Media Leadership: 17 Years of Learnings & Yearnings

Dr. Relly Nadler:
 Today we are excited to have Henry Dubroff. We are going to be talking about media leadership. For 17 years he has been the founder of Pacific Coast Business Times. It’s a weekly business journal on the central coast of California. It’s the dominant financial news source in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties.

The Business Times has won multiple awards from the Los Angeles Press Club and it a 5-time winner of Society of American Business Editors and Writers Best in Business Competition.

Dubroff provides daily commentaries for a local radio station and National Public Radio, he writes Op-Eds on economic issues for the Sunday Denver Post. He was the US Small Business Administration Business Journalist of the Year for greater Los Angeles and the 2013 winner of the California Coast Venture Forums Entrepreneur Spirit Award.

In 2016 he was named a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

We have media leader here who basically covers businesses, covers organizations, does a lot of interviews with leaders, but then also runs his own organization and is the founder.

Henry is the emotional thermostat for the Pac Biz Times here on the Central Coast. Henry, welcome to the show.

Hendry Dubroff: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Who have been some of the folks that have most influenced you? You are a business leader, editor, founder of the paper. Who has influenced you?

Henry Dubroff: Well I think there are a couple of things. In my professional journalism life, there’s one leader that stands out. He’s no longer with us he was the editor of the Denver Post, a guy named Gil Spencer who was an editor right out of central casting with a shock of grey hair and tall, avuncular and crazy as a loon, but absolutely brilliant as a writer.

Gil came and really turned the Denver Post from a failing organization into a really robust, competitor in a difficult time. I really admired him.

As a business leader, you know we had a publisher at the Denver Post, a Canadian named Don Hunt who really inspired some of my entrepreneurial efforts because he had actually founded a news organization in Canada back in the 80s.

Also, several people in the Santa Barbara / Central Coast area including a gentleman named Mike Towbes who passed away in May, who had a real keen sense of how to do business in a local market.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So, when we talk about great leaders and who have influenced us, we all know that regardless of our experiences and where we are in life, Henry, we’ve always had to overcome some challenges. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what are some of the biggest challenges in moving from a team leader to a business owner, that you have experienced and that you have overcome.

Henry Dubroff: Well, I think the biggest challenge, obviously, is just having the full weight of the business side of the company on your shoulders and worrying about things like financial controls and stuff like that. That can really overwhelm you. Or if you ignore it, it can really sink you.

I think part of the biggest challenge is to just remember that whole emotional intelligence zeitgeist, whereas a team leader you know that your job is to make sure that your people are happy and energized and doing their job. As a business owner, it’s the same thing. If the people are happy and energized and doing their jobs, then the organization can move forward.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So, Henry, you wear so many hats there. I read your weekly article. You actually founded the business, and then like you are saying you are a leader around to keep key people motivated.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Henry, let’s get back to our conversation about leadership, what it’s like to be a business owner, an entrepreneur, and leading teams and bringing media information to us in multiple ways. Let me ask you this question. We talk about leadership, we talk about emotional intelligence, we have talked a little bit about challenges. You often write about moments of truth for leaders and leadership moments. Can you give us some examples of these and include some, perhaps, from your own experiences.

Henry Dubroff: I’m happy to do it Cathy. I think sometimes there are small moments and sometimes there are big moments. For me, a small moment was: I had been President of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, I had left a corporate job at The Denver Post for another corporate job running as editor of the Denver Business Journal. Our company had been sold and I had done really well but I felt like I had gone about as far as I could go. I took a trip to visit some friends up in the Santa Barbara / Ventura area and I stopped for a cup of coffee. It was a bookstore and I wandered in and I saw something called a Thomas Guide, a book of maps of the 3-county area. I kind of said to myself, well, I can go back to Denver and go back and continue to do my job, or if I buy this book I’ll have a good window—of course this was before GPS and Google Maps and all that other stuff—but I said I could do this and go back to Denver and I can really study the area because I think there might be an opportunity for creating a business publication for the central coast.

Guess what? I bought the book of maps and within six months I had some raised some equity capital, quit my job and arrived in the Ventura / Santa Barbara / San Luis Obispo area with a checkbook, a business plan, and a Thomas Guide, and the rest is history.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Henry, what year was that?

Henry Dubroff: That was in 1998-99.

Dr. Relly Nadler: What were the moments of courage? We’re talking a little bit about moments of truth. I mean, that’s huge.

Henry Dubroff: If I do it, I do it, and if I don’t, then I just go back and it becomes a dream. A path not taken. I think a lot of us experience that in our lives and one of the things about emotional intelligence is you have to have the consciousness to know when a moment like that arrives. Obviously, for journalists and news organizations, we are covering elections, we’re covering tragedies like what we’ve experienced this fall in America, literally, from one end of the country to the other. Those are obvious places where you step up or you don’t.

In entrepreneurship, I think a lot of times, I think it’s something you don’t recognize as an opportunity unless you are really looking for it.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know it’s funny that you say that, Henry, because in my experience working with a lot of entrepreneurs globally, I think there is a distinguishing characteristic as we talk about what leadership ingredients do you think prepare a leader for the moment of truth. I believe, and I want your opinion on this, entrepreneurs, and Relly I’m sure you have seen this, have a bit of a seventh sense about where business is going or where an industry is going. What you experienced yourself is proof positive.

Some of us work in a direction that others don’t see and it’s because we haven’t been intuitive pattern aggregator. We have a capacity for looking at information in a different way, almost like our friend Malcolm Gladwell would espouse. Can you talk to me a little bit about that and what your thoughts are on that?

Henry Dubroff: Well, I think it’s very true. If you look at Bill Gates and his vision for a computer on everybody’s desktop, or maybe not so much in everybody’s pocket like Steve Jobs later on. The sense of a need for an operating system; that’s a huge breakthrough. Certainly, if you think about Zuckerberg and the early days of Facebook, anybody who is going to innovate or be an entrepreneur has to see the world a little bit differently.

We have had some of those moments of truth at the Business Times. As I said, sometimes they are just really small things but they take courage, leadership, willingness to break the mold. Have to give a little shout out to my wife.

I was starting the Business Times and was living in a small guest house and not really sure how to start and a little bit paranoid about how to recruit talent, which is a big challenge, and she said, well, why don’t you just go over to UC Santa Barbara and put up a flyer in the student newspaper, because I didn’t want to buy ads in a newspaper and telegraph what I was up to.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s so funny. Henry, as you are talking I can’t help but giggle because I saw a sign recently that said, “Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.”

Henry Dubroff: That’s exactly it. She was definitely rolling her eyes and we could talk a little bit more about some of the women entrepreneurs and women on our team who have been just absolutely so essential.

There was this talented young woman who was in a fight—she was the managing editor of the Daily Nexus at UC Santa Barbara and she got into a fight with the editor the next Monday. I put the flyer up on a Saturday and Gretchen was walking out and quitting in a huff and walking out of the newsroom and she saw my flyer and tore it off the wall. She is now a professor at Cal State Northridge teaching business journalism. Some of our best employees come from Gretchen. Her husband is still part of our team.

You never know when an act of independence is going to pay off.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: And what I would also call that, and a good example Relly of a positive enforcement from a negative behavior; frustration aggression has its high points.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Here’s a kind of follow up question for you because I think we are moving into some of the leadership ingredients. Again, thanks for sharing your personal story because it highlights you. One, I think is listening to yourself. You highlighted the idea of self-awareness. How do you listen to yourself? Could you make a comment about that? But then say I can do this or I’m going to do this. But then, I think for many people, they may have a great idea and it stays as a great idea. How do you deal with others because I’m sure you had plenty of people in your life say, “what? What are you doing that for?” “Why are you leaving your job?” So, there is an internal conversation and then there is the external conversation. Maybe you could talk about how you negotiate that in these kinds of moments of truth.

Henry Dubroff: Right. I would mention a couple of three things. First of all, listening is really an important skill. I know I talk a lot. I talk a lot at work. I like to describe my day as 45 minutes of writing and 7 ½ hours of talking. But, I really do think there is something to be said for listening to the company. You really have to listen to what the company is telling you and really try and understand in the space between the words, what people are saying and what the internal messages are.

I learned that from a very wise venture capitalist who just said hey, the most important thing you can do as an entrepreneur is to just listen to the company. What is it telling you? Is there enough future revenue booked? Is the news team energized and going at their work? There are a lot of things you have got to juggle as an entrepreneur and you got to learn how to juggle them all.

Another thing that I think is really important too, is something very, very simple. An enterprise, in order to be successful, needs two things. It needs customers and it needs profits. If you know where your customers are, and in our case, that is an audience that is really engaged with our content. And then where our profits come from. You can’t go too far wrong.

Listen to the entire interview above.


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