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Friday, March 8, 2013

THE TAMING OF THE SHREWISH PUBLISHER

Okay, this is the last headline this week based on Billy Shakespeare's 37 plays. Though the word "shrewish" rhymes with Jewish, the long tenured publisher of Fire Engineering was not. And though the word often refers to a female, again, he was not. Synonyms for shrewish include ill-tempered and intractable, which might be used to describe him. As a kid, I had a lazy eye which really came in handy during the summer of 1983. One eye watched the progress of Graphic Arts Monthly, and the other oversaw the operations of the fire magazine. After Technical Publishing's president "suggested" (it was more of a demand) that I include that publication as one of my responsibilities, I began to interview the staff of five. The publisher had been coasting along for years, the editor had no experience as a firefighter, and the  bottom line was awash in fire engine red ink. It was the second time I had been gifted with a property that was in deep trouble. The first time was in 1975 when Vance Publishing acquired Paper Trade Journal. There was no decision to make. Both the publisher and the editor had to be replaced.

It wasn't a question of cutting costs, it was more a challenge of growing revenues. And at the same time we had to, find two people to take over the management of the magazine. I couldn't be in two places at once.. Fire Engineering had about 30,000  subscribers who were paying only $12.95 a year. Since most were ordered by the towns and cities in which the departments were located, we raised the rate to $30. Ad rates were also increased. In investigating the market, I and found a young man,, who was 27 and a firefighter. When he wasn't fighting fires, he published a newspaper covering the Long Island, New York fire community.. His name was Glen Usdin,. I knew from the minute he walked into my office, he was my new publisher. Not only was he a firefighter, but he was also a photographer and the magazine carried a good number of  roaring blazes throughout the publication. We bought his newspaper for a modest sum, sort of a bonus for hiring on. Once on board he found  a  retired fire captain from New York, Tom Brennan, about 45 years old. The Jew and the Irishman made one hell of a team. After the first year on the job, they had produced a bottom line profit. More on Fire Engineering's progress will appear in Monday's post. Several public relations and advertising agency personnel learned of my new challenge and one even present me a kid's fire helmet which I wore at a subsequent printing press conference.

Prior to leaving for Graph Expo in Chicago, I received a letter from Dun & Bradstreet's CEO, Charlie Moritz. He congratulated me on an outstanding effort as I completed my first four year anniversary with the company, and sent me an IBM computer to celebrate the occasion .Iit went right to Diane Ruggeri's office. As I've mentioned before, I had a phobia about new technology, but she learned how to operate it quickly. It was amazing how much it improved our market share reports, as well as our record keeping.

The biggest news at Graph Expo came at a Harris Graphics press conference. President of the largest web offset press manufacturer, Jack Pruitt, announced that the company was initiating an LBO and separating itself from Harris Corporation, a major electronics publicly traded firm. Ten executives were involved, including Jack, Lloyd Butler, Dick Holiday and Brendan O'Donnell. It was major news. During the question and answer session, a German reporter inquired, "What's an LBO?" Within a year it became an oft spoken financial term, but in 1983 few knew what it was. Jack must of seen me grimace at the question, and responded, "Dick, why don't you explain it?"  I stood up and described a leveraqed buyout and its intricacies. When I sat down, Jack led the room in a round of applause. Harris Graphics, as it was known, went public and eventually sold its assets to Germany-based Heidelberger Druckmaschinen.

Graph Expo also provided one of my favorite stories which Dr. Joe Webb jumped the gun on recently.. On Monday Royal Zenith hosted a breakfast for press and customers to celebrate the retirement of it chairman, Jerry Reinitz. Jerry was about 70, but that didn't stop him from hitting on women half his age. I vowed then that I'd never mimic him as an old wolf, but I just can't help myself. There's something in the thrill of the chase. In any event Vince Mallardi and his young wife, Avril, an Israeli woman, sat with us, and Jerry charmed her with compliments for more than an hour. Monday evenings at Graph Expo  usually featured NAPL's Soderstrom Society's dinner. I was sitting with Dick Gorelicl and several others when the couple spotted the two empty seats at our table. Avril commented on how charming Mr. "Emritz" was at the morning's retirement party. I ask  "Who?"  She responded, "You know...Chairman." I had no idea who she was referring to until something clicked in my mind. Jerry was wearing a badge with the words "Chairman Emeritus" emblazoned across the bottom. When I explained her error, our whole table cracked up.