His eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped, but I quickly explained: "We're not about business. We're about people in business."
I don't know whether he agreed with me. When I joined SBN in 1992, it was in its infancy. The Akron edition was a year old, while Stark was six months old, and we didn't quite know what we were.
We've since evolved into a publication of best practices-how businesses manage their daily challenges. But it's the people fretting over cash flow and employee retention that give this magazine more excitement than a textbook.
It's the people, in fact, who made it difficult for me to leave my job here as senior editor.
As I cleaned out my office and loaded my personal library of SBN back issues, I couldn't help scanning some of the pieces we've published in the last few years. The people started coming to life all over again.
Telling your tales of challenges and setbacks is hard. But so many executives have been willing to do that for me, and they've brought to life the trials of running a business day in and day out.
Here are a few of my favorite stories of humanity from the last six years:
- Norma Rist, who surprised the community by discussing her efforts to overcome a crippling shyness. Dozens of executives called to thank her for her courage and advice.
"When I encounter a situation that's difficult, I go ahead and bite it off and look in my Rolodex for people who can help me," she says.
- Ron Marhofer of Marhofer Auto Family, whose 90-hour work weeks were not only hurting him but his business too. His solution? Allowing employees to hire, fire and make decisions of any dollar amount. One of the criteria he uses to judge prospective employees: Would he trust the person to baby-sit his children?
- Mike Wojno of Akron Brick and Block, whose obsession with owning a business nearly ruined his life. It took some rude lessons for Wojno to realize what most of us discover at some point: Mom and Dad know best. His father, Karl Wojno, always managed to balance family and work. "My dad is my hero," Wojno says.
- Rick Fedorovich of Bober, Markey & Co., who echoed the sentiments of many managers and owners in a June 1998 cover story, titled Would I Hire Me? "It's like being on an island," he said.
- Tony Manna, attorney, who discussed his skills at negotiating big deals. Honesty, he noted, leads to negotiation, and candor leads to decision. "I've always found people make really stupid deals when they assume the other side isn't smart."
- Ben Suarez, the wily direct-mail genius who made enemies of the U.S. Postal Service and most state attorneys-general on his way to building a $120 million-a-year company (as of 1994, when I wrote about him). "It's not how well you succeed," he says. "It's how well you fail. And it's not just failure, it's how well you bounce."
As I store my SBN library in my home office, I don't expect I'll ever forget some of the people in those pages. Even though I've never been a business owner, I've learned from you. I hope you have too.
Senior Editor Teresa Dixon Murray left SBN in September for a position at the business desk of The Plain Dealer.