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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

HIRING,THE BEST PART OF MY JOB, FIRING, THE WORST

During my 20 year stint with Vance Publishing, I hired several dozen people to work in the New York office and had an amazing track record. On the editorial side, several became editors-in-chief. A number of sales people became publishers, and one, Mike Ross, who I trained, promoted, and relocated to Chicago, eventually became president of that firm. He's now retired to Arizona, but we still stay in touch. With experience, interviewing can become an interesting process on either side of the desk. Prior to starting at GAM, I logged more than 20 interviews, but, perhaps, the person interviewing me, felt like the job candidates. I asked  more questions than he did, and they were, often unanswered.

Graphic Arts Monthly's growth rate in 1980 and 1981 was the highest in the company, and I was soon Technical's President Jack Abely "golden boy". Whatever I asked for, I got. When I came to him with a list of new titles I wanted to hire, marketing director, art director and production manager, positions normally in the company's centralized departments, he gave me the go-ahead. During that period, I made two of the best hires of my life. In April, 1981 Jack called me to say that we were folding one of our smaller engineering magazines. "I'd like you to interview an assistant editor. I kind of like her," he said. Beth Hogan arrived in my office 15 minutes later. I could see by her body language, she didn't care one way or another whether I offered her a job. I inquired about her background and found she was studying for her master's degree. She seemed very bright, and began to open up with her personal story. I told her I'd give her a shot, because something about her intrigued me. Within a week, I called her into my office., "I've got good news and bad news," I advised her, adding. "Which do you want first?" "The bad news," Beth answered. "You are the worst assistant I've ever had and your're fired.." I paused for a minute, hoping she would not begin  to cry. "The good news is I'm promoting you to marketing manager and we're giving you a raise." Now the tears did come, as she jumped up and gave me a big hug.

The second interview came a  couple of months later. Jeff Deaver, one of our editors, had decided to go back to school, and we needed a replacement. The first candidate to enter my office was a prematurely grey guy who looked older than he was. He was personable, well-spoken and played a mean trombone, or so he told me. It was one fastest connections I had ever made with a job applicant. After 15 minutes, I asked when he could start. "Immediately," he responded. His name was Peter Johnston, and until I met Katherine O'Brien from American Printer, Peter was the only editor I would allow to edit my copy.  He was unbelievably reliable, and had a good sense of humor. Eventually, Peter did all of our screening on prospective editors and  worked  closely with me on editorial budgets.  To top it all off, Peter was fluent in German, and handy to have at DRUPA. Within a year he was promoted to managing editor. Years later he would tell me that working at GAM while I was there was the best experience of his business life. And I felt the same way about him. He was the best managing editor with whom I have ever worked.

With Peter's help we hired Barbara Garner, Joann Strashun, Debby Toth  Lisa Cross, and Donna Bates to round out our editorial staff. And lest I forget, Peter played a major role in recruiting Leslie Gignilliat, our art director who significantly spruced up the covers and inside designs of  the magazine. Graphic Arts Monthly was truly the most handsome magazine in the printing industry.

On another front, I contacted Jim Wilkens, an ex-Kodak employee, who had joined Printing Industry of America as a liaison with industry magazines. Jim would always answer his phone with the following phrase. "This is Jim and I'm on fire for print." I explained that I wanted to schedule an appointment with Dick Gorelick, now a contributing editor covering marketing. We met and established the PIA/Graphic Arts Monthly Marketing Excellence competition. We needed some capital to properly promote the program and I convinced Harris Corp. to contribute funds for the effort. GAM ran three two page spreads advertising the competition which would be decided after DRUPA in June of 1982. There were three categories, based on number of employees, small (under 50 employees), medium (up to 250) and large. It was the start of something that would grow significantly over the next five years.

In September I headed to Birmingham, England for IPEX. On the recommendation of the organizers I stayed in London, which was not a problem during the week. The train ride was only 45 minutes, but on the weekend, all trains were locals and the ride was up to three hours. Our booth was small and sported an enlarged copy of the September issue cover. I had about a 1000 copies shipped and sparingly displayed them. They were gone in two days. Walking the exhibit halls meant I had to leave the booth to visit with exhibitors. A sign read, "Leave your business card." On my return there dozens spread around the booth. I also met Rob Schweiger, who published Quick Printing Magazine, aimed at smaller shops. He also published a directory. I did a pro forma and showed him how he was just breaking even considering all of the effort needed to produce it. He declined but the next year sold it to Printing Impression. I guess they made him an offer he couldn't refuse. (Friday's blog will cover pre-DRUPA plans and the sale of a very creative idea.)