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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

20 YEARS OF GROWTH AND I GET FIRED

I joined Chicago-based Vance publishing in the summer of 1959, selling advertising space for a hairdressing magazine, now titled "Modern Salon".I was based in New York, and eventually managed the firm's eastern operations,  I climbed the corporate ladder to become a publishing director/vice president. In the 20 years with Vance, my sales territory grew every year. When I became a publisher, I turned around a recently acquired weekly magazine, Paper Trade Journal, losing $600,000 a year into a magazine with a million dollar bottom line. My accomplishments were all positive.  But in 1979 the president, Jack O'Neil, a  good friend, and I had a major disagreement concerning another acquisition and a proposed start-up. I vigorously opposed both and he fired me. (In the next three years, the two project cost the company $8 million). When presidents of other business publishers would ask Jack why I was fired, he'd reply, "It was him or me." It was the first time I had been canned for questioning management decisions, and it would not be the last.

To be honest, l loved the salon and beauty business because it was marketing oriented, but  paper making was a technical industry, requiring advanced degrees in chemistry. It was a commodity business that operated on supply and demand, and little on marketing expertise (My experiences in both of those industries will come in later blogs.) Realizing it was time for a change. I put together a presentation with charts and graphs of my accomplishments over the years, along with some of the weekly columns I had written for the paper industry. It also included letters  of recommendations from chairmen and CEO's of major companies, with whom I had dealt over that period. There were even two letters from presidents of printing companies that produced our publications. One from Dale Hughes of Hughes Printing in East Stroudsburg, PA cited me as the best and toughest negotiator of printing contracts he had ever met.

The presentation was sent to 24 firms  in the Metro New York area. I had at least three interviews a week, and was offered a number of positions, but none of them felt right. About midway through my search, I received a phone call from Jack Abely, the president of Technical Publishing, one of the leading companies producing industry magazines. Talk about a small world. Jack had been a salesman at Reuben H. Donnelley, and I had worked with him 20 years ago. Dun & Bradstreet had acquired RHD's magazine division and had merged it with Technical, a company in Barrington IL.The firm had about 400 people in each of its locations. While waiting to see him, I thumbed through its stable 25 magazines on dsiplay. Many were engineering publications, in which I had no interest. There were only three that appealed to me. One was Graphic Arts Monthly (GAM), edited for the printing industry. It had a healthy page rate and 100,000 circulation.

It was like old home week, and we reminisced about our escapades in the late 1950's, a period that was captured by AMC's "Mad Men" television show. He told me he was promoting the GAM publisher to the head up the Medical Group, which included four magazines edited for doctors practicing in various specialties. I was ready to jump for joy, but he said it would take several weeks to make the decision. At the time Michael, my son, was at Johns Hopkins and Leslie, may daughter was scheduled to enter Tulane. I didn't have much time to wait. I had to find a position by September at the latest.

As a backup I'd mailed six presentations to out of town publishers. One was in Philadelphia, North American Publishing Company (NAPCO). Its owner was Irvin Borowsky. I knew Irv from the publishing associations annual meetings and had occasionally joined he and his wife for dinners. He called, I visited, he interviewed me, and eventually sent me  to take a psychological test at a company in NYC. One of their magazines was a tabloid, Printing Impression. It seemed like a coincidence at the time. A week later he called to ask me to come back  to Philly the following Tuesday. I talked to a couple of people who had worked for NAPCO, and was not impressed by their comments. But, I thought, a job is a job, and we scheduled a meeting.

The next Monday, Jack Abely phoned. "I want you to come in tomorrow," he said authoritatively. When I showed up at his office at 666 Fifth Avenue at 11:00 a.m, we shook hands and he said, "When can you start,?" We hadn't discussed compensation, and I pointed out that fact. "What's fair?' he tossed back quickly. I threw out a figure, and before it left my mouth, he countered "done". I was kicking myself for setting too low a value on my services. He softened the blow by adding, "You'll travel first class, you can join a club, and we'll arrange the lease on a new car." I had none of those perks at Vance. I left his office with one statement, "I want to make sure my compensation grows at the same rate as the bottom line." He nodded yes. I was feeling great when I remembered the date I had made with Irv Borowsky for the next day. I called him to tell him had I  had accepted another offer  and apologized for having to cancel. ."But you  haven't  heard my offer," he said. When I told him I had  made up my mind, he gracefully wished me the best of luck. When I told him I would be the new publisher of Graphic Art Monthly, he shot back, "That's our major competitor!" Perhaps he was kicking himself for not acting more quickly.( I make my first appearance at the Graphic Arts Monthly office in Friday's blog.)