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Patrick McGovern, 76; billionaire started computer magazine empire

Patrick J. McGovern launched Computerworld, the first publication for IDG, in 1967.

Patrick J. McGovern, the founder of Boston-based International Data Group and trailblazer in the promotion and coverage of the computer industry, died Wednesday, leaving behind a media and research empire that has survived through decades of rapid reinvention. He was 76.

IDG today owns 180 print titles with global circulation of 5.9 million and produces 700 events annually in 66 countries. It had revenue of $3.55 billion last year, and McGovern was a billionaire several times over.

After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959 with a degree in biophysics, McGovern founded International Data Corp. in 1964 to provide statistics on information technology markets, then still in the early days of the computer industry. The research arm remains among the best-known such firms in the United States, while the parent company, IDG, is a colossus with more than 13,000 employees worldwide.

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Patrick J. McGovernJustin Knight

In 1967, McGovern launched Computerworld, the first publication for IDG and an early example of a niche tech publication. The magazine is still produced.

As the computer industry blossomed in the 1980s, “Computerworld was the bible” for the industry, said George Colony, chief executive of Forrester Research. Computerworld became indispensable by broadly covering industry trends and product news on the likes of IBM and Microsoft, he said.

“We all read it the moment it came out,” Colony said. “It was the tribal fire of tech.”

IDG replicated the Computerworld model as new trends in technology emerged over the years, launching publications that included PCWorld in 1983 and Macworld, which debuted the same week as the Macintosh computer in 1984.

Even today as so much journalism and particularly tech-industry information has moved online, many IDG publications remain widely read, said Doug Banks, an associate vice president at the University of Massachusetts and former publisher of the local trade publication Mass High Tech.

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“The brands that IDG created are still household names among technology business people,” Banks said.

IDG sought to distinguish itself from other trade publications by enforcing a strict separation between the advertising sales and editorial sides of its business, said Robert Metcalfe, a technology industry pioneer who served as publisher of IDG’s InfoWorld publication during the 1990s. Per McGovern’s order, Metcalfe said he was not allowed to visit the editorial floor of InfoWorld’s San Mateo, Calif., building while serving as publisher.

When a column by Metcalfe angered executives at tech giant Hewlett-Packard, to the point that some threatened to suspend HP’s advertising from all IDG publications, Metcalfe got a call from McGovern: “Great column. They’ll be back.” (The prediction came true days later, Metcalfe said.)

Meanwhile IDG became one of the first Western companies to do business in China after the end of the Cultural Revolution when it launched Computerworld China in 1980. Companies wishing to publish in China in those early years typically had to first connect with McGovern, Colony said.

IDG has continued to diversify in the age of the Internet and mobile technology, with 460 websites and 200 apps introduced to date, according to the company.

McGovern directed some of his wealth into philanthropy. In 2000, he and his wife, Lore Harp McGovern, made a $350 million gift to MIT that led to the creation of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

McGovern, who had residences in New Hampshire and California, died at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. The cause was not disclosed.

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IDG said Thursday it will remain a privately held company and will be overseen by its current board of directors. Walter Boyd, previously IDG president, has been newly elected as board chairman. IDG chief financial officer, Ted Bloom, has been named president and will continue as CFO.


Kyle Alspach can be reached at kyle.alspach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleAlspach and on betaboston.com.