Put your family-owned newspapers on steroids

By Jerry Bellune

In more than 50 years in newspapering, one discovery has stood the test of time: Family-owned newspapers are more fun to work on than corporate-owned ones. A few people may thrive on the latter. And they are welcome to it.

Corporate-owned businesses of any kind – newspapers in particular –seem hobbled by three practices:

  1. Bureaucratic rules and policies that stifle open communication and risk taking.
  2. Management styles that reflect me values than leadership's we-values.
  3. Corporate chieftains who line their pockets and use the economy to lay off those who do the real work.

In contrast, families who own newspapers show these three outstanding values:

  1. A recognition and respect for those who do the real work.
  2. An openness to communication, "bad news" truth telling and recommendations from all levels.
  3. Leadership by example rather than management by intimidation.

These kinds of leaders roll up their sleeves and join their fellow workers. They don't create or assign jobs they would be unwilling to perform themselves. They are approachable and responsive to all questions and suggestions. They put the interests of the team, the company, its clients and the mission ahead of their own.


In Ken Iverson's refreshingly candid book, "Plain Talk," he outlines what you can call a family-owner style. Iverson is the chief executive officer of Nucor Corp., one of the largest steel companies in our country.

Nucor is no family business. But Iverson's values and leadership have made it operate like one. For example, Iverson and his Nucor executives practice pain sharing. No one at Nucor has ever been laid-off under his leadership. Instead, workweeks for everyone have been reduced when product demand dropped. Pay levels for everyone have been cut when necessary.

In tight times of low steel demand and sales: Nucor workers lost up to 25 percent of their wages.

Managers' pay was cut up to 40 per cent.

Iverson cut his own pay by 75 percent.

When it was reported that he was the lowest paid chief executive officer in the Fortune 500, he was not ashamed. The company had not produced greater sales or more steel.

Why should he be paid more?

Yet, as he questions in "Plain Talk," why should the chief executive officer of Bethlehem Steel get a 37 percent pay raise when: His company lost $309 million the same year?
Its stock value dropped 36 percent per share and its net income dropped 58 percent?


I've worked for two of the largest newspaper publishing corporations in America. When I first went to work with each of them, they were operated more like family businesses.

Top management was accessible and open to new ideas.

They walked the press, composing and news room floors and genuinely seemed to care.

They promoted quality, professionalism and growth at all levels of the company .

Years later, I was horrified to see what had happened to both of these companies because of two factors: The leadership styles of the two chief executive officers who had taken over both companies.

The bureaucratic yes-men and toadies they had gathered around them to do their bidding.

The lessons they taught were what not to do in any circumstance, particularly under great stress. That convinced me that one of the oldest leadership principles of all –organizations reflect the values and practices of those at the top.

If a selfish management takes care of only itself, that is going to be reflected down through the organization.

One of the top company newspapers that hired me dealt with 14 labor unions.  Those unions gave the little guys on the line their own muscle at the bargaining table. The company suffered three union strikes in the two years I worked there.

If top management is willing to walk the talk and share the pain, the result is entirely different.

Nucor workers are paid 66 percent to 75 percent more than other workers in the steel industry.  Yet Nucor has the lowest labor cost per ton of steel produced in the industry . And they do it with low administrative overhead.


Nucor pursues two best practices: It tracks and manages costs more closely than just about any other organization you can name.

It accepts that roughly half their investments in new ideas and technologies will produce new results.

In other words, it knows where its money goes but is unafraid to risk new ideas and technologies.

Many small newspaper owners run their operations by the seats of their pants. They are so busy in the day to day operations of the business, that they don't track costs and revenues.

If you are one of those owners, here are three quick suggestions for you:

  1. Work with your accountant to set up a system that allows you to check costs and revenues weekly.
  2. Bring your key people together to find ways to cut costs and increase revenues.
  3. Order either of my two books on increasing revenues and cost cut ting without cutting your throat "Accelerate Your Profit Builders: More than 79 Strategies to Make You Millions of Dollars." And "Terminate Your Profit Killers: More than 79 Strategies to Get You Outta the Red."

These field-tested strategies increased our newspaper publishing company net profits 171.3 percent last month. To order, go to http://www.JerryBellune.comwww.JerryBellune.com.

© The Bellune Co. Inc.

Jerry Bellune and his family operate their own book and newspaper publishing companies. For details about his weekly Advertising and Marketing Letter, e-mail him at Jerry@JerryBellune.com.

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