For Arizona Highways Publisher All Roads Lead to South Phoenix
Where does Win Holden, publisher of Arizona Highways magazine, go on vacation?
“We have a timeshare in Carlsbad, near San Diego,” he said, “and a home in Munds Park,” which is a small community in northern Arizona. “That’s really where we love to go.”
With his characteristic good-spirited, self-deprecating sense of humor, Holden, a South Mountain District resident, asks if there isn’t a more interesting person to feature in a community profile. “Not even a ground squirrel?” he joked.
But Holden’s career is high-profile—Arizona Highways is one of the most significant tourism ambassadors for the state worldwide. The magazine also has a long and distinguished history. One doesn’t have to be a photography buff to recognize the names of contributors whose images of Arizona’s desertscapes, mountainsides, and riverbeds have graced its pages: photographers such as Ansel Adams and three generations of the Muench family come to mind.
Launched in 1925, today the magazine boasts one million readers with subscribers in all 50 states and 120 countries. And though owned by the state government as a division of the Department of Transportation, the magazine receives no state funding, nor does it generate revenue from advertising—which is how most magazines make money. Rather, Arizona Highways sustains itself through subscription and product sales.
The publisher is “essentially the CEO,” Holden said, overseeing the entire operation, including the additional publication of books and calendars, and the operations of two gift shops, one at Sky Harbor International Airport, and the other at the magazine’s west Phoenix office.
To keep a handle on all of his responsibility, Holden keeps a little sign on his desk that simply reads: “Don’t screw it up.”
Friends and fellow community leaders describe him as “passionate,” “well-spoken,” a “very smart man,” and someone who “rolls his sleeves up and makes it happen.” Almost universally, Holden is known for his civic involvement and commitment to the betterment of the Valley.
“Win has never met a stranger and he almost never says ‘no’ when you ask him to get involved in a community project,” said Valerie Manning, former president and chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.
“He has a real ability to let his niceness come out in his personality,” said Bill Miller, the former general manager of KTVK Channel 3, who hired Holden as publisher of Phoenix magazine, prior to taking the helm at Arizona Highways in 2000. “I’ve known very few people who have given to the community more than he has—and that’s no snow job. I think we’ve all benefited from it.”
With a journalism degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Holden set out to land a newspaper reporting job, but the salary offers were dismal—$3,200 a year. His parents said, it doesn’t matter what you do at this point: just get a job.
So Holden wound up working in the toy, holiday and bargain department at Montgomery Ward. The silver lining was that he met his wife, Carolyn, who today is a registered nurse, and he kept his eye out for greater opportunities, eventually landing a job in advertising after outfitting a Chicago ad agency with its Christmas trees and holiday decor.
Holden and his young family moved to Arizona on a lark—he had been offered a job marketing Dial Corp. consumer products. He remembers stepping off the plane in August 1980: “I thought I had been hit in the head with a sledge hammer,” he said. “But it was infectious. It was hard not to love it.”
After their three children were almost grown, the Holdens, who lived in Mesa for 18 years, decided to look for a place closer to town and with a view. At the time, Win was serving on the Phoenix Memorial Hospital board along with Cody Williams, then a Phoenix council member representing District 8. Williams enticed him to look into South Phoenix.
“Cody’s a savvy politician, I know,” Holden said. “But I thought, South Phoenix, are you crazy?” But as he promised, he and his wife toured the Raven at South Mountain, fell in love with the area, and moved the day after their youngest daughter graduated from high school.
“And I’ll tell you what,” he said, “we love it. It is absolutely perfect and I’m astounded that it took this long to be discovered.”