Dubroff: 20 years in business and the challenges keep coming
When a very small team launched Pacific Coast Business Times in March 2000, there was still a bit of optimism about a new decade and a new century.
But there were clouds on the horizon as we sat in an alcove of our printer down by West Beach and used an ancient Mac to build our first news edition.
The dot.com bust was around the corner and within a few months there were signs the U.S. economy would enter its first recession in nearly a decade. As the Business Times gets ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary of publication, we’ve got plenty on our hands.
The coronavirus pandemic is a serious challenge, the stock market is headed for correction mode and, once again, our economy might be tipping over into recession. But one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that each one of these episodes is a test of resilience — a challenge to be analyzed, solved and met.
As our masthead turns over to Volume 21, here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
When crises hit, slow down and take things one day at a time. As Nobel Laureate Danny Kahneman told me in a recent interview, making quick decisions in a crisis can lead to mistakes. I’m a competitive news person who loves a good scoop and I push our team to be on top of big stories. But as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that our business operations have to be more measured — we have to think about relationships that will be there next month, next year and beyond. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with two publishers, George Wolverton and Linda le Brock, who know how to keep calm and carry on.
Nothing is guaranteed but no crisis lasts forever. At the Business Times, we worked really hard in the summer of 2001 to get our costs under control so we could have a break even operation. A key part was launching our first event, 40 Under 40, in late September and the Sept. 11 attacks happened just as we were going to press. It’s hard to imagine but all air traffic stopped, the stock markets closed and then cratered. But on the Monday of our first 40 under 40 dinner, markets rallied, people came out and the world began what would be a slow return to normal. We were lucky with our timing, but our persistence paid off.
The company will talk to you — listen carefully. Technological changes have reshaped the news industry over the past two decades, which means our team has had to learn new skills and adapt. As an independent small business, we don’t have the resources that large organizations have but we also have the ability to be nimble. I was at a journalism conference in Phoenix when a casual conversation between one of our staff and a New York Times executive gave me a clue about how we could adapt our print subscriptions to add digital access with relative ease. Recently, we’ve been able to leverage social media to raise the visibility of our events and our awards programs. When we’ve had growth spurts, the company has sent strong signals that it was time to add staff or invest in new technology.
The life of an entrepreneur means the next crisis is just around the corner. In early December 2017, I was in Florida celebrating my mom’s 90th birthday when I was awakened by a text from Linda about the onset of the Thomas fire and the need to delay one of our special reports. What followed was a three-month trial by fire and mudslide that upended our operations. I was reminded once again about something that the late Joe Nida, a superb attorney and supporter of entrepreneurs, once told me: “An enterprise is a series of accidents waiting to happen; management’s job is to anticipate as many of them as possible and head them off and cope with the ones you can’t anticipate.”
You have to enjoy your moments — even if just for a moment. In my job I get to meet interesting people. One of them is Dave “J.D.” Power, the founder of J.D. Power & Associates. I was in Westlake Village at their headquarters when they celebrated a major milestone and I remarked to Dave about his tremendous accomplishment. He looked around at the magnificent headquarters, his global empire and beamed with pride. But he quickly reminded me that even a large company has to compete and earn its share of the market.
The past 20 years have proven to be a more turbulent time than anyone could have anticipated at the dawn of the new century. But we’ve come a long way from the days when there were just a few of us working on borrowed computers with the presses at Western Web humming away just one floor below. And we’ve learned important lessons about free enterprise in the 21st century.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at firstname.lastname@example.org.