One of my old bosses died on Saturday. He was world-famous, and had thousands of employees. When I worked for him (for over five years) I was surely one of the least of those employees. He was a man who consorted with Presidents, and yet he often gave me his time and attention.
His name was Arthur Ochs (“Punch”) Sulzberger and he was the publisher of The New York Times. He was also the Chairman of the The New York Times Company, which is where I worked from 1980 to 1986.
The Times Company owned a whole bunch of properties, mostly because of Punch Sulzberger’s vision. They owned 6–7 TV stations, the classical radio station WQXR, Golf Digest magazine, and another dozen (more?) regional newspapers, mostly in the south.
I was a reporter, then an editor, then the publisher (!) of one of those newspapers, the smallest and the newest, The Golden Gate Eagle, near Naples, Florida.
I went to quarterly publisher’s meetings at the Ritz-Carlton in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. It was a series of eye-opening lessons in business for a then-32-year-old with a background in journalism. I got my “MBA” right there. I won’t try to recount all that I learned, but I do want to say that Punch Sulzberger was always kind to me and always — astoundingly — interested in me. I was at a crossroads. Was I going to continue in journalism with ambitions of being a reporter or editor at The New York Times? Or was I going to continue as a publisher and devote myself to business? Punch (I feel very odd calling him that. I want to say Mr. Sulzberger, because that’s how I thought of him, but he always insisted I call him Punch) did not try to push me one way or the other. He flew me to New York to interview for the news side. The then-managing editor seemed bemused. He recognized my abilities as a general assignment reporter, a police beat reporter, but told me “We haven’t hired anyone around here in years that wasn’t a rocket scientist (literally) or didn’t have a PhD in economics or wasn’t a specialist of some kind.”
I chose the business side (as I think Punch had hoped) and started on the path that brought me to where I am today, as a business-owner. Punch was always interested in me and what I was doing, was always supportive of the youngest member of his management team. He was a great man with a common touch, and I have never forgotten.
Which brings me to the marketing lesson (and business lesson) that I learned from him.
On the day he left my office, with me newly installed as a publisher in the The New York Times Company family of publications, he left a piece of paper on my desk with big block letters on it — no note, no signature. It said:
REVENUES — DRIVE
PEOPLE — TAKE CARE OF
Two imperatives I try to follow to this day.