty.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: The culture that we have created at Getty Images. In my mind, the corporate culture of any company drives not only the work that is produced, but also the happiness and passion of the employees. At the core of our brand lies the drive to inspire [communicators] and content creators by giving them the tools that they need to deliver exciting work of their own.

Q: At what point did you recognize that Getty Images could become the company it is today?

A: We are always focused on the future and the company that we can be in the future. We want that company to be the best place in the world to work, the best possible partner to our customers and to help provide meaningful content to inspire our tens of thousands of artists whose work we are privileged to represent. If our employees have retired and are sitting on their proverbial porch and feel that Getty Images is the best place they ever worked, at that point, we will have become the company that we can be. We are making progress.

Q: What is the toughest decision you've made to date? Do you think you made the right one?

A: Moving our headquarters, center of gravity and focus from where we founded the company [in London] to the U.S. It was tough due to the impact on people, the culture and our focus. It was absolutely the right decision as it gave momentum to our move from analog to digital, helped us get closer to partners and customers and gave us the right environment to create our culture and build on it.

Q: What's your No. 1 hiring tip?

A: It's not just about whether the person has the competency for the role. It's about who the person is, their values, the fit with our culture and their adherence to the number one test at Getty Images for recruitment, retention, promotion, bonuses etc., which are our Leadership Principles. A small tip that I use in practice is to have a meal with the candidate and observe their interactions with others, especially people in the service industry and people less fortunate than themselves.

Q: What's your company's greatest challenge right now?

A: We have faced the same challenges right from the start, which is that our industry is constantly changing and this makes it difficult to predict the future. It means that we need to be flexible, adaptable, embracing of change and always thinking and behaving like a startup disrupter, rather than an as a complacent market leader.

Q: You've said that "imagery has proven to be an astounding political and social force, invoking emotions through one universal language." How have you, and how do you plan to, continue to spread awareness about important issues through photos?

A: We continue to cover the world's events with the highest level of journalistic integrity, whatever the cost, and we are committed to supporting our photojournalists, as they tell these important stories. We will continue to support the intellectual property rights of image creators and we will continue to make our imagery available and easily accessible for nonprofits, so that they can promote their work. We will make sure that we have the best distribution on the planet so that imagery is widely seen, as if you cannot see it, it cannot make an impact.

Q: Where do you do your best thinking?

A: When I am not connected to a communication device—the subway, the bathroom, on a mountain, waiting for or on a plane.

Q: Who has been your greatest mentor?

A: Two people: somebody I have only met once, Nelson Mandela, and my late father.