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Straight Talk

The Good Old Days - Part II

I loved my first publishing job and, to prove it, I stayed too long at the fair – thirteen years to be exact.   If you’re ever asked I’m sure you’ve already  said it’s a mistake to do that. 

Although I did get raises and some promotions, staying too long invites a company to believe you’ll never leave for a better opportunity so you find yourself taken for granted.  That happened to me and I was forced to make a change so I did.

I found a job in circulation with another family owned publishing firm located in Times Square.  That was the Times Square before Disney helped make it a family-fun spot.  It was dirty, full of homeless people and considered so unsafe that the company I worked for had a policy stating if an employee worked until 5:30 PM or later, he or she could not walk two blocks to the subway but must take a cab and expense it.  There was also bulletproof glass in the reception area, which I didn’t realize until I’d accepted the job and turned up for work.  Oh well.

When I joined the company, the circulation department was centralized so we all worked in the same area and reported to the VP-Circulation who fast became my all time favorite boss.  He and I were still getting acquainted and I was trying to impress him when a man with whom the company did a great deal of business took us to lunch.  Coming back to the office, I suddenly locked eyes with a very drunk man staggering along 44th street who raised his arm, pointed directly at my face and yelled at the top of his lungs “That could be a whore!”  Great, huh?  I almost fainted.

But, our lunch date didn’t miss a beat.  He took my arm, steered me around the lunatic and said, “Don’t worry, Elaine.  He’s not talking about you, he’s talking about your boss.”  I loved him forever for that one.

And, that’s not the only time he did me a good turn.  I was headed out to lunch with him on another occasion and we were in the elevator heading down from the 40th floor to the lobby when I started to talk about the magazine I worked for.  This time my arm got squeezed pretty hard and Angelo shook his head no so I stopped talking.  When we got out, he said to me “Don’t ever talk in elevators – you don’t know who else is there.” 

That turned out to be very good advice because the company I worked for was located in a building that housed another magazine publisher who owned the biggest competitor to one of our magazines.  I later found myself on the elevator with people from that company who were discussing the fact that our biggest competitor was going to be put up for sale.  When we got to the lobby, I got off the elevator and took the next car back to my office, hunted down the president of the company and told him what I’d heard.  In less than two months, we owned that magazine.  We put our biggest competitor out of business and I was queen for a day.  I still don’t talk in elevators.

While I worked there, the most important magazine the company owned decided to hold an industry event, which it had never done before.  It was basically a trade show and booth space was rented to those who wanted to reach important people in the music business.  The event was three days long and held at a hotel not too far from the office.  A designer was hired to make sure all the signage looked good and the exhibit hall was set up properly.  He managed to start a war with the union members setting up the exhibit hall.  That resulted in two things –

  1. A screaming argument during which literally hundreds of record albums with the magazine’s name on them were thrown out the 9th floor window of the hotel onto Broadway.  This is another reason hotel windows no longer open (See part I for reason #1).
  2. By 3:PM that day both the president and chairman of the company had armed bodyguards because there were many death threats received by both of them.

In the end, everyone survived and believe it or not, the show was a success.

I learned a great deal working there with the other circulation executives and publishers.  In addition to my immediate boss, I also came to know and respect the president of the company.  He had something in short supply in most executives – vision.  He could look ahead and anticipate what was coming.  Eventually this talent became a liability for him.  He wasn’t a member of the family but an outside hire.  Some things needed to change and the owners resisted those changes.

I returned from lunch one day and found the president had packed up his desk and left the building.  I was stunned and couldn’t think what to do next.  Fortunately, I sent him a letter saying how sorry I was that he’d left and I didn’t get to say goodbye and I hoped we’d get to work together again some day.  That turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.  Two months later, I got a call from him offering me a job as Circulation Director of two magazines at his new company.  I was ready for a change after three years.  No more thirteen-year jobs for me!  I enjoyed every minute of working there, but I was off to the next challenge.