CEO Stories: Journalist Turned CEO
Former BusinessWeek Executive Editor John Byrne on turning his knowledge about B-Schools into a thriving business, and the cost and value of various types of MBAs
FROM PRINT TO DIGITAL
While at BusinessWeek in the ‘80s, John Byrne started a ranking of MBA programs, which ended up becoming one of the magazine’s most popular and valuable franchises–so much so that America Online paid $1 million in 1994 for exclusive rights to publish the content online. That was Byrne’s first inkling of the true value of the information and the potential impact of the Internet.
Byrne also learned about “poets” and “quants”–terminology for B-school students who had liberal arts backgrounds vs. those who had traditional business backgrounds. “Poets&Quants” became the name of his website, now regarded as the leading source of information about business schools, MBAs, and executive education. Though his entrepreneurial streak has proven itself with the success of C-Change Media, a venture that he bootstrapped without borrowing any money or taking on partners, Byrne still sees himself as a journalist at heart.
A SOUND INVESTMENT
While a recent Bloomberg study says 40% of MBA grads at the biggest B schools have an average of $100,000 in debt, Byrne points out that the salaries B-School students command makes the debt less onerous. The top B-Schools give substantial amounts of money in scholarships, and that there are numerous schools where 100 percent of students receive either partial or full scholarships. He also says that paradoxically, the strong economy, not the cost of the degree, is the real reason enrollment in MBA programs is down. Also, the popularity and quality of online programs and specialized degrees have given students tremendous options beyond the traditional MBA. It is, he contends, a “sound investment.”
This Is Capitalism: John Byrne
RH: This is Capitalism and I’m Ray Hoffman. John Byrne and I have known each other for so long, about 35 years, that when we were refer to each other as an old friend, we can really emphasize the word “old” in a nice, needling way. He’s one of the most significant business journalists of his generation, having written a couple of dozen–and then some– cover stories for BusinessWeek, where eventually he became executive editor. He also was editor-in-chief at Fast Company and the author of some major business biographies of such figures as Jack Welch and the whiz kids like Robert McNamara, who reshaped Ford Motor Company and Industrial America after World War II.
But he’s probably best known and most highly regarded as the go-to journalist on all matters relating to MBA programs and graduate business schools. That began at BusinessWeek in 1988 when he compiled the first-ever published ranking of graduate B- school programs. And today, that continues within his second career as an entrepreneur.
He’s chairman and editor-in-chief of Oakland, California-based C-Change Media, which operates five websites, the most famous of which is the number one source for information about MBA programs, Poets&Quants.com. John Byrne will explain that as we go along.
I’d like to focus in a bit on your transition from journalist to journalist-entrepreneur. Twenty years ago, let’s say twenty years ago, when we were both at BusinessWeek and the magazine was thick with content and ads, two hundred pages, no editorial content of any substance available for free on the Internet, twenty years ago, did you assume, as I did, that you would continue to be employed as a professional journalist for a major publication for the rest of your career?
JB: Of course I did. I mean, those were incredible days and our audience was large and people really looked forward to getting the magazine. It was a treasure and people relied on it. And we loved working there because it was all about growth and opportunity and it looked like the sky was the limit. And then came the Internet. [Laughs.]
RH: Yeah. What was the first indication you remember that technology was about to pull the bottom out from under media?
JB: Well, back in 1994, way back then, is when BusinessWeek was actually put online for the first time. And I don’t know if you recall this, but at the time, AOL was really big, that’s America Online. And AOL actually gave BusinessWeek in 1994 a $1 million contract for its content.
RH: Oh, I’d forgotten all about that.
JB: And we syndicated our content to AOL exclusively for that $1 million. And clearly, while you couldn’t see what the ultimate impact of all that would be, there was no doubt that just getting a million dollars from a company that most people had never heard of at the time was a game-changer on many levels. So I think even back then–and that’s when I built out the whole business school community online, in ’94, for BusinessWeek–it was clear that this was something that was going to be a major change in the way we thought about what we create, how we create it, and how our audience interacts with it.
RH: And you had built a kind of brand within BusinessWeek, that very popular B School issue. What prompted or inspired that?
JB: Yes, I do have the dubious distinction of having created the first regularly published ranking of MBA programs in the world, and that was back in 1988. And frankly what started that was, you know, I was the management editor of BusinessWeek at the time, and obviously management education was an important part of the beat. And I loved to write covers. I wrote 58 covers for BusinessWeek in my career there.
And I couldn’t get any school other than Harvard Business School on the cover because they weren’t interested. So one thing I thought, “Well, what if I created the ranking? I’d get the cover every other year,” because the original ranking came out every other year. And also it allowed me to write more broadly about the field of management education and all the different players in it and how they differed from each other. So that was part of it.
And then the other part of it I think which is really important is, like most journalists, you’re a reformer at heart. You want to try to change things for the better. And for years and years, companies were complaining that MBAs were technically skilled and they came out with good quant skills but that their soft skills, their ability to get along with people, to work in teams, to collaborate with others, was challenged. And in fact, many MBAs came out, particularly the elite schools, so arrogant that they assumed they should be CEOs in five years.
Well, schools really never did a whole lot on the soft skill side. And I felt like there needed to be some sort of market where schools that addressed the needs of their clients– basically the clients were the people who hired the students, and the students themselves, because these were discerning people who had already had three to five years of work experience before they went for their graduate degree. They were paying a lot of money for it, and their opinions counted, and yet their opinions never were solicited.
So I thought holding these schools…. To make them accountable to the two primary audiences, the graduates and the people who hire them, was sort of a really interesting insight that would lend itself to a lot of information and create a marketplace so that if companies saw some schools that were doing a better job than others, those schools would be rewarded somehow. And if graduates coming out of the programs felt like they had a lot of teamwork and they were in cultures that were more collaborative and competitive, and the teachers really were concerned about the quality of the teaching and their accessibility to the students, that mattered.
And so I wanted all of that to count. And so on some level it was kind of like holding their feet to the fire and making them more accountable and getting that information out so that there would be a reward system for those schools that did it well and a stick, a punishment, for those who didn’t.
RH: How quickly did it take off? I remember it–just being down the hall from you–that the first couple of B-school issues didn’t make a whole lot of noise but within a couple of years, it seems it became a must-read. Is that how you remember it?
JB: No. You know, right from the start in 1988 it really was…that was our best-selling cover of the year, in 1988. So immediately there were a lot of schools that took issue with it. It became immediately controversial and attracted a tremendous amount of attention.
Now, what happened is as we moved forward, we expanded our coverage tremendously, well beyond just the ranking list. We created profiles, we created the community online, as I said, in ’94. And we produced books, we had guide books that were published by McGraw-Hill, the parent of BusinessWeek. And the guide books covered everything from full-time MBAs to executive MBAs, to executive education, and those guide books became very big sellers at bookstores.
And so this developed into a full franchise. And one of the interesting insights is that… and you will recall that toward the end of my career at BusinessWeek, I was the editor-in-chief of our online operation. And while the average monthly unique who came on our site did only 1.8 page views on average–which is not, incidentally, out of the ordinary for a media company–the person who came in and went to the B-school section did 58 page views per month.
RH: Holy mackerel.
JB: Yeah. [Laughs.] That was an eye-opener because that told you, wow, the only place where we have true community and engagement, deep engagement, was there. Fifty-eight page views per month vs. 1.8 on average. And of course, that 1.8 includes all the people who are coming into the business school site doing 58.
RH: Yes, that’s a road you drive down when you find those numbers.
JB: Uh-huh. Yes, totally. And you know, that was a business for us too because besides the audience, at the peak BusinessWeek was doing $8 million a year in educational advertising alone.
RH: What do you remember most about the first issue, first survey, and what are the biggest differences with what you see now in the surveys you do at Poets&Quants?
JB: So the first big difference was I just wanted to do a sort of a consumer satisfaction survey. And I wanted clean and honest opinions of graduates and the companies that hired them. And I wanted it to be simple and pure. And so when we first surveyed both the companies that hire MBAs and the MBAs themselves that were recent graduates, we didn’t even tell them it was a ranking. And so I think that we got really honest answers to all of our questions.
And now, of course, the problem is when you survey alumni or companies, there’s an inherent bias in the result because they know that the survey they are filling out will impact how their school fares on a ranking. So there’s a lot more cheerleading, people are not as discerning in their opinions. So you’re getting a less honest view of the experience than you did in the early days when people really didn’t know this was going to be used for a major ranking.
The other thing was this was a true labor of love. You know, back when I did it in 1988, there was no Internet. There was no email. So literally, you had to get names and addresses of students in particular, or graduates, and I had to use my computer at home, my Mac, and my printer, and print out the surveys and then fold them up, stick them into envelopes, put the names of the students, [laughs] and their addresses on the envelopes and then lick them and send them out.
And I have to tell you that I organized my entire family to help me do this. And we would lay around at nights in front of the TV watching Yankee games and we would just get them all done. And it probably took a month of nights where literally my kids and my wife and I were on the living room floor watching Yankee games, folding surveys, and licking envelopes to get this thing out. That’s how crazy and passionate I was about the idea and how I felt like, “Boy, this could be really cool.”
RH: And you know that is exactly analogous to how the first J.D. Power surveys went out.
JB: I didn’t know that.
RH: Yes, from Power’s living room with the kids licking envelopes and putting quarters in. You didn’t have to pay anybody though for the results, right?
JB: [Laughing.] No. That was all slave labor here.
RH: You have one up on J.D. Power. Now tell me how Poets&Quants started, and considering what you were trying to do early on in the surveys, taking this beyond just the smart quants who came out of these programs, why didn’t you call it Softies&Quants or Cooperators&Quants? How did it become Poets&Quants?
JB: Good, good question. So when I started covering business school back in the late eighties, and started interviewing a lot of students, and before I did the survey for BusinessWeek, I literally created focus groups. And I had them come to BusinessWeek and sit around a table and ask them “what’s important to you?” to derive the right questions on the survey. And there were 35 questions initially.
But because I was interviewing and interacting with a lot of students, I heard this term–quant and poets. And it was a common term that you knew only if you were in the club; that you were unaware of when you were outside the club. So a poet obviously is a liberal arts undergraduate who comes to school and is kind of deficient on the quant side and challenged by the math, the statistics, and the financial courses that have a lot of quant material in them, but proficient perhaps on the communications side, both written and oral. And the beauty of a good business school is to bring together the poets and quants, and it builds on their strength and minimizes their weaknesses.
So I remembered when I was starting to think about doing my company…this phrase, and I loved it because to someone outside the world of business schools, they may not even know what it means. This is lingo that was popular within the culture of business schools but outside no one really knew. So I had that intriguing element, and yet it had this connection that resonated with people who were in that culture. Then, this was sort of toward the end of my time at BusinessWeek, this is nine years ago, and BusinessWeek, as you will recall, was auctioned off for sale. There were a number of bidders initially, and then it came down to Bloomberg.
And once that happened, and frankly, I decided, you know, if I’m going to ever do anything on my own, it’s got to be now. I’m getting up there in age, and the fact that I went online after I had been working on the magazine as executive editor opened up a whole new world for me. And I looked at what we were doing, how we were doing it, and the importance of engagement with your audience–a very different level of engagement than you would have in a print product–intrigued me. And I knew that there was a market because of the stats that I mentioned earlier.
And I also knew something else: That in my last few years at BusinessWeek, the leadership of the magazine wasn’t exactly enamored of all the coverage that we were doing, in part because they didn’t understand it. Because the other part of the building of this franchise over the years was that BusinessWeek‘s audience was getting older and older, the average age of a reader of the magazine was in their early fifties actually.
And part of what I was doing was part of the strategy to bring us a new generation of readers because the idea was if we can introduce the magazine and its content, even online, to twenty-somethings, they would get turned on by all the other coverage we did, and we’d earn them as readers. But the new generation of editorial leadership at the magazine didn’t understand that and so I saw less and less support for what we were doing. And so I knew then that there was a real opportunity to do this on my own and I left.
RH: Well, let’s go back again to what I began with, the transition from journalist to journalist entrepreneur. How did you do it, how did you build your company and the website?
JB: So originally, our idea was to do a Huffington Post for business. And I was in conversation with the former publisher of Forbes.com and the then-managing editor of Fortune, Andy Serwer, who’s now in charge of Yahoo Finance. And the idea was for the three of us to get together and to build out this company. This was my idea so I approached them, they were interested, we had several meetings.
And I was thinking, “Okay, hey, this would be like Crosby, Stills, Nash of business journalists.” [Laughter.] Right? It would be like this super group. We’d have someone from BusinessWeek, high level, someone from Fortune, and someone from Forbes, the three major business magazines in America, if not the world.
RH: Yes. Perfect.
JB: And we’d build out this business where we’d be the Huff Po of business coverage. There was no Business Insider at the time. And what it would be is we’d build 10 micro sites, meaning sites that cover areas of business that are under-covered or poorly covered, everything from like doing business in India or doing business with China or disruptive entrepreneurship, or the business school area.
And then all the content through these channels would kind of rise up to a mega site, that Huff Po of business, that would cover business more broadly and the economy and it would be heavily reliant on free contributions from consultants and people like that, and professors. But on the other hand, it would also have an editorial staff that would be creating original content.
And I went and talked to a few VCs on my own about the idea and they were very keen on it but they wanted a technological partner in the game, which I totally understood. And my partners were less entrepreneurial, let me put it that way, than I am in terms of wanting to have a certain level of income that they had become used to. So it didn’t happen.
And instead, I came out to California and I started my first website. And what I did is I looked at a design that I liked, I found the web developer who had created that site, I contracted with her and a designer to do the site. While that was all happening, I was working on creating content and enlisting a number of freelancers to help generate more content and directing them so that when the site would go live, it would have a fairly significant amount of journalism on the site.
I immediately started social media channels because back in those days in particular, nine, ten years ago, Google might take six months to a year to recognize your site. Google was already fanatical about competition from social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook so that it immediately indexed those posts.
So the first thing I did is I used the Poets&Quants logo and created channels on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and Facebook in advance of launching the site. And I would kind of like curate existing content there to build audience so that when the site was actually pushed live in August nine years ago, we already had an audience that we’d gathered through social media. And we already had links then from that social media to the site through Google that helped our SEO–search engine optimization.
So that’s how I did it. And I did it all on my own, meaning, you know, I just reached in my pocket. It didn’t cost a whole lot to begin with. The biggest investment was just me cranking away, reporting and writing for several months to launch. And to this day, I have not borrowed a dollar of money, I have not taken a dollar of investment. I own a hundred percent of the company.
And we have five websites now. We have a conference business that’s global. Incidentally, on the main Poets&Quants site, 35% of the traffic comes from outside the United States. And we have 12 full-time employees with health benefits and 401k plans.
RH: And you have a new feature at Poets&Quants, “The Best and Brightest Online MBAs,” really interesting people from various walks of life. Like this year a U.S. Navy pilot from Wisconsin, her same is Cassidi Reese?
JB: Yes, this is a great feature that we do across a number of sites in diplomas. So every year, we identify the best and brightest graduates of full-time MBA programs, online MBA programs, and executive MBA programs. And this is a feature that was thought up by one of our early staffers, Jeff Schmitt, who’s still with us, and is our most productive writer. He’s a senior writer with us now and he is spectacular.
And what I love about this feature is…what we do is we go to the schools and we say, “Okay, nominate two to four people who you think are the best people in your class and who are representatives of the kind of people you’re graduating.” And we have them each fill out a very detailed profile on themselves, you know, what they did before, why they went for an MBA, what their favorite class was, their favorite professor, what they think they really got out of the experience, what their advice is to current applicants to the program, among other personal details that make them alive as real people.
And then we actually judge the nominations, which also need to be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from a faculty member or the director of the program so we know exactly why the person was nominated. And then we pick the best of them and then publish “The Best and Brightest.”
And what’s lovely about this story is, number one, you put a real face on a program and a school and you really see what their motivation was and what their journey has been and hopefully, you’re inspired or motivated by that to think about getting more education or maybe changing your career or whatever. So it’s personal, it’s human, and there’s tremendous information in it for people, not only being inspired and motivated but to figure out “Okay, is this a place for me? Do I identify with this person, what this person is saying about the program, and their personal insights based on the experience that I think could be valuable to me or not?”
Now, one underlying thing here is I’m a big believer in higher education. And I know that there is considerable concern over student debt and considerable concern over employment out of college. But I really believe, particularly in business where employment rates are high and the compensation is relatively high and there’s a lot of scholarship money–incidentally because this is an incredibly competitive field to recruit the best students–that this is a no-brainer investment, that an MBA has an immediate return that’s very significant. And most MBAs are able to pay back whatever debt they have within three to four years max. And the rewards based on the research are just unquestionable.
RH: Even though there’s a brand-new Bloomberg survey that says 40% of the MBA grads at the biggest B schools are averaging $100,000 in debt?
JB: Yes, and even though in that story you have…they quote some graduates that have already paid down their debt and sort of downplay the fact that they borrowed so much money to get their MBAs. And that’s the 40% who borrow, who are that much in debt [garbled] than the 60% who don’t have to in part because they either they had the money to pay for the degree or they got significant scholarship help. I mean there’s tremendous amounts of scholarship money out there.
The problem with that–incidentally this is an interesting issue because people look at the price, the tuition, and the fees, and there’s absolute sticker shock. But what’s less transparent is that very few people are actually paying full price. There are a lot of really good schools that you can go to that basically, one hundred percent of the students are on scholarship, and many of them are on full scholarship. And there’s a number of crazy reasons for that but that’s just a reality.
Here’s a figure that always blows my mind. If you had to guess how much money Harvard Business School gives out to its students, MBA students alone, every year, what do you think it could be? Now let me just tell you, the average class at Harvard is 930 students. It’s a two-year program. So you basically have 1,860 in the program. Fifty percent of them get scholarship help. And Harvard contends, and this is partially true, that they only give money to people who need it, meaning they don’t give scholarships out on the basis of merit, which most schools do. So Harvard, to half of its class–930–is spending $36 million a year on scholarships for its MBAs.
RH: I was going to guess nine million. That’s why I would be on the Poets side.
JB: [Laughs.] There you go. But think about this, Harvard, where most–I’m just going to say, it’s really true–most kids would mortgage their moms to go to Harvard. [Laughter.] And yet, Harvard is giving out $36 million a year to only 930 students in its MBA program. And they’ve set the bar that high. Stanford is the same level of support, not 36, but to individual students, same level of support. And many of the other best schools are all in an arms race to give money out.
Now, the reason for that is because they have a lot of other programs. The MBA is their flagship program. And the higher they can get a rank on that, it reflects on the entire school. So many schools are willing to use an MBA program as a loss leader for their other masters programs and undergraduate programs, their executive education programs and certificates, their online programs because the ranking for the full-time MBA program casts a large shadow across the entire school. So they’re willing to lose money on it.
And this is the thing that most people don’t get because the pricing is not transparent. But even if you did go and you paid full price, and you got a conventional job, meaning you didn’t go into a nonprofit or some social agency or government where the pay is low, you will have no problem paying down whatever you borrow and you’ll be able to do it quickly. Your sign-on bonus alone, if you went into consulting, is $25,000 just to get the job. And the starting pay is 140 at McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte, and many of the other firms. And if you went into finance, the rewards are even higher right off the bat. But think about that.
So most people would go into a program having earned or leaving a job that pays them anywhere between 55 and 85. Eighty-five tends to be the Harvard, Stanford, Wharton people. Some people have jobs that pay them only 40 and if they can land a consulting job, and consulting is the single biggest recruiter of MBAs at all the top 25-50 schools, the starting pay is 140 with a sign-on bonus at 25. So off the bat, you’re doing 165. So even if you went in with an $85,000 salary at Harvard or Stanford, you’re looking at 165 to start. Not so bad.
RH: So we have somewhat of a democratization of advanced business education in the online MBA programs that have come forward. But then the other side of this is, the high sticker price and the way applications fell sharply last year at almost every one of the major schools.
JB: Yes. So you have a number of reasons why the applications were falling and they all make sense. And the number one reason is the strong economy. When the economy is at virtual full employment and a lot of companies are really having difficulty recruiting highly qualified, thoughtful, smart, ambitious people, there’s a lot of opportunity in that economy for smart, ambitious people without the need for a graduate degree. So a strong economy is keeping more people in their jobs for longer periods of time because the growth opportunities for them already exist. So that’s number one.
Number two, the sticker price is frightening off people. It does look like it costs a lot of money. And besides the tuition and fees, of course, there’s the opportunity costs of leaving your job for two years, which you need to add to the total cost of the degree.
The other thing that’s really impacting applications is the decline in international candidates. And that’s occurred largely because of all the anti-immigration rhetoric in America along with greater uncertainty over whether or not you’d be able to get a work visa to work in the United States once you get your MBA here. Because in fact, a lot of people who want to come here for an MBA actually want to work here and set up a life here. And that’s become a less certain.
Even though H-1B visas have not declined in any meaningful way, the documentation to get a visa can be burdensome. And a lot of companies don’t want to do it. So international applicants have cooled off in the U.S. They’re way up in Canada and Europe incidentally because there aren’t as many restrictions or worries about whether or not you’ll be welcome.
So those are the primary reasons. And another reason is alternatives. You know, the online MBA space has become very popular, in part because you can maintain your current job, don’t have to leave it, and still get the degree. And the technology and the mix of these programs is such that they’ve become really good.
This is not your old correspondence kind of course or sitting at a computer and watching videos. Many of the programs have live Internet programs every week. Their faculty have office hours, there are in-residence sessions where you go to campus for a week or several times during the course of the program. There are global immersions where you travel abroad with your classmates and work on projects with companies that require presentations in person. So that the richness of the online environment is significant and has attracted a lot of people who might have otherwise gone to a full-time MBA program.
The other thing that’s happened is the emergence of these specialized masters programs in things that are very hot, like business analytics, the supply chain management, human resources management, healthcare administration. Of course the old finance and accounting still exist. But to the extent that people are choosing these programs and many of them are choosing them earlier as opposed to later, meaning as soon as they get out of undergrad, is also cannibalizing to some degree the two-year, full-time MBA program.
And then the other thing is just young people seem to be less patient. And they want to get stuff done fast. And a two-year MBA program may not be the way to do it. So you do a one-year specialized masters in a field that you’re interested in or you can do a one-year MBA or you can do the online program and stretch it out over time or do it very quickly. And that is more appealing to you as a younger person than getting into a two-year, on- campus program. So those are all the reasons why I think apps are down but the primary reason I think is the strong economy and the price even though they’re not really seeing the actual price.
The discount on a Harvard School degree across all the students is 40%. At a school like Yale, it’s a little over 18;, at most schools it’s about 20. But like I said, there are a number of schools, including Arizona State University or University of Massachusetts or Rice, where almost everybody gets a scholarship and many of them get full scholarships.
RH: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about building a destination website, actually websites in your case, with a lot of content and a lot of ad support like yours?
JB: It’s that the gorilla is in the cage and the gorilla is hungry. And so the gorilla has to be fed bananas everyday. [Laughter.]
RH: A lot of bananas.
JB: You got to get those bananas and you’ve got to put them in the cage and make sure the gorilla is well-fed and happy because it is a content game. There was this phrase early on, which I don’t actually believe in, “content is king.” Content is not king because…and maybe that community is king as Facebook has proven, or curation is king as Yahoo Finance initially proved. But content still is very important and I consider it like the campfire around which you gather an audience that has a conversation that creates community.
But the content has to be new, updated, creative, smart, provide insights that you can’t get anywhere else, have to have real value, and you have to produce it every single day. And you can’t not produce it, because your traffic starts falling. So you have a certain base of traffic because of all the content you’ve created, all the bricks in the wall that you’ve put up that bring a natural audience to your site, but every day you got to have new things that matter to people.
And that’s a job. It’s a real serious concern. And if you’re not passionate about this, if you don’t love what you’re doing, the ideas don’t come, the work that’s required to get the content out every single day and promote it isn’t going to happen. And that’s really the most important thing. It’s not like “you build it and they will come.” You remember that movie.
JB: Build it, no one will come. You have to go where people are, you have to tell them what you have, and it has to be new stuff everyday.
RH: It’s the workaday journalist combined now with the workaday entrepreneur.
JB: Yes, because in addition to being editor-in-chief and writing every single day, as I do, and editing and publishing, I also run a company. And that means I’ve got to look after accounts receivables, I have to look at our budget, I have to figure out how to create more creative solutions for clients that want to recruit students or recruit people to buy loans, or recruit people who need admissions consulting services or test prep. Those are all part of the ecosystem of the business school community that’s really important to us.
And thinking through how you do all that and making it work, and motivating people and keeping them interested, and investing in technology and thinking about, “Okay, where is technology going and what do we have to do to make it work for us instead of against us,” is always a challenge. I mean, right now, we’re in the middle of discussions about investing $50,000 in a customized software platform to do something on our site, just one thing, okay? But the one thing could be an important thing for our future in terms of revenue generation and satisfying our clients.
There’s that whole thing, the whole operations strategy, finance, part of the job, that’s fun because, you know, most of my life I actually covered management and leadership. I didn’t cover business schools. That was a small part of what I did. So for the first time in my life, nine years ago in creating the company, I found myself in a position where now I had a real P&L. Sure, I had people I’d managed before but at BusinessWeek, editorial people are almost…they manage themselves to some degree.
But then when you’re talking about operations, and you’re talking about strategy, you’re talking about sales and marketing and you’re talking about getting stuff done on a daily basis. [Laughs.]
RH: That ain’t BusinessWeek.
JB: That’s a whole other order.
RH: And one more thought John, you and I have been studying at the University of Sinatra for many years. I think each of us has heard every commercial record that Sinatra ever made, 1,100 or 1,200. Now, this particular University, the University of Sinatra, does not offer a graduate business program but are there insights to be learned from a great artist? And I’m wondering if there’s anything you’ve taken from your study, your years of study of Frank Sinatra the performer, that you’ve applied to your second career as an entrepreneur?
JB: Actually, yes. And I’ll tell you what it is. One of the most remarkable things about Sinatra is that he recorded commercially in seven different decades. And ultimately, if you think about your life as working toward a body of work where at the end of the game, you want to make sure that you’ve built as big a mountain as you can, that’s Sinatra.
And I bet you that if Sinatra had any real regrets in his life, it’s when he decided not to record, or when he retired very briefly or when there was a big fallow period where he just didn’t want to go into a recording studio, before he recorded Trilogy. I bet you his biggest regret is not having stayed with it and having been discouraged by the popularity of rock music and alternative rock.
Because when you look at…the biggest contribution is the body of work, how immense it is. And as you know, there’s not one Sinatra because of that body of work in the seven decades of commercial recordings, there are three Sinatras at least. You know, there’s the 1940s, smooth, immature Sinatra with the mellow, beautiful voice. There’s the classic Sinatra of the fifties and sixties that we know and love, and really is the best Sinatra. And then there’s the older Sinatra whose voice is weak but it’s tender and it sings with great experience and great love. And those are the three separate Sinatras.
And over the course of one’s career, when you’re young, when you’re at your peak and when you’re at the end, if you can still be producing at a level that is remarkable, then you’ve created an amazing body of work that makes a life productive and worthwhile.
RH: And you’re creating an amazing body of work on a daily basis with Poets & Quants.
JB: Yes, bananas every day for the gorilla.
RH: John Byrne, C-Change Media is capitalism, journalistic, entrepreneurial capitalism. This is Capitalism, I’m Ray Hoffman.
About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.
About Ray Hoffman: Ray Hoffman, a veteran business journalist, is highly-regarded for his news and analysis features and insightful CEO interviews. Representing BusinessWeek on air for twenty-one years, Mr. Hoffman was the morning business news voice on the ABC Radio Networks from 1995 to 2006. Mr. Hoffman also represented The Wall Street Journal, on air, for eleven years. His daily WCBS CEO Radio feature was recognized by the New York Press Club as best radio business news report in both 2012 and 2015. In this podcast, Mr. Hoffman invites some of America’s most dynamic CEOs to share their stories as business builders and perspectives on free enterprise.