Twenty Years and Counting . . .
By Joe Sweeney
I earned a lifetime teaching degree while at Mizzou, and like those icons we feature in this issue, I particularly enjoy the classroom environment and interaction with students. Consider Ingram’s, if you will, Continuing Ed for the business professional. At least that’s been our objective for the 20 years (as of this month!) that Michelle and I have owned and operated Ingram’s.
I’ve heard “When you’re over the hill, you pick up speed.” There seems to be some truth to that. I remember saying as a young adult that I’d like to be able to retire at 55 and I was delusional to think then that responsibilities would slow down in my 50s. I think most will agree with me on this one.
In 20 years of operating Ingram’s, we’ve been very fortunate to become friends with many extraordinary people. Remarkable public servants and folks who own and operate their businesses and who are among the absolute tops in their field. We’ve also seen many people come and go over the years. The best way for us to stay connected, perhaps, may be the same way we offer a vehicle to communicate with so many business leaders today. Through Ingram’s and Ingrams.com.
It’s simply too good a story not to share. We’ve laughed about it for years, but Valentine’s Day wasn’t so much fun back in 1997. “All your really buying is the right, title and interest,” said our adviser. Ingram’s (Corporate Report Kansas City was the previous title) was a commodity sold by Bob and Beth Ingram along with two radio properties. At that time radio stations were selling for 7-times EBITDA and Dallas-based Heritage Media contracted to buy KXTR and KBEA in addition to Ingram’s.
Innocently looking for a job back in Kansas City after launching and operating two magazines in St. Louis, I contacted Heritage Media’s CEO, Paul Fittig, in Dallas. “Good God, NO, we’re not hiring. There are 14 staffers at Ingram’s and the magazine is losing nearly as much as they bill annually. Send me your resume and a sample,” he suggested.
A week later, he called: “Joe, I’m in San Diego and had an opportunity on my flight this morning to review your packet,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me you knew what you were doing?”
He went on to say “I think you should buy Ingram’s. We have 38 radio properties in our portfolio and we would either need to learn the magazine business or put the publication into the hands of someone we believe can run it—Ingram’s should remain locally owned,” Fittig emphasized.
“What could it hurt to put in an offer?” replied my wife, Michelle, who even then seemed fatigued of magazine ownership.
“We’ve solicited bids from five prospective successors and yours was among the lowest bids … but we would like to sell Ingram’s to you,” said Fittig. What I didn’t realize then, Heritage Media Corp. was under contract to sell to Rupert Murdock. The magazine didn’t fit their portfolio, so it’s no surprise they decided to flip the property. From that point forward, I worked with Heritage Media’s controller Eric Van den Branden.
Early the morning of Valentine’s Day 1997, Van den Branden called. “We received a call from Ingram’s this morning,” he said. Who from Ingram’s? I asked. “The entire staff,” he said. “We’ve been given until the end of the day to kill the sale with you, or the staff will start a competing business magazine with one of the other bidders. American Airlines is on strike and I can’t get there before the end of the day,” he said. “As you can imagine, we’re pretty pissed off to be threatened by this dysfunctional staff and I’d really like to come to KC today and fire them all, he said.” I responded by offering to drive from St. Louis and put a face to the rumor and meet with the staff. Custer couldn’t have had a worse day. Four hours of meeting with the staff, who believed they’d been promised to be gifted the magazine, was going nowhere. I vividly remember the last question. “What makes you qualified to be my boss?” said the early twenty-something sales rep. I suppose I’ll need to earn your respect … perhaps as much as you’ll need to earn mine … It was time to go!
Unity among staff is a virtue, perhaps, despite some occasional dysfunction.
By this time, the transaction to buy Ingram’s became more of a sport than an acquisition. Heritage Media was great to work with. We closed the following week, and as threatened, most of the staff left immediately and launched a competing magazine. Six months, and the first million lost, sealed the fate of that publication, Persona.
You might say it wasn’t a conventional sale and we knew we needed to quickly build a team. I’m pleased to report that it only took a few weeks to be rolling with a great team—half of whom remains with us today. For some, Valentine’s Day is a warm and wonderful holiday. For me—my blood still boils a bit but it reminds me of the importance of having a compatible and loyal team. Thankfully, we have a great team and it’s been our pleasure to bring you Ingram’s each month for two decades.
Editor-In-Chief & Publisher