Stephen k. pond; furniture/today
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
MAY 14, 2009
AMERICAN FURNITURE HALL OF FAME FOUNDATION OFFICES
TONY BENGEL, Interviewer
INTERVIEWER: This is Tony Bengel. It is May 14, 2009. We’re in the American Furniture Hall of Fame Foundation office in High Point, North Carolina, and I’m interviewing Steve Pond, who is the founding publisher of Furniture/Today.
For me, this interview is a bit different than other interviews I’ve done for the Furniture Hall of Fame because I worked for Furniture/Today for many, many years. I was hired by Steve and Bill (Peterson, the founding editor) in February of 1979 and worked there until January of 2008. But that’s neither here nor there, really, because we’re going to ask Mr. Pond to go through his career and his experiences in the furniture industry. We’ll begin at the beginning, Steve. When were you born and where?
POND: I was born November 11, 1947, in Malone, New York, which is a small town on the Canadian border north of Lake Placid in upstate New York.
INTERVIEWER: And you went through the public schools there?
POND: There was actually a private Catholic school in my hometown run by the Ursuline nuns in grade school, and then in high school it was a combination of the nuns, the priests and lay teachers. I was very fortunate to go to a small Catholic boarding school that happened to be in my hometown.
INTERVIEWER: Was anybody in your family in furniture in any way, shape or form?
POND: No, although the family businesses in Malone included an appliance and TV store, a Mobil gas station, a Goodyear tire distributorship, an automotive parts distributorship, a boat dealership – sort of one each of everything except for supermarkets and pharmacies, in a small town at a time when each of those businesses could be profitable.
INTERVIEWER: What interests did you develop as you were growing up and going through high school?
POND: In high school, it would be hard to think that I had thoughts about interests as it related to careers. I ended up, as a senior in high school at age 15, in the Class of 1964, so there was a big emphasis on math and science. It was the Sputnik era, so initially, I thought, based on my background in math and science that I should be marching off to get a PhD in chemistry or a degree in engineering, but I really was too young to have a clue about what my interests were. My advisors – my high-school guidance counselor – would have been more involved in suggesting things than I would have had career interests of my own.
INTERVIEWER: When you graduated from high school, were you intent on going to college?
INTERVIEWER: Had your parents gone to college?
POND: My dad went to Brown University and then into the U.S. Army Air Corps where he ended up as a squadron commander and B-17 pilot. After many, many raids over Europe, he finally was shot down as the lead plane out of 300 planes over Berlin, and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp.
My mother graduated from high school in Denver, Colorado, and my father was the deputy commander of the air base in Colorado Springs at that time. They met there, were married at the Broadmoor and honeymooned in the Broadmoor.
INTERVIEWER: Your dad remained in the military after his service in World War II?
POND: No. He was very anxious to get out of the military, I think, after prison camp. He came back to Malone, New York, and went to work in the small-town family business.
He came back to Malone, New York, and went to work in the small-town family business.
INTERVIEWER: Which was?
POND: It was officially called Pond Electric and Battery Company; founded in 1918 by my grandfather. It was a typical small-town business, as I mentioned before, where they accumulated a series of businesses over the years, all of which had economic value at that size and scale back then. None of them really exist today.
INTERVIEWER: Did you work in the company when you were growing up?
POND: Yes, I did, but given the age I was at the time, it was pumping gasoline and changing oil and oil filters at the gas station, or helping out at year-end inventory and moving tires around or batteries or restocking shelves with various automotive parts. I had absolutely nothing to do with the business whatsoever other than physical labor.
INTERVIEWER: But did you pick up some of the elements of being a successful businessman from your father?
POND: My dad certainly was an excellent role model in the sense of dedication to community, dedication to employees, and dedication to his own family. The fundamental principles of management and leadership that have served me well in my business career probably were observable in the actions of my dad, although I wasn’t involved in any of the decisions in any way.
The way my father comported himself, the decisions I could see that he struggled with, mostly personnel decisions, I suppose, the fundamental, core principles of management and leadership would have been modeled by my dad. But again, it’s hard to say that it would have just been my dad because of all the issues of family dynamics.
I was the oldest of eight, and my mother was very involved in the responsibilities of family. In a family environment like that, it’s hard to say which values came from your father versus came from your mother, even if your dad may have been in business. The values came out of the family experience, so it’d be hard to say, “Well, I learned that from my dad,” versus, “I learned that from my mother,” because I think their values were very similar and shared.
INTERVIEWER: When you graduated from high school and were ready to go off to college, how did you decide where to go?
POND: I had been accepted in the National Institute of Health Science Honors Program, which was a six-year Ph.D program that took 28 students nationwide. I was able to at least decide that at age 15, about to turn 16, that wasn’t the time to choose the next six years of my life. I ended up accepting a scholarship to Clarkson College, now Clarkson University, in electrical engineering.
INTERVIEWER: Where is Clarkson?
POND: Potsdam, New York, fairly close to home, 40 miles away. And there are a lot of reasons, at that age, to consider being closer to home.
INTERVIEWER: Engineering was your...
POND: Was my original foray into college-level academics, and I very quickly found out that just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’re going be good at something. When I got into the labs in the engineering program, there were a lot of kids who loved the labs, and I just wasn’t excited about titration tests, flow tests, and writing up lab books. I very quickly realized that there’s no reason to be involved in something unless you’re passionate about it. There were other kids who really enjoyed it, and I didn’t like doing it. I could do very well academically, but I just didn’t enjoy the work.
INTERVIEWER: How did you change your direction?
POND: I went from being in electrical engineering to being a chemistry major to being a math major to recognizing that it was time to switch schools. I was fortunate to be able to go to Colgate, and I eventually graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Colgate. I started out there as a history major, and ended up in economics because there was a fabulous program in London, a well-established study program of 12 students in economics. I switched from history to economics.
Career interests, as you can tell – going back to your original question – took me a while to sort through, but by the end of my career at Colgate, it became clear that I was very interested in business. Business was a better way for me to make a difference, given the skills and talents that I had, and I thought I should pursue a career in business.
INTERVIEWER: That was apparent to you by the time you graduated from Colgate, which was in what year?
POND: I graduated from Colgate in ’69. In the end, it took me five years, five majors, and two colleges.
INTERVIEWER: And you graduated with a major in economics, not in business.
POND: Colgate’s a liberal arts college, so I had all the prerequisites to have a major in chemistry, a major in math, a major in history. In the end, I filled it out in economics, but it really wouldn’t have mattered what the degree was in.
INTERVIEWER: When you graduated from Colgate, what was your next step?
POND: I was very fortunate because I had the opportunity between my junior and senior year, to work for the Vick Chemical Company, which became Richardson Vicks and eventually was bought by Proctor & Gamble. Coincidentally, it was a company founded in Greensboro, North Carolina, and well known for Vicks VapoRub, Formula 44 and all those sorts of things.
I had the opportunity to be a salesman for the company in their summer marketing program, their summer sales program. About one-third of the candidates they hired each summer came out of college, their junior/senior summers, and two-thirds came out of MBA programs.
I was the youngest person out of the fifty-some salespeople that they had that summer, and my territory ran from Norfolk, Virginia, along the North Carolina/Virginia border, and then turned south along the North Carolina/Tennessee border, then the border between Alabama and Georgia, and then the panhandle of Florida. I was the best salesman out of the 50, and I sold more of everything than anybody else did in the Southeastern Region. I placed first in five out of six of the things you could be measured on, and so it turned out that I was a gifted sales guy.
INTERVIEWER: Describe what you were selling and how you sold it.
POND: It was a classic fall drop-shipment program for small-town pharmacies to make sure they had adequate supplies of Vicks VapoRub, Formula 44, Nyquil and products like that when the cold season arrived. So you went into the pharmacy and prepared a suggested order based on their inventory position and sold them a fall drop-shipment. They received special consideration for ordering in advance and special discounts and so on.
With the added credential of having placed first in open competition with 50-some other people, in addition to the grades I had at Colgate and the board scores I had, I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Harvard Business School right out of college, which was very rare then, still very rare. I ended up being one of the youngest people to ever be admitted to the Harvard Business School.
But by then I knew that I was more interested in the management and leadership opportunities that would come out of business.
INTERVIEWER: You entered Harvard in...
POND: 1969. And graduated in ’71.
INTERVIEWER: With an MBA?
INTERVIEWER: Was the school using the case-study approach at that point?
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have a case study in the furniture industry?
POND: No, I don’t remember, out of the hundreds of cases that you do, not one of them in furniture.
INTERVIEWER: What were the key experiences you had at Harvard that might have sent you in a particular direction or aroused your interest in something?
POND: I think the critical experiences that were more formative probably came through my experience with Vick, because after winning the sales contest, people in the New York office were quite taken aback with the fact that not only was I the youngest person in the program, but I looked about 12 at the time. That was very interesting to them, and so they sent me on a six-week trip to Europe, to London, Paris, Frankfurt, Milan and Madrid, to do a study on the structure of their marketing organization in Europe. I was very fortunate because I also got academic credit for doing it. They continued to bring me back for the next two summers. I got a really good exposure to brand management and product marketing, and to the whole concept of advertising.
I very quickly discovered that I didn’t have a great interest in cold products per se, but I did have a great interest in the creative process of developing the strategies behind brand management, and I identified more with the creative process at the agency and the strategic process inside the company than I did with the product itself. As a result of those summers, I realized that I wanted to be a manager and a leader in the shaping of content.
I clearly wanted to go into the media area, but the media area for me had more to do with the quality of content than it did with the responsibility for running a TV station. If you’re running a local TV station, you don’t have that much to do with the content itself. I clearly understood that while I was very interested in business, I was also very interested in the substance of the medium. Coming out of Harvard, that’s what I looked for.
INTERVIEWER: Let me clarify this: When you first participated as a Vick summer salesman, you were based in Greensboro, North Carolina?
POND: No, I wasn’t based in Greensboro. The 50 of us were sent out across the country, and it was a New York-based company, in a building at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. But we all picked up used salesman’s cars and drove to our territories, and I just happened to start in Norfolk. And so I was in the Southeast region and I had this rather bizarre territory that sort of ran along the borders between the various states down here.
INTERVIEWER: When you worked with Vick in the subsequent summers, you were based in New York City?
POND: Yes, I worked at 42nd and Lexington, 22nd floor.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any people that stand out in your mind as mentors, either at Harvard or at Vick, or other people that had some particularly valuable insights or philosophies that you picked up?
POND: I think there were a number of influential things that happened along the way, but in terms of mentoring, the examples set by my mother and my father probably had more to do with the decisions that I would later make in life as a manager and as a leader, than anyone else. In a large corporate environment, particularly if you think back to the early '70s and late '60s, the concept of mentoring really had not fully developed to what it is today, and so there were no real mentors for me. I saw lots of things that didn’t work, so I learned by seeing and by observing, but I can’t remember ever being coached by anyone in particular. The reality is that I found myself in the middle of the reorganization of the new product development group. There were senior executives inside that group that would turn to me for my insights, my observations, and my thoughts on what we were already doing. I found it interesting to have others asking me what we ought to do.
INTERVIEWER: By that time, you must have come to see your father, if you hadn’t already, as a real entrepreneur.
POND: Especially in a small-town environment. It would be hard to think of my dad as an entrepreneur in the start-up sense that we would normally think of it today, but in order to survive in a small town, you certainly had to be looking for what you needed to be doing next, because of the constant process of change that was ongoing in my small town. But my father took over a family business, so it’s not quite the same thing as starting up businesses or, for that matter, turning them around.
INTERVIEWER: Did you stay in close touch with your father during your college career?
POND: Yes, we came from a large extended family, lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, and the family relationships were very close. My dad is 90 years old today and I talk to him five days a week. Mechanically, he’s a bit challenged, but he’s totally with us. Plays bridge twice a week, and he’s really got an encyclopedic memory. He remembers everything. People come to him all the time about who used to own that farm and why was it sold and when was it sold and who bought it. He's just got an incredible memory.
INTERVIEWER: Still in Malone?
POND: Still in Malone.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s pick up at your graduation from Harvard with your MBA. What was your next step after that?
POND: I began to look for an opportunity for leadership and management in the media. Unfortunately, the larger companies look to Harvard MBAs as people they want to put in the treasurer's office or in the finance area, and I’m looking to start getting ready to be the manager, the leader. And so it was a very strange thing to go and interview with people who’d want to put you in treasury or finance. CBS at the time had a large publishing operation, but they had a very similar view of Harvard MBAs. It was very hard to find an opportunity where I could be involved in content, since I wanted to be involved in the substance of the media, not just the numbers of the media.
But I was fortunate that Dan Burke and Tom Murphy, both of whom had graduated from the Harvard Business School, had founded a company called Capital Cities Broadcasting, which became Cap Cities-ABC and eventually was bought by Disney for at that time the astounding amount of $19 billion. Each year they hired one or two MBAs from a couple of schools, and I got a phone call in my room and was recruited directly through faculty by them.
They had recently purchased Fairchild Publications, and were moving from broadcasting into publishing, eventually buying the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Newsday and other large newspapers. But one of their very earliest forays into publishing was to buy Fairchild Publications, which would have been best known at that time for Women’s Wear Daily. The patriarch of the firm at that time was the son of the founder, John Fairchild, son of Louie Fairchild.
The first job I was offered was to be John Fairchild’s business manager for Women’s Wear Daily, when they were launching W. I turned that job down for a number of reasons, but basically I didn’t want to be somebody’s MBA gofer, didn't want to be the boy trailing behind the leader, carrying his briefcase. Despite the incredible visibility of John Fairchild in the world of publishing in New York, I didn’t think he was someone that I wanted to learn from, so I turned it down.
INTERVIEWER: Was Fairchild in areas other than trade publications?
POND: No, at the time Fairchild was exclusively in trades. They probably had at that time 15 or 16 trade publications. Everything from Electronic News to Footwear News to Women’s Wear Daily and many other types of publications in between. The place you might have wanted to start at a company like that would have been working for the patriarch, but I could recognize fairly quickly, much like when I had to wake up to the idea that I wasn’t destined to be an engineer, that I wasn’t destined to be anyone’s MBA gofer either. So I turned it down.
INTERVIEWER: You joined Fairchild, but you turned down that particular job?
POND: No, I didn't join Fairchild at that time. Actually, I was very fortunate to also have the opportunity to spend a bit of time as a research assistant in Switzerland, for a professor who taught in the MBA program at a university based in Lausanne. I went to work for Xavier Gilbert and helped him with a number of his research projects. It gave me the chance to spend the better part of the year traveling around the world. Instead of going to work right away, I patched together a number of jobs that allowed me to travel. Remember that I went straight to Harvard right out of Colgate, and there were parts of the world that I was anxious to see before I started to work. I turned down all my job offers and took on what was financially enough to get me around the world.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of research projects were you involved in doing?
POND: Xavier Gilbert was finishing an examination of the accounting system imposed by the French government on French companies, and the impact that that imposition had on strategic planning. To summarize it best, for most French companies, strategic planning was the equivalent of walking backwards in a darkened room with a flashlight pointing in the wrong direction. They’re all going into the future while only being able to see the past. No idea where they were going or how they were going to get there. The study compared and contrasted the value of being able to have some grasp of what the future might hold. Most of the successful multi-national French companies had a way of producing the numbers the government insisted on, and then they had a separate accounting system, which was much more valuable to them. It was a great exposure to understanding the value of information and shaping strategy.
INTERVIEWER: But it wasn’t media specific, involving TV or publishing companies or anything like that.
POND: Not at all. But it put me in an academic environment, and I was working for a wonderfully friendly Frenchman, Xavier Gilbert. I was his research assistant and got paid for it, and it helped me go to Switzerland for a while and gave me cash to keep going.
INTERVIEWER: You traveled to other places in the world?
INTERVIEWER: Did you encounter anything in the furniture industry at that point?
POND: Nothing. I had the typical backpacking student experiences, including sleeping on dirt floors in Afghanistan and getting caught in the India-Pakistan war in Kashmir in October of 1971. And I had to escape from the onslaught of the tanks in downtown Srinagar.
INTERVIEWER: But you survived intact.
POND: I got back intact after about a year and did go to work for Fairchild.
INTERVIEWER: In what capacity?
POND: At that stage I joined Fairchild as a planning assistant for the newly named publisher of Home Furnishing Daily, which had been at one time called Retailing Daily, and had been the lead publication at Fairchild, and had been Louie Fairchild's, John Fairchild’s father's, newspaper. When John came back from being a reporter in Paris, he was determined to make Women’s Wear Daily his publication and the leading publication at Fairchild. He had taken the best talent from Retailing Daily and put them on Women’s Wear Daily, and dumped people back down onto his father’s publication. Of course, it was now owned by Capital Cities Broadcasting, and they weren’t interested in all of these family issues; they wanted all their publications to be successful. The publisher that I went to work for, arrived 30 days before I did. He had been the publisher of a menswear magazine, so he knew absolutely nothing about the newspaper business and knew nothing about the furniture business or the housewares business or the carpet business or any of the home furnishings industries at all. It was a great job for me because I went to work for a boss who didn’t know any more about it than I did.
INTERVIEWER: What were your tasks at that point?
POND: It was to work very closely with him and try to understand why the publication was not successful, and where the opportunities were, and of course, to fix it.
INTERVIEWER: Was it called Home Furnishings Daily?
POND: It was called Home Furnishings Daily at the time.
INTERVIEWER: But it was not making money.
POND: It was making significantly less money than the other publications in the house and had been deteriorating for years.
INTERVIEWER: It was a five-day-a-week publication at that point?
POND: Yes, it was five days a week.
INTERVIEWER: Targeting department stores or...
POND: Basically the department stores and other mass merchants that would have carried everything from Mr. Coffee makers to mixers and appliances and TVs and every gadget in between.
INTERVIEWER: But they did cover furniture.
POND: They did cover furniture.
INTERVIEWER: What was the name of the new publisher?
POND: David Branch.
INTERVIEWER: What did you and Mr. Branch start doing at that point?
POND: I concentrated on the advertising and sales side and worked directly for David in reorganizing that. I also initially worked closely with him on the restructuring of the editorial side, but eventually David took more responsibility for that and I took more responsibility on the advertising side. I started selling advertising and became a sales manager, then became the promotions manager, the circulation manager, associate publisher, and took over the sales force.
INTERVIEWER: Over the course of two or three years?
POND: Over a couple of years. The story at the time was, I was getting promoted every 90 to 180 days.
INTERVIEWER: As you got involved in the sales side, what accounts were you dealing with?
POND: I took over the electronics area, the housewares area, the floor coverings area, took over the furniture area. Just basically started mushrooming through all of the account structure and all of the industries, and hired new salespeople.
INTERVIEWER: You ended up managing the sales force.
POND: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Did you do some calling on some of the major accounts?
POND: Yes. There needed to be a new way of doing things. There was a need for leadership, and there’s nothing more valuable for a new sales force than to see the boss himself selling, setting an example of how we’re supposed to do this. It was a wonderful time; it was very fun and very exciting as a freshly minted executive inside the company. I was given a secretary and all that sort of stuff, and I immediately converted my secretary into being a salesperson. She was the first woman salesperson in the company. I hired Ollie Bieniemy, the first African-American salesperson in the history of the company. I hired many of these people. I converted them from secretaries to salespeople because they were great salespeople. I did not have a personal agenda to promote women or promote African-Americans. I was just hiring talented people. I had no idea at the time what resistance there might be to this concept of promoting women from being a secretary to being a salesperson, let alone hiring an African-American.
INTERVIEWER: Home Furnishings Daily was a tired publication that had been going downhill, and you and Mr. Branch were turning it around. What were you doing differently than had been done? How did you hire these people? What were you looking for?
POND: Aside from looking for the fundamentals of sales skills, I started to hire people who could think about the problems of the customers, who could think about the problems of the clients, and who personally had the presence to call on the management of the companies where the budgets were created, as opposed to calling on the advertising agencies where the budgets were administered. Of course, it's often the case when you hire new people that they get excited about what they’re doing; they usually don’t realize they're coming into a previously negative environment, so they bring a more positive attitude towards what they’re doing, and they work harder. We had a lot of fun. I changed the attitudes of people about what they were doing and how much fun it could be, basically by elevating the content of the work process itself.
INTERVIEWER: They were able to call on some key managers in the...
POND: They recognized that you could help build budgets from scratch as opposed to try and get your fair share of an existing budget. And you could build budgets from scratch by creating ideas that really would work for the companies that you were calling on. And that it was really valuable to call upon senior managers rather than simply advertising directors at ad agencies.
INTERVIEWER: Did you face a fair amount of resistance?
POND: Huge resistance.
INTERVIEWER: From whom?
POND: From the ad agencies.
INTERVIEWER: And from inside the company?
POND: Yes, inside the company, where you were not doing it the so-called tried-and-true way. But it worked.
INTERVIEWER: Your numbers were going up?
POND: The numbers were going up, and some of the older sales guys, there were only guys at the time, could see that if they understood the changes that I was bringing about, they themselves would be more successful than doing what they’d been doing in their own way for maybe, in some cases, 30 years. Guys like Art Barry and Howard Landis eventually decided that I was a good leader for them, even though they were more than twice my age.
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t have to clean house. You could convert some of the veterans.
POND: There was some initial housecleaning, but there definitely was an opportunity to bring other people along. In that case, I did not have to clean house completely. It turned out that some of the greatest support that I got inside the company at the time was from the old-guard guys. The older guys could see that it would work for them, and that I worked very hard for them to be successful. And that it was not about me; it was about the paper and it was about them. I went through a series of opportunities to demonstrate results, because if you’re on the sales side of the house, you can see the results every day, every week, every month. I got promoted very quickly. Meanwhile, things had not been going well on the editorial side. There had been a couple of failed attempts to put a new editor in place on the editorial side; there had been recruiting failures for leadership over there.
Eventually the president of Fairchild, John Sias, suggested to my boss David Branch that it was time to let Steve do it. I became the first non-journalist to be an editor of any of the Fairchild publications in its 90-year history. I went from the business side, with no background in journalism, to be the editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper covering the retail industry nationwide. That turned out to be a great turnaround; it was a very successful turnaround of the paper at the time.
INTERVIEWER: What did you discover about the editorial side of the operation?
POND: That it was highly politicized. That it had been badly managed for many, many, many years. That there were, in effect, failures of management and leadership that had caused a significant deterioration in the quality of the publication. There was more attention being paid to the politics than there was to covering the industries involved. A lot of hiring mistakes had been made over the years, and a lot of people were left in areas of responsibility who were no longer executing it properly.
The key to success there was, again fortunately, the old-guard guys who really cared deeply about the quality of journalism and cared deeply about wanting the paper to do the right thing again. They were the ones who in the end stood up in the meetings and said, “Steve’s right, we ought to do it his way.” It was the middle managers, people who were only 10 years older than I, instead of twice my age, who were the ones who were most change resistant and the most politicized. Those were the ones who unfortunately had to be let go.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have to change the editorial of HFD at that point?
POND: Yes. I think the key thing there was to understand that they were all in the retail business, and that the common denominator was retailing. There was an opportunity to significantly beef up the coverage of retailing as an industry, and all of the factors that had an impact and an influence on retailing. While there was a need for product coverage, we needed to get up and above that in order to cover multiple industries. You had to look for the common interests and concerns of all of those industries. It really became a very executable strategy, which found a much higher level of readership at the top reaches of the retail industry.
The president of Macy’s began to pick up the paper again. The president of Macy’s would be a little bit too far removed to want to know about the latest introduction of a Mr. Coffee in the housewares department. But, he’d be very, very interested in the performance variables in terms of the department store, and it didn’t matter whether you were Filene's or Macy’s or Sears. You were much more interested in the comparative information of what was going on in housewares versus floor coverings versus appliances and TVs.
There were also, at that time, some upper managers concerned about who the leaders in retailing were, their thinking and the direction of the industry. But, it was the industry of retail rather than all of these diced-and-sliced little operations within a department store, with all sorts of details about the next product introduction.
INTERVIEWER: Did you hire any key reporters and editors that you considered very significant? If so, where did they come from?
POND: There was an opportunity to hire journalists at that time. Those were tough times in the early '70s. The economy was in great trouble. There were more talented people available. The focus was really on people with daily journalism experience who really did not have a background in business or trade journalism. There had been a rotating platform of people who had worked in trade publishing or trade magazines. There was a need to re-energize the newspaper with people who really understood how to get a great story and put it together.
I wasn’t worried that they didn’t know a thing about business. I felt very comfortable that there were enough of us around on the paper, particularly with the old-guard guys – you know, they weren't all guys – but particularly with the journalists who’ve been around for quite a while and really understood retailing, and I understood business. We could hire a lot of people with a lot of journalism experience who knew nothing about business.
INTERVIEWER: You were able to beef up the staff at HFD in that fashion.
POND: Yes, it was a very successful turnaround and when measured by all the indices by which you could tell the difference – renewal rates and acquisition costs of new subscriptions. It was a very successful turnaround.
INTERVIEWER: Did you do any major redesigns that made the paper look completely different?
POND: There were redesigns, but they were all internally generated redesigns, rather than going to the industry design mavens. It was really driven more by questions like, “What stories do we want on the front page? How do they need to look in order to get proper attention?” There was a cleaning up of a series of things that had developed over time. But it was mechanical; it was not an art form at the time. It made HFD look a lot more like a very serious newspaper.
INTERVIEWER: This took you, what, a matter of two or three years?
POND: I stayed with Fairchild for four years. I started with them in ’72 and left in ’76, almost exactly four years later.
INTERVIEWER: Can you remember calling on any major home furnishings or furniture companies?
POND: Yes. As part of my responsibility as the editor-in-chief, I went to trade shows in the housewares industry, the floor covering industry and the consumer electronics industry, the tabletop industry and, of course, the furniture industry. We had a reporter here in High Point, North Carolina, by the name of Bill Peterson. I would come down to the furniture show in High Point.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember your first furniture market, and what it was like?
POND: My first furniture market was in April of 1972. You know, just coming down from New York to High Point, North Carolina, and seeing huge crowds of people in a small town, was sort of an astounding wake up. But at that particular point in time, the furniture market was spread all across North Carolina. It was all the way out to Hickory and Lenoir from High Point, with lots of showrooms in between. To cover the market, you were driving out to Lenoir to see Broyhill, and you were going out to see Bernhardt. I mean everybody had a showroom up and down the highways. Lewittes Furniture in Taylorsville had a showroom out in the middle of what you could only say is nowhere. This was quite different from the trade shows that you would go to in Chicago for the housewares industry, or the trade shows in Las Vegas, or the gift shows that you might go to in New York. It was astounding how spread out the furniture market was and how difficult it was to cover a market back in 1972.
INTERVIEWER: You started meeting some of the key people in the industry at that point?
POND: At that time, Home Furnishings Daily would have been one of five or six publications covering the furniture industry. But it would have been the only one that was a daily. Everything else was a magazine or a monthly. It had some credibility with the furniture industry. You definitely could go out and see Paul Broyhill in Lenoir, and I would do that.
INTERVIEWER: This is during the furniture market?
POND: Yes, during the furniture markets. Of course, even Nat Ancell of Ethan Allen, whose company would have been based in New York over on Lexington Avenue at the time, had a showroom for Ethan Allen at the time in High Point, and you would go and see his line. You didn't have the time to really get to know everybody in any given industry as the editor-in-chief of the paper, although I initially came down as a planning assistant. But you had a very limited amount of time to see a few key people, and that would be the end of it.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of coverage was HFD giving the furniture industry and the furniture market at that point?
POND: Pretty much the same coverage that you would have given any product showcase experience in any of the industries that were under the umbrella of home furnishings. You would go to the trade shows and you would talk about trends in the industry in terms of new product development, and you would have talked about the success or failure of a given market or success or failure of new ideas or new introductions — those kinds of things. Then you go on to the next industry. All of these trade shows seemed to occur approximately the same time of the year, but there was an awful lot of reporting on trade shows because there just seemed to be dozens of these things if you were under the umbrella of home furnishings.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned Bill Peterson. Can you remember the first time you met Bill?
POND: Yes. Bill, having had a series of editors show up from New York, had gotten used to the idea that he took people around and introduced them and hoped that they might be back a following market, because there’d been such turnover. Bill was the newspaper for the furniture industry as far as they were concerned because he had continuity here, was in the office in High Point; he was their reporter. Bill had a sense of responsibility to introduce the next new editor around the industry. I think he found it rather strange that I wanted to actually — when I first came down on my own to talk with Bill — I wanted to actually go out and go into factories, and I wanted to talk to CEOs, and he had never had an editor come down from New York who wanted to actually go into a factory, let alone talk to CEOs. With some skepticism, he drove me around the furniture highway and got people to give these plant tours.
INTERVIEWER: As I recall, he had been a sports writer and editor for some Florida newspapers back in his early days.
POND: Yes, Bill had had a long-established career in communications, having actually been a communications officer in the Air Force.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, and got involved in the early space program.
POND: Right, based in Brazil. But Bill had been a daily newspaper journalist before joining Fairchild.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know approximately when he joined Fairchild? Wasn't he already there when you joined them in ’72?
POND: Yes, he was already there in ’72, and my guess is he’d probably been there about four years by then.
INTERVIEWER: He was essentially your only furniture reporter...
POND: That’s right. He was certainly the only one who was in the midst of the manufacturing center which was down here in North Carolina. There were furniture reporters in the New York office, so there was a beat called furniture as much as there was a beat called floor coverings, a beat called housewares, a beat called appliances, a beat called consumer electronics, and there were various editors and reporters in each one of those beats. There were other furniture reporters but, given it was New York, there was a lot of turnover. Bill was the primary continuity, if you will, of coverage in that industry.
INTERVIEWER: He had already established relationships with companies, with factories, and knew some of the CEO's and chief marketing officers.
INTERVIEWER: Did you and Bill hit it off as people right away when you first met him? How did that relationship go?
POND: Bill and I got along very well from the very beginning. I think he was a bit amused because I think I might have been all of... Let’s see, when I first met Bill I would have been maybe 24, probably looked about maybe at best 18, and brought a great deal of enthusiasm and fun to everything I did. He just found it interesting that somebody actually wanted to go out, meet people, see factories and drive around. Nobody else had ever wanted to do that. Of course, I would come down and spend a couple of days, and so I met Bill’s wife, Bonnie, and Bill’s mother and got to know Bill as a family person as well. We got along very well from the very beginning.
INTERVIEWER: But you would see him roughly twice a year, I assume, at the major High Point markets. Well, there also were a few January and July markets elsewhere by then, I think.
POND: I probably saw Bill four times a year. Certainly, during the two main markets, but there would have been other reasons for Bill as an HFD reporter to actually have to come to New York for a staff meeting or something. I probably saw him four times a year at the beginning.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Going back to that first furniture market, does anything else stand out in your mind? Apparently you drove up and down the furniture highway, as we used to call it.
POND: Yes, the thing that stood out is that it was an extraordinarily friendly industry. There seemed to be a barbecue everywhere you went, or somebody’s backyard reception. The managements of the furniture companies went out of their way to be gracious and entertaining to the visiting retail community. It didn’t matter whether you were arriving as a furniture store operator or a department store executive. It was a level of hospitality which was extraordinarily unusual in the world of retailing. And certainly not the norm if you were having a housewares show at McCormick Place in Chicago. There’s a different level of personal connection.
INTERVIEWER: A completely different world.
POND: A totally different world.
INTERVIEWER: Did these furniture folks that you were meeting strike you as sharp business people?
POND: It would have been very hard initially to discern how sharp they were as business people. What you were doing in those initial exposures, which were limited for me to showing up at the furniture market, was spending 15, 20 minutes with CEOs in the middle of a busy furniture market. It was not the primary thing that hit me. What hit me was the hospitality. What hit me was the friendliness. What hit me was the unique quality of the relationship between, if you will, the factories and the retailers and the highly personal connectivity of the industry. I’m talking about my early experiences with the furniture market. But it didn’t take too long, or too many visits with someone like Paul Broyhill, to recognize the tremendous capacity for business leadership of someone like Paul Broyhill.
INTERVIEWER: Did you meet any key retailers early on?
POND: Yes, because of course I was refocusing the energy of Home Furnishings Daily on the broader concept of retailing of home furnishings. I would have been very interested in meeting the retail community at the time.
INTERVIEWER: Did anybody stand out as someone that was particularly interesting or insightful at that point?
POND: Yes. At that time, the department stores were a much more important part of the furniture industry than they certainly are today. They were important not only in terms of unit volume, but they were also important in terms of elevating the visibility of furniture in the consumer’s eyes. It would have been valuable for me to know people who are in the furniture area in the department store operation. Whether it was The Broadway out in California, or Bloomingdale’s in New York, those stores would have been a key focus. But there were also some very powerful showcases like W&J Sloane. These were independent, high-end furniture, multi-store chain operations that had a significant influence on the direction of the whole industry. Of course, there was the huge powerhouse of Sears in furniture at the time. It would have been important to know a guy like Bob Lauter, who was the president of W&J Sloane.
Again, given all of the industries that I would have been involved in then, it would have been very selective in terms of who I knew. Since I just couldn’t know that many people, I tried to focus on the leaders of the industry at the time. Somebody like Michael Gould, who is today the president of Bloomingdale’s, would have been at that point the head of merchandising of home furnishings at The Broadway in California. The tendency was to try and find the people who were either leaders because of volume, like Sears, or who would have been leaders because of their ability to showcase style trends, like the major department store operators.
INTERVIEWER: Were you fascinated with the product itself at furniture markets? Was that something that engaged your interest at all?
POND: No, I never really had a feel for product.
INTERVIEWER: But Bill did?
POND: Bill did. Bill absolutely did. But as for me to try and identify the difference between, say, country French and French provincial, and all the various derivative transitional styles that seemed to be forever multiplying in the furniture business, I didn’t have a good eye for that. What I had a good eye for, what I really understood, were things like merchandising strategies and marketing strategies. I understood pricing strategies and promotion strategies. I understood retailing as a business and I understood people. I understood who was really good as a manager, as a leader. I also was very fortunate in that I could tell the difference between who was a good leader and who was an exploitive leader. I could tell the difference.
INTERVIEWER: How did you develop that skill, that knack?
POND: I don’t know. I guess it probably goes back to selling wiper blades and tires at the gasoline pumps in my family’s hometown gas station. Eventually I'd have to figure out how to communicate with people and how to understand them and how to read them. But I also think it’s a gift. I mean, you could develop the gift, but if you’re not born with it, it’s hard to be good at it.
INTERVIEWER: How could you tell who was a good journalist? That's something you had to do when you became editor-in-chief.
INTERVIEWER: When you hired these youngsters that had no experience in the industry, how did you know that...?
POND: They had experience as journalists. But they had no experience in covering business, let alone housewares or department store retailing or mass merchandising. They had no experience with that.
INTERVIEWER: So what were you looking for?
POND: Of course, the fundamentals of intellect have to be there, but that isn't the same thing as getting good grades in school. One needs to understand somebody’s ability to observe and translate observation into insights. I was always looking for people who would be able to write with perspective. In order to figure that out, the interview process was really, really valuable. But, like anything else, you had to do the basics — for whom did they work and what did they learn and how did they learn it. To really acquire the skills of journalism, in the end you need to write a lot of stories to be good at writing stories. Typically I would be looking for people who had worked on relatively smaller newspapers and had to produce a lot of stories. I would be very interested in who they had worked for. Their managing editor was probably their most important teacher, and the quality of the managing editor probably had as much to do with why somebody got hired as did their demonstrated skills.
But it was in the interview process where you could see whether or not somebody could organize their thoughts and their ideas, but also whether or not there was any depth to their perspective. Because in the end, if you’re going to have an impact on or an influence on the quality of decisions made in the field of business, people want more than just the facts. They want them written with perspective. They want somebody who understands what’s important. I never felt we would have time to teach people the fundamentals of journalism. We wanted them to arrive with great fundamentals.
INTERVIEWER: What was your way of teaching them about the business, about retailing?
POND: That’s a case of the value of senior editors and, if you will, the old guard, and having the old guard to sort of bring them along on the fundamentals of the business, such as what’s an SKU.
INTERVIEWER: A mentoring process.
POND: A mentoring process. We literally had trainers from the old guard. I mean their primary job, while they were senior journalists, was really to train the new reporters. And that’s what Bill used to do. I mean, I started doing that in New York, but that’s clearly what the process was when we started Furniture/Today.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever get involved in any of the creative content yourself? The sensitive stories or stories about very important people?
POND: In the initial work at the newspaper in New York, on the daily, if you’re the editor-in-chief, you have to run the paper. I got a steel desk and put it right in the middle of the room, and I ran the paper from the middle of the room. I didn’t have an office. I did everything out in front of everybody, because, of course, coming over from the business side, I was tainted and everybody was concerned that I was somehow going to fall into the more traditional track of business magazines, trade magazines, where there was an understanding of who the advertisers are. I really felt very strongly that I needed to do everything in front of everybody else. That literally meant, if you’re going to change the direction of the paper, you'd better change what gets on the front page. From day one, I took responsibility for what went on the front page.
INTERVIEWER: You had a story conference every day with some of your chief editors?
POND: That’s right. Which, as you can imagine, initially was very challenging, because “Who are you?” was a common question. “What makes you think that’s the right thing to do?” It was the greatest opportunity to demonstrate a different view of what we were supposed to be doing as a paper because, in those discussions, sometimes arguments, you had an opportunity to explain why this should be on page one and why something else shouldn’t be there. So controlling page one was absolutely essential to being able to shape the direction of the paper. I took over page one from day one. This, of course, was where the old guard could see, you know, Steve’s right. Eventually that’s where the support came from to actually improve the quality of the paper. It was the old guys who could see that my judgment was right.
INTERVIEWER: Had it come to the point where much of the editorial space in HFD was really for sale to the biggest advertisers?
POND: No, that really had not yet happened. That happened later. That coziness with the advertisers happened later. At that particular time in its history, the umbrella for the editorial staff was still very strongly supported by the nature and legacy of John Fairchild and his way of handling advertisers. Later, some publishers and editors would speak rather disdainfully of somebody if they didn't advertise, and perhaps this bitchy attitude was more appropriate for those in the apparel industry. That had not yet happened. What they had suffered from was the mediocrity of journalism. What they had suffered from was a myopic view of one industry after another, without understanding they were all in the retail business together. There was an opportunity to elevate the paper above this sort of minutia of one individual industry competing for attention with the other industries, and really to build up the transcending coverage of all of retailing of home furnishings.
INTERVIEWER: You had to overcome some hostility or at least tension between those that covered the various segments.
POND: There was a lot of hostility because everybody was fighting for their coverage, their inches, their space, and there was no cohesion to the fact that everybody was ultimately in retailing. Again, it was a highly politicized environment.
INTERVIEWER: Let's move on to the founding of Furniture/Today, which I believe was in early ’76. Pick up the narrative as you see it. How did that happen?
POND: After the turnaround of HFD was finished in ’75, I began to look for other opportunities in publishing. Some of them were coming about inside Fairchild. I was ready for the next challenge, and so I began interviewing with the Wall Street Journal, with CBS again, with Time Inc. again. Of course, now I’m a totally different person. I’m no longer a Harvard MBA suitable for a job in the treasurer's department. Now I’m this unusual creature who happens to have a Harvard MBA who’s been the editor-in-chief of a trade daily that was successfully turned around. There began to be more opportunities there. Probably one of the most interesting job opportunities that came up was at Ziff-Davis, where I could have worked for Billy Ziff as one of the three people who ran Ziff-Davis, which at that time was considered the best magazine company in the country.
INTERVIEWER: They were mostly consumer magazines, were they not?
POND: Mostly consumer magazines, yes, but they did have some trade publications; one of them was Travel Weekly. But they were mostly consumer, and they had bridal magazines and they were mostly aficionado types of publications, or very narrow-cast consumer publications. But Billy Ziff was a brilliant guy, and I was quite excited about the chance to go to work for him.
At the same time, Bill Peterson had decided that it was time for him to move on, and so Bill had resigned from the paper.
INTERVIEWER: This was in ’75?
POND: This is the end of ’75, beginning of ’76. I’m now out looking for other opportunities, and Bill is thinking that he and his wife, Bonnie, are going to start a business together serving the copy editing and copy writing needs of the industry. Of course, Bill and I had been seen together by a number of CEOs whenever I would come to furniture markets, or other periods of time when we would tour factories. With Bill gone and with me gone from HFD, people began wondering what we might be doing together. While I’m out considering going to work in large companies, to run larger businesses, people in the furniture industry began to discuss the possibility that Steve and Bill might get together and create a newspaper for the furniture industry.
The inspiration for that actually came from people like...let’s see, it would have been Tom Finch, who was still running Thomasville at the time, asking Bill, “Are you and Steve going to start a paper?” People in the industry who had seen us together, CEOs of the manufacturing companies, really provided the inspiration for the possibility that Bill and I should actually get together and do that. They’d even call me about it. I came down to North Carolina, spent a weekend with Bill and his family, and we talked about getting together and starting a paper for the industry. It was really the industry noticing that Bill had left and I had left, and wondering if we were going to do something together, and neither one of us had initially had that inspiration.
INTERVIEWER: This was prompted or sparked by the industry itself, in a way.
POND: It was certainly sparked by the industry, because it was neither Bill’s plan to do it nor my plan to do it. I fully expected to stay in New York and work for a major publishing company at much more of a leadership level. You know, I would have loved to have been working with Billy Ziff at Ziff-Davis. That was quite an exciting challenge and that’s really what I thought I was going to do, and Bill thought he was going to start up a business with Bonnie.
INTERVIEWER: But you and Bill started discussing...
POND: We began to meet sometime early in ’76 and began to develop the possibility that the industry might benefit from having a newspaper of its own, that there was enough retail space that was dedicated to furniture that you could think of it as an industry community, between the manufacturing community and the retail community. There were very few housewares stores as such, so it was pretty hard to think you could have a newspaper for a community of retailers and manufacturers that would be dedicated just to housewares, unless it was totally product driven, where they would get a showcase of products rather than a real industry newspaper. Bill, coming out of the newspaper industry prior to working at Fairchild, and my having had the opportunity to run a daily in New York, we were just more interested in a newspaper, not a magazine, if we were going to do something in furniture. I began to feel very confident that the industry needed it, so we really focused on the idea of, “Would the industry benefit from having a newspaper of its own?” We decided that it would.
Then we came to the April market in 1976, and Bill and I announced to the industry that we were going to start a newspaper for the industry. During the furniture market, we went to see the people that we knew together. We were given a great deal of encouragement that they’d like us to give it a shot, although many people were quite skeptical whether there was enough news in the industry to support a newspaper. There wasn't a question of whether there was enough advertising in the industry, because there clearly was not enough advertising in the industry at that time to support a newspaper. The fundamental question was, “Was there even enough news?”
INTERVIEWER: When you talked to these folks, how did you describe your newspaper idea?
POND: We described it as being dedicated to the entire industry, and that we believed there was a community of interest that transcended the individual needs of suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. That we would create a newspaper that would focus on the quality of decisions that were being made by the CEOs at all levels. And that the newspaper would be for the industry and not for one group versus another. It was not going to be for the retailers, it was not going to be for the manufacturers, or for the suppliers, but rather a newspaper that would be dedicated to the profitability and the success of the industry as a whole.
INTERVIEWER: Your early thinking was, there simply wasn’t enough news to fill even a weekly newspaper at that point?
POND: We felt there was a lot of news; it just wasn’t covered. There was a lot going on in the furniture industry that, given the orientation of the five magazines in the business and the dedication of Home Furnishings Daily to covering retailing across so many different product categories, that there indeed was an awful lot of things going on that would improve the quality of decisions if people only knew about them. That the industry would benefit from something that pulled it all together. The sort of traditional trade magazines that existed at that time, like Furniture World and Furniture South with a monthly frequency just really did not provide a platform for engaging and involving the whole community of suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. So, we intellectually felt the news was there, but many of the people we talked to didn’t think there was enough news because they couldn’t envision what they’d never seen.
That’s often the case with entrepreneurs, you know. They have to figure out something before everybody else does.
INTERVIEWER: You were saying that you didn’t think there was enough of an advertising base...
POND: There clearly wasn’t. I mean, at that point in time, there were six existing publications that were getting advertising in the furniture industry, and the total amount of advertising would have been about $3.2 million. That would not have been enough. In and of itself, if you got it all, it would not have been enough to support a world-class newspaper. It’s a classic case of, you have to build it and believe that they will come. If you could create a newspaper that engaged and involved the entire industry, then you would create a readership base that would be valuable to advertisers. But because such a platform did not exist in the five monthly magazines and the one newspaper that covered all of home furnishings, there really wasn’t a lot of money being invested in advertising, because there wasn’t the intensity of readership. It just wasn’t there.
INTERVIEWER: What about circulation? I mean, what was your target audience at that conception stage?
POND: Our audience would have been the retail community that would have found that their living was dependent upon their success in selling furniture. Instead of worrying about the CEO of Macy’s, I was certainly much more worried about the merchandising manager for furniture. I was much more interested in the merchandising manager for furniture at Bloomingdale’s. I would have been worried about the person at Sears responsible for furniture. I would no longer have a concern about personally knowing and understanding the information and news needs of the Macy’s CEO, if you will.
Of course, there were tens of thousands of independent furniture retailers across the country whose primary source of revenue was selling furniture. A lot of them were also in the appliance and TV business at that time, but the primary emphasis in their stores would have been furniture.
INTERVIEWER: There were thousands and thousands of the so-called mom-and-pop stores at that point.
INTERVIEWER: What was the opportunity there? What did they need that they weren’t getting?
POND: I think there were a variety of needs, depending on the scale and scope of the operation that you were running, and yet there was a community of interest that would engage and involve an owner of a mom-and-pop in Des Moines just as well as you could engage the interest of the merchandise manager at The Broadway. There was a need to understand who the leaders were, what their thinking was. It wasn’t just the basics of product trends or color palettes, which might have a greater interest to a department store as a style and design leader than it would to somebody who’s operating a small furniture store in Des Moines.
Quite frankly, there are certain heroes and certain stars in every field, in every business, and people want to know what they’re thinking. It’s just like you may have never been to a Yankees baseball game, but you still want to read about the last game they played against the Boston Red Sox. You could be living in Buffalo, New York, and never got more than 20 miles from your own town. But, you still want to read about the leaders and what they’re thinking and what their doing, be they retailers or manufacturers. There is a common base of interest in, “What’s going on in this industry I live in?” even if I may be a relatively small operator.
INTERVIEWER: Did you solicit any opinions from major retailers about the possibilities and future of a furniture industry publication?
POND: Yes, there was a level of skepticism, I think that was far greater at the manufacturing level about the need for a newspaper than there was at the retail community level. We would have gotten more support for the concept of a paper from the retailers. It just may be that the retailers that I would have known at that time would have had a broader understanding of the scope and value of information that they didn’t have that they’d love to know about. And Bill, having spent a lot of time in the community, had credibility with this community, the manufacturing community, and I would have known more people on the retail side.
INTERVIEWER: You had to come up with a business plan and seek investors.
POND: Yes, we announced the paper at the April market, we opened an office on the first of July and we published the first newspaper in the first week of September in 1976. It was a relatively fast startup.
INTERVIEWER: How did all that happen?
POND: I immediately moved down to North Carolina and checked into room number 18 at the local Townhouse Motel and immediately began to interview the local banks, the local printers, the local accounting firms, the local law firms. You have to form a business, you have to form a company and get a business organized. I did raise some money to begin the newspaper.
INTERVIEWER: Was that difficult convincing people to...
POND: No, because I raised the money from people that knew me personally. I did not have a hard time raising the money.
INTERVIEWER: They didn’t think you were crazy.
POND: They didn’t think I was crazy at all. You know, the president of Ziff-Davis thought I was completely crazy, because they were very interested in having me come and work for them. “You’re going to do what? You’re going to go where? You’re going to start a newspaper for whom?”
There was a level of skepticism among the professionals. But I raised the money from people I knew personally and who knew me personally. And these were all MBA types and guys that I’d known from my past, and the level of comfort in handing money over to me was very high.
INTERVIEWER: They were not in the furniture industry?
POND: No, they had nothing to do with it.
INTERVIEWER: You organized the company. Ollie Bieniemy was involved at this early stage as well as Bill Peterson, right?
POND: Ollie was not involved at the earliest stage. Bill and I were alone in the initial stages of the enterprise, probably three months at least. But Ollie began to feel that he wanted to be a part of the startup of a newspaper for the furniture industry. Of course, I was a bit skeptical that Ollie was really serious about leaving New York and moving to North Carolina and wanting to give up a serious career in the publishing business. He’d worked for McGraw-Hill before he worked for Fairchild and so he had a great background in publishing. But he convinced me that’s really what he wanted to do. Ollie came on board the first week in July.
INTERVIEWER: Was there ever any doubt in your mind or Bill’s mind that the publication had to be based in High Point?
POND: No. From day one, we felt that in order for a newspaper to really serve the needs of the furniture industry, you needed to be in the capital of the furniture industry, the center of the furniture industry. The center of the furniture industry was clearly High Point, North Carolina. It certainly was North Carolina, but most specifically, High Point. In the '70s, it would have been perceived to be the center of the industry from any international perspective at all. Of course, over time, it evolved to be a much more important international center for the furniture industry than it was in the mid '70s when we launched Furniture/Today. We really understood from day one that if it was ever to be successful, it had to be literally in downtown High Point, North Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: How did your ideas about what the editorial content needed to be evolve? I take it you and Ollie were the chief salespeople.
INTERVIEWER: But I assume you were intimately involved in conceiving the editorial side.
POND: Yes, Bill and I were able to spend lots and lots of time together over his kitchen table. But we also spent time driving to the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association meeting in Hilton Head, and just hours and hours together in cars and planes. We even initially started staying together in hotel rooms, but that didn’t last long. I didn’t think a business would ever be successful if the two of us had to spend the same night sleeping in the same room for very long.
But we went to the Chicago Furniture Market together that summer. There were regional furniture markets in July then at various places. Bill and I were probably spending 60 hours a week together. It was really in that cauldron of discussion that we formulated the strategy for what we thought the industry really needed to know.
The foundation was our understanding that we needed to be a community newspaper, concerned about the interests of everyone in the community, and that there would be no quarter given to one faction versus another. Not to the retailers, not to the manufacturers, not to the suppliers. And that we needed to be a newspaper of intense editorial integrity as a foundation commitment. Our role was to enhance the quality of the decisions made by people at all levels in the industry, be they little retailers, people at Sears, people in the manufacturing community or people in the supply community. That the decisions made by a DuPont or a Hercules could have a significant impact on everybody if they invested in the wrong technology or the wrong fiber, it became very important. And an understanding of the industry needed to be broadened out so it included an understanding of the role of the sales representatives as well as the designers of furniture and the fabric houses. We became very inclusive in thinking about anybody who could have an impact on the success of the whole industry.
INTERVIEWER: Obviously, Bill couldn’t cover everything.
INTERVIEWER: You had to start thinking about what kind of staff, what kind of reporters you needed to start recruiting.
POND: Right. We started recruiting at the April furniture market, even as we were at that same time announcing the concept for Furniture/Today. One of the very earliest people that both Bill and I were very interested in getting to come on board to help us was Carole Sloan. Carole had already announced that she was leaving JC Penney and was going out as an independent communications consultant with her husband, Peter. I remember riding in a taxi with Carole out to Alderman Studios in High Point, trying to convince her that she should come on board with us. Her new company was a communications business but clearly editorially driven, not really what you and I would think of as PR. It was more intended to be an editorial activity. Carole’s emphasis at that time probably would have been much more consumer driven, more like writing for the established shelter magazines.
INTERVIEWER: Had she done extensive writing at that point?
POND: Carole had begun her career at Fairchild, and had worked there for many years before she went to work for JC Penney. She went from being a journalist into merchandising at the retail level with JC Penney.
INTERVIEWER: She wasn’t at Fairchild when you were there?
POND: No, she had left and was at JC Penney at that point. When I joined Fairchild, she’d been long gone. I think she may have been with JC Penney maybe as many as six, eight or 10 years, then made the decision to go out on her own. I literally was recruiting editorial strength from the very beginning of Furniture/Today. You couldn’t find anybody more knowledgeable than Carole Sloan about mass merchandising and department store retailing in the furniture business. She was a critical first member of the team.
INTERVIEWER: Did anybody else quickly come on board that you and Bill decided you needed to have?
POND: We were very fortunate to hire one of the association people from the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association who became the office manager. We just started building the team. We also needed to hire somebody in production, and eventually we hired Bob Steimel. Of course, there was more to the business than just the editorial side and the sales side. You had to have people who could actually send out the bills, and that’s when Karen Morris came on board. We had to build a business to support the editorial vision.
Of course, one of the big things was the recruiting of suppliers, because there were no publications printers in North Carolina at the time, and there was little support for the publishing industry in North Carolina. Finding Henry Wurst over in Apex, North Carolina, to print the paper took a lot of searching. We needed to find the right printer who would be able to print at the quality level and in the turnaround time that we needed. Finding the right graphics house to do the back shop work of cutting and pasting and creating film, if you will, that had to be done. Color Graphics was that company. There was a lot of infrastructure that had to be built at the same time. And, we had to recruit an art director.
INTERVIEWER: Did you and Bill just share the recruiting responsibilities?
POND: Bill focused on building the editorial side of the house, and I focused on building all the rest of it. We really needed to capitalize on Bill’s strengths on the editorial side, but Bill certainly participated with me in all those other things, because we were literally 10 feet away from each other all day long. It was certainly a consultative kind of process. But in terms of going out to hunt down printers, lawyers, accountants and bankers, I would have done all that.
INTERVIEWER: You must have decided early on that publishing the paper once every two weeks was probably the right frequency.
POND: If anything else, there’s a question of speed of startup — how fast can you assemble a team, get a business up and running, develop the systems, processors and procedures that would allow for the quality that we had to have. It's also a matter of, “How much cash have you got? How big a staff can you afford with that amount of cash?” The frequency of publication at the paper's launching — 26 times a year, every other week — was the right way to get started. Although even from the very beginning, we intended to be weekly. It was a question of when. We felt we could start building a quality paper every two weeks, but that we would outrun our resources, be they people or cash, if we tried to do it every week.
INTERVIEWER: How about selling the initial ads? What sort of experience was that for you and, I guess, Ollie, who you said came on board in July of ’76, I believe.
POND: Ollie came on board in July, but we already had significant momentum coming out of the April furniture market.
INTERVIEWER: You had some advertising commitments of some sort?
POND: It was a very interesting experience, because Bill and I had been seen together during furniture markets by the manufacturers, since he was my key reporter in the furniture business. Given the limited amount of time I might have to be at a furniture market versus a housewares market, a consumer electronics market, floor coverings market, a table top market and so on, Bill and I would work together. We were seen as a pair and, of course, Bill was 20 years older than I was and he was almost twice my size. We made a very interesting pair together. It was very clear that Bill and I enjoyed each other’s company. We had spent a lot of time together during markets over the previous few years when we went out to see people and announced that we were going to create a newspaper.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a mockup of a proposed paper with you?
POND: No, no, no. No mock up.
INTERVIEWER: It was just an idea, just a concept?
POND: Just a concept. Just the idea that the industry needed a newspaper, and Bill and I were going to do it together.
We went in to see a guy by the name of Gary Schroeder, whose title at the time would have been vice president of sales and marketing at La-Z-Boy Chair. There was a president who was a family member of the founding La-Z-Boy family and was not involved in the sales and marketing and product side. He would have been involved more on the financial and manufacturing side. Gary really was the visible industry leader for La-Z-Boy Chair at the time.
I don’t think Bill and I were more than five or 10 minutes max into talking about creating a newspaper for the industry when Gary just looked right at us and said, “I want the back page.” Bill and I were announcing that we’re going to create a newspaper, and we were not on a sales call, and a guy like Gary Schroeder very quickly saw that this could really be something that would be valuable for him at La-Z-Boy. “Before anybody else stakes a claim, I want the back page”, he told us. He was attempting to buy all 26 back pages at the mere announcement of the paper. He just wanted to be sure that he raised his hand and said “I want it before anybody else bought it.”
That was a very interesting experience. We had a similar experience when we went to see Paul Broyhill. He said, “I think that’s fabulous. Our industry needs a newspaper of its own. I want to buy a subscription for every one of my retailers.” He didn’t buy advertising when Bill and I went to see him. For that matter, I had no idea what we were going to charge for advertising at that point. We were just talking about building a newspaper. I mean, no rate cards, nothing. It’s just the two of us.
Paul Broyhill believed in the idea that the industry should have its own newspaper. He believed enough in Bill and Steve that he said, “I want to buy a subscription for all of my customers.” He said, “How much do you want?” I had no idea. We hadn’t gone that far in figuring out anything. On the spot, he bought 2,000 subscriptions to a non-existent newspaper and paid for it in advance.
POND: He wrote a letter to all of his customers saying, “I know Bill and I know Steve; our industry needs a newspaper, and so I bought you a subscription. They'll do a great job for our industry.”
Initially, there was no selling going on, but there was some buying going on. People were staking claims to positions with their industry’s newspaper.
INTERVIEWER: You realized at that point there was indeed a need out there, and you were on the right track.
POND: There was certainly a high level of interest. People were enthusiastic about the concept and the idea. Another source of enthusiasm was a guy by the name of Dick Singer, who was running a brass bed company. Dick immediately latched onto the idea, wanted to be part of it. And there were other people that just volunteered that they wanted to advertise. You know, it was just pretty amazing, since that was not what we were doing. As you remember, we never, ever, ever had editorial people involved in sales.
This was a unique time when Bill and I were jointly announcing the creation of the newspaper, and we were clearly not making sales calls. We were just trying to engage the industry in the creation of its paper. And we met during the April market with retailers as well as with manufacturers, because we wanted the feedback from the retail community that we were on the right track. But some people did jump up.
The real selling started when Ollie got on board. Then Ollie got a territory and I took a territory, and eventually we started hiring salespeople.
INTERVIEWER: What are your memories of bringing the first issue together?
POND: I think both Bill and I went through a series of panic moments during the final week of bringing together the first issue. We were very, very challenged to fill the first issue. As it turned out, we did have significant advertising in the very first issue, and therefore we had lots of space. We had more space to fill than we had people to fill it to maintain the quality, because as the birth of your baby, it would be more scrutinized than any other issue that ever came out, to see whether or not it really was on track. We had a lot of panic moments, because we sold a lot more advertising than we could have ever imagined for our first issue.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the things Bill and you had to do to get the issue out?
POND: We were very fortunate in that both Bill and I knew a number of professionals who could help us. I've already talked about Carole Sloan being one of the foundational editorial people, and most of what was done in the early issues was done on a freelance basis by professionals that Bill and I knew. But one of the gifts that we got was that one of the retailers was opening a series of new showrooms for furniture. They spent a lot of money on the photography in order to make the best effect possible in the first issue.
INTERVIEWER: Who was this?
POND: I’d have to go back and look at that first issue to remember the name. But we just got input from the whole industry to help us fill those first issues, and not just from the journalists we hired, but also from the retail community. They wanted to be in the paper, so they sent us stuff.
But it’s hard to prime the pump at first. By the time you joined the paper in ’79 there was a flow of information that we could select from. But for that first issue, you’re priming that pump. There wasn’t the flow of information about store openings, about executive changes, about galleries or new product introductions. We began from a dead start, in the first week of September after the doldrums of the summer. It was panic. Of course, we also were testing for the first time all of the systems of production, all of the manufacturing, the printing, the mailing, the list management – everything.
INTERVIEWER: How did you create that first circulation list?
POND: We had to mail it out to somebody. We opened the office in the first week of July, and the paper came together in about 90 days. We announced in the middle of April, so that’s May, June, July, August, and by September, here we are. We benefited, for instance, from the 2,000 names that came from Paul Broyhill, and that’s not a bad foundation. And we had an opportunity to collect names of manufacturers, suppliers, and reps. Initially we sent the paper out as a free sample. Then, over time, we converted to an almost fully paid circulation.
INTERVIEWER: Did you get good support from the associations at that point?
POND: The associations were thrilled that there would be an industry newspaper — the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers, the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association, the National Home Furnishings Association, which is primarily retail furniture buyers. From the Gabbert family, the Jimmy Kittles of the world — there was a lot of support from the retail community that were members of these associations. People just sent us names, saying I think these people ought to get the paper. We would vet that and add them to the list.
There was a lot of infrastructure that had to be built from scratch in 90 days.
INTERVIEWER: When you were putting together the first issue, were there any big glitches or problems that made you throw up your hands and say, “No, we’re never going to get this out?”
POND: There were a lot of glitches that scared us that we would not get it out. There was some panic on how we were going to fill the last two pages, because we didn’t want to just fill the pages. We wanted to fill the pages with things that were valuable and important for the industry. I remember we were running out of copy. The issue was far bigger than we could have ever envisioned for something that was being launched in 90 days. There were glitches with all the early issues. I look back on some of those early issues and I remember we were extraordinarily proud to get them out, but it wasn't easy.
On the first issue, we had Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter on the cover, and there was some misunderstanding with the artist who did the sketches of the two candidates that were running for the presidency as to which one was taller than the other. In fact, we actually didn’t get it right in that first issue.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a piece of furniture on that first cover?
POND: No, because although we knew that the industry was product driven, in order to be the industry’s newspaper, we needed to cover far more than what was going on in product. There was no furniture on that first cover. We were fortunate to be able to get the candidates to comment on issues that were important to the furniture industry. They’re running for office, they want all the support they can get from any constituency, and we had the chutzpa and nerve to ask them to comment on things that were of importance to the furniture industry. It was not like general coverage of the candidates running for office, it was general coverage of their platforms as they thought it might have an impact on furniture manufacturing and retailing.
INTERVIEWER: How many of that first issue did you print?
POND: I think we printed 20,000. Or rather, we mailed out 20,000. Probably printed 22,000 or something like that. We collected a lot of names, and we got them all typed in and processed for mailing.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about how you decided on a name of the publication.
POND: Bonnie Peterson, Bill's wife, had worked on a newspaper in Florida called Cocoa Today, and that was really the inspiration for the concept of a title like Furniture/Today. Of course, this is long before the existence of USA Today. And given that we weren't going to be daily or even weekly at first, and also given that we wanted to cover the entire industry, it became apparent that we shouldn’t be called, say, Furniture News, which might imply we were about furniture as a product. Nor would we want to be called Furniture Retailing, because that might imply that we were only about retailing. The word “today” really sprang to the front of the line of the many, many, many, many titles that we did consider. We ultimately decided on the title Furniture/Today, having printed up more than one business card, each with a different name.
INTERVIEWER: What were the alternative names?
POND: Furniture Retailer would have been one of them. There were several that had been considered and printed up. We were having breakfast on the first day of the April Market in 1976 with Dick Singer of Berkshire, the brass bed company, who I mentioned before as an early fan of the paper. We had benefited from his counsel, so we pulled out our business card with the various titles and showed them to Dick. We asked him which one he thought was best, and he said, “Furniture/Today, absolutely! That’s the one!” We quietly put away all the other business cards and we went with Furniture/Today. But the original inspiration really came from Bonnie Peterson, who had worked on Cocoa Today.
These days, there are lots of papers with “today” in the name, so we were very fortunate to have landed on “today.” Of course, in subsequent years, we launched many other publications with “today” as part of the name.
INTERVIEWER: Was Bob Steimel with you from the first as the production manager?
POND: No, I was the production manager at that stage.
INTERVIEWER: And you did the “road map,” the plan of how the advertising and the editorial material would be placed in the paper?
POND: Bill and I would have worked on the road map together. I was always responsible for where we were going to put the ads, but Bill and I would have done that in a collaborative way to be sure that he had the shapes and spaces that would allow him to place the stories properly, or place the photography properly. It’s easy to say, “OK, La-Z-Boy goes on the back page,” or to put Uniroyal Naugahyde in the center spread. That's the easy part. But then you had a lot of small-space ads, and so Bill and I would have worked on that together to make sure that he had editorial space that was compatible with what he needed. I would put advertising where it wouldn't be hard for him to deal with.
But we benefited from using Allie Brown, the photographer who helped us start in the very beginning. Ray Reid was the original art director. When I handled the production side of things, I benefited tremendously from the help of Allie and Ray, neither of whom really were production people, but I couldn’t have done it without the two of them because they understood things about production that I was never close enough to. I was making most of it up as I went along, with the help of people who at least were familiar with some of that stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Was there any debate about whether the paper would be other than tabloid sized? Did you ever consider any other basic format?
POND: No, it was always going to be a tabloid, and printed on a quality of paper that would allow us to feel pretty much like a newspaper but at a much higher quality resolution for full-color printing than was the norm at the time. We had a relatively inexpensive paper to print on that felt like a newspaper but had some of the quality of reproduction that you would associate with coated, slick-stock paper. There were a limited number of papers available at the time that could do that. The coated stock was quite expensive. The printer helped us by buying the paper, fully expecting, of course, that we would pay for it. Everybody helped us be successful, including the printer.
INTERVIEWER: I believe that Stone Printing in High Point did the typesetting from the very beginning, right?
POND: Yes, Stone Printing did the typesetting, Color Graphics did the stripping and pasting, and Henry Wurst did the printing.
INTERVIEWER: Both you and Bill were there, I’m sure, as the first issues were being put together and coming off the press.
POND: We were there for issue after issue after issue. If there were corrections that needed to be made editorially, Bill and I would do that together. Literally every single page would have been reviewed at Color Graphics by Bill and by me, and then I went to the printer in Apex, North Carolina. Sometimes I’d catch things at the printer. Usually it had more to do with things like photos being stripped in upside down rather than story content issues.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about some of the important early developments in the history of Furniture/Today after you launched the paper.
POND: I think that one of the very fortunate things that happened in the very first year — in fact, in the fourth issue, which would have been the opening day Market issue in October1976 — the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association ran an ad in the paper welcoming Furniture/Today as a service to the industry.
The ad included a picture of the SFMA board, a full-color picture. That was a huge indication of the level of commitment that the industry was making to have its own newspaper. That ad, with all of those key industry manufacturers pictured in it, turned out to be very influential, I think, in the success of the paper.
There was a very deep, deep, deep need that showed itself early on, and not only by a very aggressive and astute merchandising guy like Gary Schroeder of La-Z-Boy making a decision that he wants to own real estate in the industry’s newspaper, on the mere announcement of it. For an important industry association to run its first and perhaps only ad ever, that was a huge boost.
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t twist their arms to do this?
POND: No. This was their idea. You wouldn’t have ever thought of calling on them because industry associations don’t advertise. That was an initiative taken by the SFMA board itself, expressing a desire to have their own newspaper, if you will. That was key to the paper, and it certainly was a huge, huge boost to the morale of the sales effort, that that sort of thing just came in over the transom. That really helped make for positive cash flow, for sure.
As we talked about before, what really came to fruition in the building of the newspaper was our focus on the quality of editorial. We set a standard of the Wall Street Journal as the quality that we needed to have issue after issue after issue. You needed to have the methods and you needed to be hiring people who could do that. Holding ourselves to that standard of quality really became very valuable to us as we began the process of conversion from sending the paper out initially for free to getting people to pay for it. If you’re going to start something in 90 days, it’s a little tough to do much of a direct-mail campaign.
INTERVIEWER: Paul Broyhill paid for 2,000 subscriptions. What did you charge him for that? What was the initial subscription price?
POND: He bargained hard and I did everything I could to accept his lowest price. He paid $6 a subscription, and handed me a check for $12,000 on a paper that didn’t even exist yet. It was a huge vote of confidence — just astounding, just astounding.
INTERVIEWER: You sent out 20,000 free Furniture/Todays.
POND: Yes. Then we began the process of converting it to paid. The success of the paper was driven by the quality of its editorial, which generated not only a commitment to paying subscription prices, but in addition to that it began to be so intensely read by the industry that classified advertising became a very, very important additional source of revenue for the paper.
INTERVIEWER: You hadn’t foreseen the possibility of running classified ads in the beginning?
POND: There really wasn’t a lot of advertising that you would call classified in the furniture industry because you had mostly monthly magazines, and you didn’t have enough speed of response in a monthly magazine. Because of the breadth of Home Furnishings Daily, you didn’t have enough people advertising for and looking for jobs in just the furniture industry. You really had readership from the people who are making the decisions about what jobs there might be, but there was nobody reading HFD who was likely to be looking for a job. It turned out that Furniture/Today, by being a community newspaper and focused on the industry, had tremendous readership among the sales reps. The sales reps were among the first people to want to pay for their own subscriptions. The sales reps were not on the initial circulation lists. They had to see it in stores and make their own decisions about buying it. Of course, we treated every industry association, including the sales rep association, as an important part of the total community. They really felt it was as much their paper as it was the manufacturers and retailers and suppliers. If you got the reps looking for lines and manufacturers offering lines, you got classified advertising.
That eventually broadened into all types of classified advertising, from furniture liquidators to real estate people — many different categories of classified advertising. We benefited from that kind of advertising which is very, very unusual in business newspapers. You see it, of course, in daily newspapers, or at least you used to. That’s a mainstay of dailies, but it’s mostly gone for them now.
We hired Jan Ritter as our first classified advertising manager. Since we recognized that it was important to have relationships with all elements of the industry, we made Jan responsible for our relationships with all the rep organizations. She not only ran the classified, but she also was our rep to the reps, if you will. She went to all their dinners and all their events and so on.
We reached out to every part of the industry to give them a sense of being part of the paper. We had a strategy of being inclusive in terms of wanting to know what’s going on, while still exercising the proper news judgments on what we put on page one and what were the lead stories inside the paper, and how we organized the information so that it was most useful. We understood that the industry needed a unique combination of news and information in the context of a community newspaper, so that people would have information that they couldn’t get anyplace else.
All of those charts listing new products that were being introduced at markets, all those rankings, all those listings of the best-selling this or that, who the largest retailers were, the top 100 — all those things that we developed in those initial years, have become absolute foundations for the industry’s understanding of itself. Reading Furniture/Today became a lot like checking to see who won the horse race last week, watching to see who’s moving ahead and who’s falling behind. I mean, the industry loved to see who was successful, and maybe sometimes who wasn’t.
Those lists and rankings led us beyond the issue of quality journalism to the issue of quality research. Many years ago, we hired Kay Anderson as a research person, and with her leadership built up a whole market research department, so we could be sure that everything in the paper was accurate and of high quality.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about the advertising rate card. I heard you say many times that selling ads off a published rate card that applied to all advertisers was a key element in the paper’s success.
POND: It was very unusual in business publishing at the time. Our rate card was a firm rate card. There was no negotiation, no deals, nothing. And if you had less money to spend, we could come up with another program that fit your budget. But we would not change the price. We realized a lot of benefits from that approach, and it all contributed to a perception of the integrity of what we were doing. If there was no negotiation on the rate card, then the advertiser had the impression that there would certainly be no negotiation on any editorial content. We weren’t going to negotiate on the price of the ads, and the salesmen never had the role of talking about editorial coverage. We just cut that off right there. I mean, that was the end of that.
That interesting combination of being able to look each customer in the eye and say nobody’s paying less than you are, that this is the published price, that we sell ads to everybody at this price, over time that level of integrity meant that you could talk about ideas that might work for the client instead of spending your time negotiating a price. That got us out of the price business and got us into the idea business.
INTERVIEWER: Another thing that we used to hear you say about advertising is that we’re not selling ad space, we’re selling marketing assistance.
POND: Yes, we’re selling ideas. Creating and selling ideas that will help the advertiser be more successful in the marketplace.
INTERVIEWER: Did you create a list early on of the manufacturers you wanted to get to advertise in the paper, then systematically attack that list?
POND: We had an intense account ranking system that served as a road map on where salespeople would spend their time. It was a ranking based on the critical importance of the company as a potential advertiser, as well as on the near-term propensity to spend. Somebody could be a very, very big potential advertiser, but if for whatever reason, even though they could afford it and would benefit from it, they were not going to spend any money on trade advertising, we would decide it didn't make any sense to spend a whole lot of time in unproductive ways trying to change their mind. It was a very good time-allocation, time-management system.
INTERVIEWER: In effect, you just had to give up on some companies that refused to do trade advertising.
POND: Absolutely. Again, we understood there’s a big difference between, “Are we going to cover those companies editorially, and are we going to sell them advertising?” I mean, we got virtually no advertising out of a company like Thomasville, say, and we covered them in the newspaper all the time, because they were an important industry player which our readers needed to know about. Fred Starr, Thomasville's president, would come to the office to present to the editorial team the next stage of development for them, whether it was in products or product display ideas or any changes that were going on in Thomasville. I mean, the president of the company would come to our office and brief the editorial team on what Thomasville was doing next. They never bought an ad. There was never any discussion about covering them. We knew we had to cover them; we wanted to cover the entire industry. They knew, and other big, important companies knew, that there was no quid pro quo on coverage and advertising.
INTERVIEWER: One of the ground rules that was very clear was that we didn’t print rumors.
POND: Oh, God, no.
INTERVIEWER: Of course, rumors were rife in the furniture industry. What were your and Bill’s thinking behind that?
POND: It’s just a standard of excellence in journalism that, if you can’t get multiple sources to corroborate a fact, then it’s a serious, serious and misleading error to put something in front of the industry that really may or may not be true. Until we could determine that it was true, we just wouldn’t do it. Bill and I were both very fortunate to know people across a very broad spectrum of responsibilities within the industry, and I know it was sometimes frustrating for some of the journalists, but we could often find out that a particular rumor absolutely wasn’t true simply by making a few phone calls.
Every newspaper needs the traditional sources in order to maintain the accuracy and integrity of anything you put in the paper. Everyone’s looking to get an edge, to be the first to break a story. One of the things that really makes a difference is the depth of relationships that you have with people in the industry, which allows you to double-check things before you go to print. We wanted to be sure that if you read it in the paper, it was there only because it was true.
INTERVIEWER: You've already talked about some of the key early hires you made at the paper, both on the sales and on the editorial side. What else comes to your mind about that?
POND: It’s fair to say again that one of the key hires was, in fact, in bringing Bob Steimel on board as production manager. Up until that point in time, Bill and I were both deeply involved in production, and that meant I couldn’t spend more time on the selling side or Bill on the editorial side. We had to worry about how we’re going to mechanically get out the next issue. That was really key. It was also key when we hired Karen Morris as office manager, because Karen was extraordinarily valuable in building the systems, procedures and processes that would allow us to function as a well managed business.
INTERVIEWER: How did you find her? And Bob?
POND: Bob had worked for Fairchild in New York. Despite the misgivings that his family may have had about living in North Carolina, he came down on a trial basis, and his family stayed in New York. Eventually, they all moved down here.
INTERVIEWER: How soon after the founding of the paper was this? When did Bob came aboard?
POND: Bob would have come on board at the beginning of ’77. 1977 was a year where we expanded the base of the publication. I think Joe Carroll was hired in October of ’77. Joe has now been with the paper for 31-and-a-half years.
INTERVIEWER: He was the second salesperson after Ollie?
POND: Yes, he was the second salesperson after Ollie.
INTERVIEWER: And wasn't Joe with an advertising agency at that time?
POND: Joe was the senior vice president and head of the home furnishings practice for an agency called J.P. Hogan, which is over in Knoxville, Tennessee. With the thought that some day he would become the publisher of Furniture/Today, he gave up his corner office overlooking the river over there and came into our windowless office and started out as a sales guy. Of course, the rest is history. Joe has been one of the greatest business publishers in history. I mean, he truly fills every element of that role. He’s a contributor to the furniture industry as a whole.
On the editorial side of the house, of course, we had to build up all of the core functions of any newspaper, including the desk and the function of the managing editor. When you’re putting something together, you develop a sense of being on a crusade, and often the people who join you at the beginning are people who like to be crusaders and want to be part of something from the beginning.
There were people like Henry Howard, who came on board early on as the original managing editor, really taking that function over from Bill, which freed up more of Bill’s time to be able to continue to add to the staff. It wasn’t that long after that that Lester Craft joined the paper, and Joyce Earnhardt joined the paper. I've forgotten some of the details of where each of them worked before we hired them.
INTERVIEWER: Lester was working as a reporter for the newspaper down in Lexington, North Carolina, and I believe Joyce was with the Ridgeway Clock Company up in Ridgeway, Virginia.
POND: You're probably right.
INTERVIEWER: One of the first full-time reporters in High Point you hired was Judith Cushman, right?
POND: Judith Cushman, right.
INTERVIEWER: She was the one who tipped me off about the copy editing job you needed to have filled. I joined Furniture/Today in late February of 1979.
POND: Judith had a master’s degree in English from Chicago, a very smart woman.
INTERVIEWER: I recall we were growing at an incredibly rapid pace back in those days.
POND: Yes, there was soon an opportunity to go weekly. But there also was an opportunity for us to bring in the electronic newsroom. We were perhaps the first business newspaper to bring in the concept of an electronic newsroom in the early '80s. Prior to that, you’d seen these computer-based editing and typesetting systems installed at the Kansas City Star and Fort Worth Star Telegram and other large dailies. But you'd not seen one of those things built for a little local industry trade publication. This gave us an opportunity to not only go weekly, which we had already done, but also to get a huge jump on the news, because with the electronic system, you could close out the paper much, much closer to when you had to go to press.
That allowed us to really establish an even more intense involvement with the industry. You could get the paper with news in it that, in some cases, literally had happened the day before. That gave us a huge, huge advantage. That was a sort of bet-the-farm kind of thing in the early stages of the paper. It was a huge expense at the time to install an electronic newsroom. I think I spent every nickel that we had set aside from the early years of profitability.
INTERVIEWER: By that time, of course, you already had Home Textiles Today up in New York.
INTERVIEWER: You really installed an electronic newsroom at two sites.
POND: Yes. Home Textiles Today was a more challenging startup than Furniture/Today. I think by that stage of the game — this would have been in 1979 — the competition was no longer willing to let us get very far along before they tried to crush us. And the success of Furniture/Today made each and every startup after that much, much, much harder.
INTERVIEWER: Wasn’t that one of your original thoughts, that after you launched the furniture publication, you would take on the other segments of the retailing marketplace that had been covered by HFD?
POND: When we started Furniture/Today, it was clearly with the idea that it would be a platform that would allow us to go into other industries and other businesses, and not necessarily that we were going to be marching along the path with HFD in mind. We had the notion that we could grow to something like six to 10 different publications, and that it might take us about 10 years to build the company to that point. It would be built on a platform of editorial excellence that would set new standards in business publishing. We felt very comfortable that our business model would be more profitable than the rather loose editorial strategy of most people in the trade publishing business at that time.
We looked very aggressively at other industries, the supermarket industry, for instance, as potentially an area to enter. But we ended up launching in the home textiles arena because that was Carole Sloan’s personal love, and her history at JC Penney had been more on the home textiles and the fabric side. Carole originally covered fabric and upholstery for Furniture/Today, but her knowledge of home fashions retailing was huge. Carol really was very much the inspiration for the second newspaper, and she was the founding editor-in-chief of Home Textiles Today.
There really was not a dedicated strategy that was focused on just home furnishings. It turned out that was the way that we rolled things out, but that was not what we originally had in mind. It was definitely a concept of wanting to be in retailing, and the supermarket industry was one of the ones we looked at.
INTERVIEWER: It just didn’t seem like a good market segment at the time?
POND: We got a little bit derailed because of two things. One of them was the challenges of being successful with Home Textiles Today. The competition was much, much, much more intent on killing us right away. It was a really tough competitive environment for us. They did everything they could to prevent us from being successful. But in the end, Home Textiles Today was as profitable a business as Furniture/Today, and for all the same reasons. You know, the concepts were right, the principles were right, the operating strategies were right and the editorial platform was second to none. It ultimately did work, but it was very hard initially to generate the revenue to support the expense, so we lost money on it for quite a while.
That distracted us and took away time and attention, but we came very close to buying a publication in the supermarket arena as a way of getting into that space, rather than launching a new publication. We looked at buying one of the existing publications, but it just did not come to pass. We went ahead and launched Home Accents Today, originally called Accessories Today.
INTERVIEWER: Do you want to mention some of the other publications the company eventually launched?
POND: We were interested in the various home furnishings areas, and we did launch something called Design Today, which dealt with the elements of interior design at the upper end, but focused on retail interior design. We also launched Upholstering Today, which covered the manufacturing side of upholstered furniture; we thought that we might be able to serve that industry fairly well.
We had a unique success story with a publication called The Professional Upholsterer, one of the very few things we didn’t attach the name “today” to. The Professional Upholsterer dealt with a very tiny slice of the industry, the re-upholstery shops all across America. It was something of particular interest to Ollie Bieniemy, who really did an awful lot of pioneering work with prisons and other places that were sources of training for people who would become re-upholsterers, and who would repair and fix and recover upholstered furniture. Of course, that concept today would certainly fit much better under the umbrella of recycling, and under the umbrella of “green” living and reducing our carbon footprint, where you don’t throw anything out, you just remake it.
That was not the approach at the time, but The Professional Upholsterer proved to be a very nice, profitable business, because we actually built it around the concept of an association that would be supportive of all these little re-upholstery stops across America. A bit removed from the fundamentals of being in the newspaper business, perhaps, but it was a pet product of Ollie’s and he made it profitable.
INTERVIEWER: These were mostly monthly magazines — Upholstering Today, Design Today, Accessories Today, The Professional Upholsterer — were they not? And haven't most of them ceased publication?
POND: Well, yes, mostly. But Accessories Today became Home Accents Today, which is still going today. Again, it was a much more competitive environment, because we were no longer sort of pooh-poohed as a competitor. We were no longer dismissed as a competitor. Any time we would show up, everybody took it seriously after Furniture/Today. It was a little harder to get in under the radar as we went into other markets.
No, the publications that were sold to Reed, the three that continue to exist today — Furniture/Today, Home Textiles Today, Home Accents Today — all have been very, very, very, very successful and very profitable businesses for them. The other three were smaller.
One of the key elements of the profitability of The Professional Upholsterer was the industry association that I mentioned, which we actually created ourselves. One of the things the association did was to provide its members with group insurance. And, after we sold the company to Reed, we were actually asked by Reed to close the association, because they didn’t want to have any exposure in the insurance industry. That business could have gone on and continued to be profitable and successful, but we were asked by Reed to close it.
Again, a key component to the success of that was serving the unique needs of the community. We created an association which didn’t exist before, which allowed us to create a group insurance policy so all these little shops could buy health insurance. Reed, which was London-based, wanted absolutely nothing to do with the American insurance industry.
You may also remember that we had another business called Video Today. The founding president of that was Phil Watson. But the concept of video really did not fit with the trade publication and trade show exhibition strategy of Reed. Shortly after the company was sold to Reed, within that first year, I arranged to sell the business to Phil Watson at a nominal price. The business was dependent upon his leadership and it really did not fit with the rest of Reed and its strategy. There was, if you will, a divestiture of a business that didn’t fit with their strategy, and there was the closing down of what really was an association business, where the association published a monthly magazine for its members. We really were in the association business as the primary thing. Memberships were $75 a year, and out of that you got a publication. But you also had all the other association benefits. It was a nice business.
INTERVIEWER: You’re talking about The Professional Upholsterer now?
POND: Yes, but The Professional Upholsterer and Upholstering Today were tied in together because the editor was the same for both. In other words, the knowledge base that allows you to produce Upholstering Today and The Professional Upholsterer was the same team. Same group of advertisers too, except that there were certainly two distinctly different markets. One targeted the small re-upholstery shops, and the other one clearly served the needs of manufacturers of upholstery, some of whom were pretty big companies.
INTERVIEWER: What was the concept behind Video Today?
POND: At that time, around the early to mid-'80s, much like the online world that we’re in today, there was a lot more emphasis on communication through video. We actually built a successful business on the concept of creating furniture market videos, where we would go into the showrooms during the High Point markets and videotape some of the key introductions in dining rooms, in bedrooms, in dinettes, in accessories. We would have a video report on the market. Not only would it showcase the various products, so that a buyer might see what they had missed, but you also would have interviews with the people who might be defining style directions, design directions, movements in price points up and down, promotional directions.
We built a very significant, very profitable business producing videos for the industry. It turned out that there were a lot of people who wanted to advertise in that medium. It was really a hot thing to have this video medium, and we got lots of sponsorship. The problem was that our own research and our own personal phone calls to people indicated that the videos were not getting the viewership that we thought was fair to the advertisers, given what we were charging them. It was one of those classic cases where we could sell the advertising, but we couldn’t deliver the viewership. Even though it was a very profitable business, we closed it down
INTERVIEWER: The end user wasn’t there, so to speak.
POND: There weren’t enough end users to justify the price that the advertiser was willing to pay. You had this very strange thing: You might be sending out thousands of these things to every influential person in the industry — here’s the group that gets the accessories video, here’s the group that gets the dining room tape, here’s the group that gets the upholstery one, and so on. We had a great system and we had a high-quality product.
But when the video got to your desk, it didn’t have the ease of reading that a newspaper had. People would stop and get a cup of coffee and read Furniture/Today. But with videotape, you've got to stop what you’re doing, and you can’t flip through the pages. Back then, the technology wouldn't allow you to flip through the pages. You had to put the tape in to play it and you had to sit there and watch it. You may not have wanted to watch the whole thing, but you couldn’t stop and go back, or speed ahead, conveniently; the tape wasn't easily controllable. If you go through Furniture/Today and you see a story you don’t want to read, you go to the next page. You just couldn’t do that with videotapes. Literally, people would tell me, “Steve, it’s sitting on my desk. I want to watch it, but I haven’t watched it.” And we’re talking about the most important people in the industry telling me that in reality they may never get around to watching it. That’s all we needed to know, and we shut it down. It was hard to close a business that was so profitable. But it was an easy decision at the time.
Thus, it became apparent that Video Today was not going to be a new medium, but rather was going to be a service support mechanism for the industry. It really was not going to be in the publishing business. We had a publishing model for it that was very profitable, but then we had to close it, and that’s the point at which I made the decision we ought to just go ahead and sell it to Phil.
INTERVIEWER: We need to get to the sale of Furniture/Today, but is there anything else you would like to say about some of the middle years of Furniture/Today? Did any of your approaches or your basic philosophy change with more and more experience, and as Furniture/Today became the dominant publication in the industry?
POND: It became the dominant publication because Bill and I had spent an enormous amount of time thinking about what we wanted to build before we started to build it. One of the things that we were successful in doing was building a self-sustaining culture with and through all of the people who came to the paper, that we had a quality of training and indoctrination that began with somebody’s first interview. If you got through the sixth interview, you might have gotten hired. But by that time, you really understood what you were getting into. There was high compatibility between the core values of those people who were hired and the people who were already there, and with the underlying philosophies that Bill and I both had and developed prior to even launching it. We were able to build a culture that has lasted over 30 years and resisted enormous pressure to change from the outside for a long, long time.
INTERVIEWER: Weren’t there offers to buy Furniture/Today very early on after people saw that it was going to be a success?
POND: The first offer to buy Furniture/Today was in September of 1976 at the Hilton Hotel in Greensboro.
INTERVIEWER: Was that right after the first issue came out?
POND: The first issue was not even published yet. And a corporate fellow came down, and they were the people who owned things like New York magazine and two or three other publications. But they offered me, over breakfast, a million dollars in cash before the first publication was even printed.
INTERVIEWER: What do you make of something like that? It sounds totally bizarre on the face of it.
POND: You know, given that the thing doesn’t exist yet at that particular point in time, it just... it was an enormous amount of money in 1976. But neither Bill nor I were starting a paper to make money. We were starting a paper for what we thought might be a lifetime achievement, which was creating one of the greatest business newspapers in history. We both felt we wanted to create something that we would really be proud of. And the idea of having an owner other than us, no, we weren’t remotely interested. Of course, we had outside investors, but the outside investors were not publishing people and they were betting on whether I could get the job done as a business person. They were investing, if you will, in me because they didn’t know Bill. But we weren’t even tempted to take the money. Not even tempted.
Then, of course, as Furniture/Today became successful, it got reported on in the newsletters that cover the publishing business, and so there were people who would show up that wanted to buy us. But we didn’t want to entertain that, and didn’t entertain that.
INTERVIEWER: Early on, there was no thought of selling to anyone?
INTERVIEWER: As Furniture/Today grew and matured, that apparently became one of the things you started to think about doing.
POND: Yes, it really was something that we only began to explore around the beginning of ’87. And among the reasons then, now that we were 10 years into it and had six publications and were clearly quite profitable, was that beginning about three years before that, we had recognized that there were only so many things we could pull out of the ground de novo, and so we had started to look at acquisitions. We were being consistently outbid on acquisitions by the large corporate entities in the publishing business.
Meanwhile, we had hired an enormous number of very talented people on the business side as well as on the editorial side. We had a house full of MBAs from Harvard, Wharton, the University of North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke. We had a lot of very talented business people in addition to the talented editorial people, and we realized that we were not going to be able to grow through acquisitions because we were consistently getting outbid.
There was a consolidation movement going on in the business publishing industry at that time, and so it was an opportunity for us to think about the long-term future for everybody inside the company. It seemed that we were well suited to provide the leadership for somebody else if we could get properly connected to the right company. I explored the possibility of selling the company, we discovered it was really hard to manage the process, so we chose to go with Goldman Sachs as our investment bank after we interviewed them, Morgan Stanley and several others.
It was hard to control the process in line with our original concept, which was to find a long-term home for all of the employees as well as the publications that we had already created. We were looking for career opportunities for everybody involved. If we think back to those times, we were a very young team of people on a relative basis in the publishing industry.
We went through an auction process, a traditional auction, and they get everybody to bid the price up and raise the price and raise the price some more. Unfortunately, it became a money process and by the end of the auction, the bidding upped the price. But, we chose not to sell. It was all about the money, and that’s not what we wanted.
INTERVIEWER: You were disappointed in the quality of the people that were bidding, I assume.
POND: We were disappointed in what we thought was the reason they were bidding. If they were not able to appreciate the quality of the people, we didn’t care how much they were going to pay. In the end, the auction process got us the high price, but it didn’t get us the high quality relationship. We actually had gone out of our way to bring the bidders to North Carolina, have dinners with them, introduce them to management, let them get a good look at all the people. What we really wanted was a home for everybody. It ended up being all about the money. You could imagine the reaction at Goldman Sachs when I told them, “Well, thank you very much, but we’re not going to sell.”
INTERVIEWER: This would have been sometime in the later part of ’87?
INTERVIEWER: You decided the company would just have to keep going on its own?
POND: That’s right. We had no need to sell. There was no money need to sell, but we were looking for ways to grow what we do, and the impact and influence of our business model and strategy on business publishing. We just can’t get there from here because you know, people were overbidding, paying too much for businesses, and we were not winning any of these so-called auctions when we were trying to be bidders. We said, “OK, we’ll just stick to our knitting and go back to it.”
The chairman and CEO of Reed was a guy by the name of Ron Segel. I don’t know how relevant any of this is, but I’m going to share it with you anyway. Ron Segel was class of 1959 from the Harvard Business School, which was the same class as the then-dean of the Harvard Business School, a guy by the name of John MacArthur. Reed was headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts, literally 10 miles down the road from the Harvard Business School. Every once in a while, Ron Segel would get together with his classmate, the dean of the Harvard Business School, and they would talk about things.
At one of their meetings, Ron Segel casually mentions to John MacArthur that, we just bid on a company run by some guy that's 40 years old, and got to the end of the auction run by Goldman Sachs, and we offered him a lot of money, and amazingly he didn’t sell to us. In fact, he didn’t sell to anybody.
INTERVIEWER: Reed was in on the auction.
POND: Reed was in on the auction. Not necessarily the highest bidder at the time, but they were in on the original auction.
Ron said to MacArthur, “This is incredible. How does this guy turn down that much money? He’s only 40 years old. This is crazy.” John MacArthur said to him, “Well, he’s the guy that could turn out to be your replacement at Reed. Steve Pond turned around the Young President’s Seminar in executive education here at the Harvard Business School, a failing program and he successfully turned it around.”
The Young President's Seminar is a week-long seminar for CEOs from around the world. Today, it’s the most profitable, the most successful executive education program at the Harvard Business School.
MacArthur knew me really well, because he had to anoint me as the guy they needed to come in and turn it around. Of course, I’d done it on a pro bono basis; it was kind of a fun thing to do.
Segel began to think differently about me and about buying the company. That he wasn’t just buying cash flow, he wasn’t just buying publication titles; he was potentially buying additional management for the company that he’d been growing primarily through acquisitions. He didn’t have a well-developed internal management development and succession process. He leaves the lunch with MacArthur and calls me on the phone. Basically he said that he’d like to revisit the acquisition process; that he’d like to start over and re-examine what the future might be for the company and all of its people.
INTERVIEWER: Had you met Ron previously in the auction process?
INTERVIEWER: This wasn’t completely out of the blue.
POND: No, he’d been part of the auction process, one of a number of companies. Hearst was very involved in the process, as was McMillan. There were a bunch of the major names in the publishing business that were very interested in buying the company and actively bid on the company, but again it ended up being about money and not about people. It just didn’t feel right to do it. Ron called up and wanted to start over. He was much more involved in saying what the career opportunities might be for everybody.
INTERVIEWER: You started talking directly with Ron at that point?
POND: That’s right. Now, there are no lawyers involved. Now, there are no investment bankers involved. It began to be a dialog with the chairman and CEO of Reed.
INTERVIEWER: Wasn’t Ron's company actually known as Cahners at that point?
POND: No, the parent company was Reed. Cahners was the business magazine division of Reed.
INTERVIEWER: Ron was not head of Cahners, he was head of the parent, of Reed.
POND: Yes. There was a president of Cahners who reported to Ron.
INTERVIEWER: You and Ron Segel eventually came to an agreement.
POND: Yes. We had to go through all the prerequisites of me being invited to come and play golf with him and his son-in-law. But we also went through a more involved, serious process, talking about the people and the team. As a for-instance, we had more MBAs working at Communications/Today, the holding company for Furniture/Today and all our other publications, than they had in all of Cahners. We just had more talent. Most people just couldn’t see that from the outside. They couldn’t understand it from the outside. They couldn’t see the Scott McIlhennys, the George Hundleys, the Jill Newbolds. We had salespeople with MBAs who were part of our team and preparing to be publishers. They had people without MBAs who were already publishers.
You could see the cash flow, but you really couldn’t understand the culture in that auction process. We spent a lot more time looking at the things that were really important to us. You may remember, about six months later Reed bought the company. They bought the company on April 28 of 1988.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the principle elements of the sales agreement you signed with Mr. Segel and Reed? Obviously, they had satisfied you that they were the right company...
POND: Yes, but we spent an enormous amount of time working out the details of what happens to our profit-sharing plan, what happens to the employee benefits programs, what happens to how our employees enter the pension program, how many years of credit they would get. We got right down to the nitty-gritty of all the things that would be fair and right in the transfer of ownership. As you mentioned at lunch today, it worked out just fine for you, and I think it also worked out very well for all of the other employees of Furniture/Today, of Communications/Today.
INTERVIEWER: This was an incredibly detailed purchase agreement.
POND: Yes, intensely detailed. But we had been very, very, very focused on the quality of the details of execution in everything we ever did. I used to stop the printing presses over there in Apex if there was a drop of oil that hit the front page. “Stop! I want all of those removed and I want to understand where they all came from, and we don’t want to start up again until we make sure there’s no more oil that can hit the front page. We never want one of our subscribers to get a stained copy of Furniture/Today.” I mean, after a while it wasn’t a joke anymore. I mean, they probably thought at first that I was crazy over there at the printing company.
I used to go over there for all the early press runs and spend the night. Be up all night as long as they were printing the paper. We really, really focused on the quality of every single detail, and so certainly we did that in the sales agreement. We didn’t leave anything to chance. If I would have gotten hit by a Mack truck the day after we signed an agreement, my understandings with Ron Segel would not have held up as well as a written document would have. Of course, I was negotiating the agreement on behalf of all the employees.
INTERVIEWER: After the sale of the company, take us through the next steps at Furniture/Today and of your own career. And you mentioned Communications/Today a moment ago.
POND: Yes. Communications/Today was the name of the company that held Furniture/Today, Home Textiles Today, Home Accents Today, Video Today, Upholstering Today, etc. That just happened to be the parent company name. Reed actually bought a corporate entity called Communications/Today.
I think the thing that Ron Segel in particular wanted to do was very quickly get an opportunity trajectory built in for the people at the company. As you may remember, within the first three years after the acquisition, people started getting promoted to publishers of other things inside Reed, and they started to send things our way. Initially, for instance, one of the first publications they wanted to send our way was a magazine called Interior Design. They wanted to turn publications over to us and they also wanted to take some of our people and put them elsewhere inside the company.
On a personal level, they left me as president of Communications/Today, and also made me president of North American newspapers for them, and specifically president of Variety, the entertainment trade publication that almost everybody's heard of. Reed had gotten into big trouble on Variety. They bought Variety just before buying our business, and they added their corporate people into the family-run business, but left all the family there. Very quickly they started to lose millions of dollars with Variety. There were some very fundamental misunderstandings between the family and the corporate people.
I was asked to become president of that and asked to turn that business around. I did a very, very successful turnaround for them, but it required a lot of drastic surgery. All the corporate people were very quickly removed. The family in the end was retired with great dignity, and a whole new team of leadership was brought in. That was a very difficult turnaround because you had the daily Variety in Hollywood, the global weekly Variety in New York. I launched dailies at the Cannes Film Festival, and redesigned the publication. I changed the price structure. I changed the sales approach. I removed the entire New York sales staff one afternoon and replaced everybody. Replaced half the staff and 100 percent of the management to do that turnaround. It was very quick, very surgical, a very fast turnaround.
INTERVIEWER: Kind of like starting up Furniture/Today.
POND: In a way, except it’s a lot easier to do startups and build the right culture than it is to remove one that’s not working.
INTERVIEWER: After you got involved in Variety, what sort of relationships, what sort of ties did you retain in the furniture industry? You must have been devoting most of your attention to Variety, but you were still head of Communications/Today.
POND: Yes, I stayed on as president of Communications/Today, but in each case we had a publisher in place at the various publications who was very successful in running it. By now Joe Carroll was publisher of Furniture/Today and George Hundley was publisher of Home Textiles Today, and I think Scott McIlhenny was running Home Accents Today at that stage. Everything was in the hands of somebody who was quite successful with it. My role as president at that stage was really to provide support for leadership rather than to be the leader, and so those businesses were doing just fine. I still attended the furniture markets and so on, but my personal involvement in running a business was no longer needed.
INTERVIEWER: At least some of the day-to-day contact you'd had with some of the major people in the furniture industry you had to let go because you just didn’t have the time.
POND: Yes. There’s no way, if I’m out spending time with, say, Marvin Davis, who’s running Paramount, that I'd have time to spend with Paul Broyhill at Broyhill. There are only so many hours in the day, and fixing something like Variety did soak up quite a bit of time. Plus, at the same time, I was developing a newspaper division for Reed and I was preparing to become the chairman and CEO of the company.
INTERVIEWER: Continue the story a bit further from there.
POND: When the turnaround at Variety was completed and the integration of the ownership structure had been accomplished with Communications/Today, and all of the issues of benefits and employee opportunities were in place for Communications/Today, it was time for me to focus on family, and so I took a sabbatical and went back to Switzerland, to the MBA program there, which by then had merged into one program for French-speaking Switzerland. I went there as an executive in residence, to spend a year teaching and working in administration in the MBA program. I moved to Switzerland with my wife, Kathleen, and three small children in diapers.
INTERVIEWER: Did you find the academic environment at all stimulating?
POND: I love teaching and I love getting in front of the classroom and I love using the case method. I got to teach managerial values and ethics, which is quite unusual. There were only about six Americans in the entire class, so, the concept of discussing ethics and using case studies in ethics and being an American in front of the classroom was quite challenging at the time.
I remember one case in particular, where we were looking at additional landing rights for KLM, the Dutch airlines, in Jakarta, Indonesia. There was a question about bribery with the minister of transportation in Indonesia. More than two-thirds of the students thought it was a present-value calculation, as in how much should you pay in the way of a bribe. That is because different values in different cultures have different views of whether or not you pay the minister of transportation a bribe. It made for some rather exciting classroom experiences for me. Then I taught entrepreneurship as a leadership style, as a management style, and it is great fun doing that.
But academia is not a great environment for an entrepreneur. There is a lot of tradition, a lot of process and a lot of bureaucratic ways of doing things that are very, very hard for an entrepreneurial business leader to slow down and take a deep breath and let it go. I mean it was really hard. It was a great exposure for me, a great growth opportunity for me that certainly gave me every indication that I would never want to be an academic, any more than I really wanted to be an engineer. You could be really smart, but it might not be right for you.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about some of the other activities, entrepreneurial and otherwise, that you’ve been involved in since those days.
POND: I had the opportunity to buy a company based in Greensboro, North Carolina, called The Education Center. I bought it from the two founders, Dr. Albert J. Michael and his wife, Margaret. The two of them had advanced degrees in education. They’d been classroom teachers, principals, superintendents, reading consultants for foundations, and their company was dedicated to the needs of grade school teachers. It was a classic founders company in the sense that there were no managers except for the two founders. There were very limited systems, but it was a profitable business. I was very interested in the field of education, so I was very lucky to be able to purchase that business, and I’ve converted it from being founder driven to being management driven. I recruited a team of people to be understudies of the two founders. The two founders stayed for four years after I bought the company to help train and grow and develop a management team that could sustain the enterprise. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to triple the size of that business, and it’s been a very stable business, being these are grade school teachers. You’re literally serving the needs of hundreds of thousands of teachers every week who use our materials. That’s one venture.
I just finished working on the turnaround of the travel industry’s newspaper, magazines, directories and online services with, of all people, George Hundley and Scott McIlhenny. I’ve been chairman of the board for them as they’ve done that. I also have an investment company and invest in everything from specialty steel mills to cable television operations in French-speaking Europe. We’ve been very fortunate and done well as an investment company.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you a few general questions we ask all industry people for the American Furniture Hall of Fame, even though you've touched on some of these topics already. How would you describe your management techniques?
POND: I think that my management style and techniques are best suited for startups and turnarounds. While I’ve done one successful conversion of a founder-driven company to a management-driven company, I’m really best under those moments of stress that usually accompany startups and turnarounds, where you need decisive leadership. That's where talented people are really looking for people with a vision that can be articulated clearly enough that they would want to be part of the fulfillment of that vision. I’m very action oriented, very decisive. There’s a wonderful moment during that period of creating a new and successful culture in a startup, or renewing a culture in a turnaround, where people really want you to be the commander on the deck and the person who is providing the sense of purpose and a sense of vision that they want to help fulfill. I’m best at that.
There have been a number of times where I’ve drilled down to the very essence of a business and built or rebuilt all of the elements of it, whether in a turnaround or a startup, in great detail, so that they’re well known processes and procedures that people fully understand and can carry out and carry on. My style would be one where I want to find people who will be able to run the business without me. My goal and my objective is always to build myself as quickly as I can out of the business, and turn it over to people for whom it’ll be the work of a lifetime.
Look at Furniture/Today. I hired Joe Carroll to eventually become the publisher back in 1977. He took three years longer than anticipated to become the publisher. He turned me down a couple times when I asked him to be publisher. He said he wasn’t ready yet, and here we are, 32 years later, and Joe Carroll is still the publisher. If you look at the turnaround at Variety, I hired Peter Bart in 1989 as editor-in-chief, and here we are 20 years later and Peter Bart is still in charge of Variety.
This idea of building teams that are successful without me is a fundamental part of my management style and philosophy from the very beginning. I find it very exciting to capture those moments in startups and turnarounds where people want to know what they’re supposed to do and how to do it really, really well. But then I need to get out of the way once they learn how to do it, and I’m well equipped emotionally to do that.
INTERVIEWER: In other words, you get a little bit bored just running something.
POND: There is an element of boredom for sure. But there’s also a fundamental commitment to the idea that I’m hiring you with the idea that it’s going to be yours to run. This is the case whether you’re going to be the editor, the publisher, whatever the business is that you’ve been hired for. I have different titles for people in the education publishing business because it’s a slightly different model. It’s still publishing, but slightly different.
But it’s not just a question of boredom. Sometimes there’s an element of frustration that comes when I sense that people in the company are doing pretty well but, come on, you can go faster, you can do better. But it's usually rather frustrating to get them to do that. I know that people usually realize we’re not as good as we need to be, but I have the sense that, once we hit a certain stride of quality and excellence in the management team and in the culture itself, my job is done. My job is to build that successful group of people and a culture around them that is self sustaining. Then I know it’s time for me to go and do it again.
INTERVIEWER: Did Bill Peterson share some of those entrepreneurial characteristics?
INTERVIEWER: He never struck me as an entrepreneurial type, although he took a big risk, just like you did, in launching Furniture/Today.
INTERVIEWER: He seemed to be more of the steady, grandfatherly type from my perspective as an employee.
POND: Right. But Bill was an owner.
INTERVIEWER: Very personable and very, very big on relationships, as was the entire furniture industry.
INTERVIEWER: Unfortunately, Bill's no longer with us, so we can’t interview him. But how would you describe him as a business partner, as an editor-in-chief, as a member of the furniture industry?
POND: Those are three separate things. As a business partner, Bill really was an editorial maven and not a business person. As a business partner, Bill was the second-largest owner; he owned more than any of the other investors. He was second in ownership. But, as a business partner, Bill was very happy to be able to delegate all of the business process decisions, because he really didn’t feel that was his area of knowledge or expertise. On the editorial side, you know, Bill and I were great partners, and indeed there was an older-younger dynamic between the two of us. Bill’s editorial judgment was far more seasoned than mine. He’d been a journalist for many, many years.
INTERVIEWER: But you would go around, especially at markets, and try to find out everything that was going on at those companies. You were always asking, what’s new, what’s going on.
POND: Yes, I was great at foraging and great at digging things out. I was great at finding out what are we supposed to be reporting and writing about next. But then Bill, because of his more seasoned judgment, could build it into a broader, bigger idea. Bill was a fantastic leader and manager for an editorial team. People liked working for Bill Peterson. There was a level of steadiness and calmness there, and people were comfortable with Bill’s judgment. He was a far better editorial manager than I would ever have been. He just had the right feeling and the right touch for working with journalists. With my high energy level, I just wouldn’t have been able to do it as well as Bill. He just understood it better. I just didn’t have the experience. You know, at HFD I went from the business side as associate publisher to being the editor-in-chief of a daily — without ever having written a story!
INTERVIEWER: But you were out there in the center of the newsroom.
POND: Absolutely. I do learn quickly and so on, but there are some things that just take time, and I just didn’t have time to be a seasoned journalist like Bill was, and to be able to run and manage a newsroom like he could. He was very good at that, and he was very good at dealing with conflict, very good at managing through difficult situations and calming things down.
INTERVIEWER: After you got the paper up and running, did Bill ever jointly go with you on what could even remotely be described as a sales call?
POND: Never. Bill would have been completely uncomfortable with that and unwilling to do that. Bill and I both agreed from day one that that would have sent the wrong signals. We did do a lot of things together in the industry where there never, ever would have been any discussion of advertising. Most of the stuff where we would be seen together was at industry gatherings, association meetings and things of that kind. But the idea of jointly going to see a Stanley, Bassett or Hooker? It never happened.
INTERVIEWER: You insisted on the separation of sales and editorial.
POND: Complete separation. And that’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a profitable thing to do. You know, integrity does pay. It really does pay.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned industry associations. What kind of association involvement did you personally have?
POND: None of us, neither salespeople nor any of the editors, ever were involved directly in any of the association activities, because it was another thing we had to report on, and we never wanted to feel we were in any way carrying a party line, nor were we representing one segment of the industry versus another, or favoring one segment of the industry over another. So, no, we never had any involvement at all. The only thing that any of us ever got involved in was the home furnishings board at High Point University, trying to help them develop a curriculum that would make sense in the industry. I did that for a while, Bill did that for a while, and Joe Carroll still does that kind of thing. But we had no direct involvement with the associations at all.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask about some of your views on the furniture industry in general. How would you compare the furniture industry at the time Furniture/Today was launched to the situation the furniture industry is in today?
POND: The furniture industry then and now are actually more similar than dissimilar. That's if you look at it in the context that it’s always been an industry driven by entrepreneurship, and brutal competition for everyone. That the ease of entry is relatively simple, and there is a drive to the lowest-cost production center, wherever that may be at any given point in time. In this country, the industry moved from being centered in Gardner, Massachusetts, to being centered in Jamestown, New York, to being centered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and off to Chicago, down to North Carolina, over to Mississippi, and now it turns out to be in Guangdong Province in southern China. It’s on its way to Vietnam. Thus it has always been and thus it will always be. I mean, it's always been about where you can make it for less.
INTERVIEWER: Price driven since day one.
POND: It’s a very, very competitive industry, highly fragmented, and it’s been that way for a long, long time. The one exception that I think we could take note of... well, there are two exceptions. One is the enduring success of the vertically integrated model of Ethan Allen, where there was a unique combination of manufacturing and retailing focused on customer service. The other exception is the current success story of Ashley, where there is an integration of manufacturing, importing and retailing that is a standout story of success on its own. But in the furniture industry today, if you look at it on a global basis, we’re still chasing lowest-cost production, the same way we were doing it when it was just a domestic industry.
INTERVIEWER: When you were teaching in Switzerland, did you use any furniture companies as a case study?
POND: I not only used furniture companies, but I actually used our own company, Communications/Today, because there have been case studies on that by the Harvard Business School. It was great fun to do that.
INTERVIEWER: Did the Harvard students and your students in Switzerland get the case study right?
POND: You know, the one thing they consistently got right — and of course this is very reinforcing — both in the classes taught at Harvard as well as in Switzerland, is they get amazingly close to the final purchase price. Collectively, that’s pretty amazing. And it's reinforcing in many ways, but particularly in the sense that the company was not either oversold nor undersold, nor overpaid or underpaid for. That it was really indeed a fair price that was paid and that, indeed, the real concept was, “What is the future for all the people going to be?” And that Reed did not pay a premium, relative to what other people would be able to figure out was the real worth of Communications/Today.
INTERVIEWER: The thrust of the case study was, “What was Communications/Today really worth and why?”
POND: No, actually, the case study as it was used at Harvard was usually an end-of-semester case, and capped a long series of case studies. The real aim of the case study was to understand, “What was this entrepreneur doing? How did he build this company? What were the core values that seemed to drive this business? Why is this business significantly more profitable than the norm in its industry?” And there is a valuation process as part of the cases; there’s an A case and B case and C case and so on. The students are typically quite interested in the process of evaluation and selling. They don’t tell you until the very end of the Communications/Today case study that, in the end, the offer to buy got turned down by the entrepreneur. I mean, this is the big shock of the case. You don’t see it at the end of the first case; it shows up in the B case, the Communications/Today case. You know, it’s a big shock.
INTERVIEWER: Then where does the case study take you?
POND: Then they take you to the next level, which is to ask, “Why did this sales process fail for the buyers?” It didn’t fail for the seller, because he could have gotten an enormous pile of money if that’s what he wanted. “Why didn’t the buyers get to take the company over after offering so much money in an auction process? Why did the guy walk?”
INTERVIEWER: What kind of answers have the students come up with?
POND: It’s very hard for MBA students to figure this out.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever spoken to one of the classes?
INTERVIEWER: And they don’t get it?
POND: They are a bit troubled by it, because they have a view of investment bankers as somehow very sophisticated, valuable people, as if they are something more than just simply real estate agents. I mean, they think there’s some value added by investment bankers. They don’t understand how something like this could go off track, especially when they find out the investment banker is Goldman Sachs. I mean, they were completely shocked.
INTERVIEWER: Furniture/Today became the dominant publication in the industry, and so today there is, I would say, very little competition in furniture industry journalism. Is that how you foresaw things turning out? And is that a good thing for the furniture industry? Is there room for only one dominant player in this market?
POND: Most industries could sustain four or five different publications, and even No. 5 could be profitable. But as is the case in industry after industry, eventually the competitive environment is such that you lose No. 5, then you lose No. 4, then you drop No. 3. Eventually, there’s only one left. And it’s extraordinarily difficult to start up against an established winner. The good fortune about the opportunity I had to turn around Variety is that the competition, which is also a daily called The Hollywood Reporter, simply had not stepped up to take it away from Variety when the latter fell into a decade of mediocrity. You could turn Variety back into the dynamo that it had been decades before.
But people are under increasing time pressure and do not have the time to look at the other publications. It was a somewhat inevitable outcome. Now, Furniture/Today dominated the industry as a source of community news and information very early on. But we didn’t always own the revenue as much as we owned the audience. Eventually you own the revenue and the audience, and when you own the revenue and the audience, the other guys are vaporized. They just don’t have enough revenue to sustain a staff that can be competitive — there’s a tipping point. And we haven’t had editorial competition since, oh, it was mostly over by the end of the third year. Once we put in the electronic newsroom, it was really over. It wasn’t over from a revenue point of view, but the inevitable outcome was that once we had the audience, we’d get the money. The same model would exist in any industry if there was that quality of execution.
Travel Weekly should have owned, absolutely owned, all of its market. But because of mediocre leadership and constant turnover under corporate management, it was kind of pitiful. If you put a Joe Carroll in charge of Travel Weekly, Travel Weekly soon would own the business. You put the right leadership in on the business side, you got the right editorial platform, you should have one guy emerge as the totally dominant guy.
INTERVIEWER: As a totally blue-sky question, if you were launching Furniture/Today today or in the last year or so, what would have been the successful strategy given the Internet, which of course didn’t exist in 1976?
POND: The Internet is a very important part of the turnaround of Travel Weekly. But I think if you were to launch something today, you would want to be able to be an online resource for consumers as well as for people in the industry. You would be combining services that would meet the needs of consumers, as well as retailers, manufacturers and suppliers, in terms of the online concept. You would still be in the print business, but probably not with consumers, but you definitely would be in the print business with regard to the channels of distribution, such as they may evolve over the next decade. There’s still real power in being able to see in print who the key players are in the distribution channels and there’s still real power in seeing visuals in a tabloid-size publication.
I’m very excited about some of the more recent developments in online technologies, which allows you to refresh the pages on a daily basis, and you can get The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times delivered online. That will be pretty powerful, especially as online publications get more interactive and resource driven and so on. If I was doing it now, I would launch Furniture/Today as a total platform, both print and online. You wouldn’t be without print. It’s hard to be a community if you can’t see each other, and there’s something different about seeing it in print.
INTERVIEWER: Wouldn’t you have a problem with focus if you tried, as a total platform with a website, to be all things to all people — consumers as well as manufacturers, retailers and suppliers?
POND: No, no. I think we’re talking about the same source of information, but sliced differently, so you’re serving different audiences. But you have to have a hub concept of gathering it all, similar to what I was describing about greater simplicity with The Professional Upholsterer and Upholstering Today, which really had the same editorial staff but served different audiences with different papers. You have one central way of bringing it all together, and then the brilliance would be in the way you diced and sliced it so that you had for consumers what they want to know, you had for retailers what they want to know, you have for manufacturers and suppliers what they need to know. It would still be coming out of the same central repository. Everything is so digitally driven that you do need to figure out a way to keep track of all the information available, and channel it in the right way to the right people.
INTERVIEWER: You couldn’t create a dynamic, worthwhile, community-creating hub without a fairly large staff of very well-informed people, could you?
POND: No, you couldn’t.
INTERVIEWER: You couldn’t start it up with five people, could you?
INTERVIEWER: 10 people?
INTERVIEWER: Which is what you did with Furniture/Today.
POND: Successful entrepreneurs are those people who can wear multiple hats, perform many roles and are willing to work 100 hours a week. Maybe you could figure out a way to launch something without having an army of people, but they’re really functioning like an army and even appear like they're an army. Eventually you hire the rest of the army. But you've still got to launch it like you’re there; you've got to make an immediate impact. Even though we launched Furniture/Today with what could only be called a skeleton staff, we functioned as if we were already fully equipped. The industry, virtually everyone of any importance in the furniture industry, knew that we were there. We launched the concept as if we had all the people we needed to execute the vision, although we didn’t have them all until later.
INTERVIEWER: As you said, you had trouble filling up the first issue.
POND: Oh, my God, yes. Bill nearly lost it.
INTERVIEWER: Content is still critical.
POND: Yes, absolutely. But I’m saying that there’s an opportunity now because of digital technology to accumulate all of the information, all the visual images you need, and that they could be diced and sliced and provided to different markets under different umbrellas. The power is in that collection point and then in how you pull from that collection of information to meet the needs of each different market segment. I’d launch it to be everything to everybody. I’d launch it as if we were six publications all at once. Here’s one for consumers, here's one for retailers, and so on.
INTERVIEWER: What would be the revenue streams? For print publications, which have been around for hundreds of years, the revenue streams are very well understood. But in the digital age...
POND: In the digital age, one of the things you might look at is that having a hub of information leads to purchases. If you have consumers coming to your site, you could be both an advertising vehicle, where you get paid according to the click-throughs you have, and if somebody comes to the site and ends up at Ethan Allen and buys something, you could possibly get a commission on the sale. But it's probably more likely your revenue will become driven by the way Google gets paid, which is by the number of click-throughs to the online advertising it carries.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t do a lot of web surfing, but I'm on my computer nearly every day, and I’ve learned to just ignore all the advertising. It pops up, and it’s all around you, but I hardly even notice it anymore.
POND: But there are lots of people who read newspapers exactly that way. They couldn’t tell you what they’re seeing in The New York Times or Business Week, for that matter. They couldn’t tell you.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t think they’re absorbing anything?
POND: If you’re reading a shelter magazine, you’re looking at the ads as well as the editorial because you’re interested in what’s new and what’s different and what’s an offer and who’s got it. When you get a narrowcast publication, one that's focused on something you're really interested in, you’re almost as interested in reading the advertising as you are in reading the editorial.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the power of trade publications, I think.
POND: Right. But again, if I’m looking at something that's narrowcast, such as serving the needs of furniture or home furnishings consumers or retailers or manufacturers, you custom make this stuff. You almost let — particularly on the consumer side — you let the consumer look for what they're interested in and want to know. If they're interested in motion furniture, say, you'll have a blog about motion furniture, and people will find it. If you’re interested in mattresses, someone like David Perry will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about mattresses.
INTERVIEWER: But you couldn’t do it with just a handful of people.
POND: Oh, no.
INTERVIEWER: You'd have to have a bunch of experts in the various product segments, and they'd need to be able to write and communicate with the different audiences you’re trying to serve. I think some print publication people think you can just go online in your spare time.
POND: Oh, no.
INTERVIEWER: It takes a lot of focus and effort to do that successfully.
POND: Again, we never thought we were building just Furniture/Today; we thought we were building a company that would have six-to-10 publications. Of course, that was more of the business vision, it wasn’t the editorial vision. Bill obviously needed to focus on furniture, and the other publications were really launched by other people who focused on the different areas. But in terms of the company concept of eventually having six to 10 publications, you could afford to build out the infrastructure over time.
Where would I start one of these things today? I might go over and buy Alderman Studios here in High Point. We used to call them a photography studio, and they were big and important in the furniture industry because they'd do a lot of the photography of product for manufacturers and catalog retailers. But if I were to start again today, I’d go buy Alderman because they’re now a huge digital warehouse. They have tons of digital images in the home furnishing space.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you a few questions, some of which you’ve touched on already. What would you say about the influence of such factors as racial attitudes and women’s issues on Furniture/Today and the industry in general?
POND: Ollie is a good place for me to start, because the founding advertising director of Furniture/Today was Ollie Bieniemy, an African-American from New Orleans, who was very, very talented. But he began his career after high school graduation washing dishes at one of the local restaurants in New Orleans, and then eventually got up to New York, drove a taxi, put himself through City College. He came down here in July of 1976 to be one of the founders of Furniture/Today. Ollie probably had less rejection as an African-American than I had as a Yankee coming to the South.
INTERVIEWER: Why would that be, do you think?
POND: I think by the time we got here, in 1976, there were probably more bigoted people in Boston than there were in Greensboro, North Carolina. And I can think of many wonderful stories about Ollie’s presence in the industry, from Dick Simmons taking Ollie on a tour of the American of Martinsville factory up in Virginia, to Ollie in Goldsboro, North Carolina, being taken by the furniture family in Goldsboro, whose name escapes me at the moment.
POND: Yes, the Kemp family, and Ollie being taken through the front door of the country club in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I’m sure Ollie was the first African-American to go through the front door. But they had no problem bringing Ollie along, and Ollie had no problems being accepted in that role. Or, Ollie going down to see the president of Chromcraft in Mississippi, and being chided about whether or not he’d need a police escort to come to the plant. That was all in good fun and it was never racial, and people could make light of it rather than take it seriously.
INTERVIEWER: You never got a phone call from somebody saying, “Hey, I don’t want to talk to this black guy about advertising or anything.” You never had any push back from the industry?
POND: Never. And we were successful in our very first year, when Ollie was the only sales guy. We never found ourselves in a situation where there was any insult ever received by Ollie. We never had any sense of exclusion or dismissal or rejection. Never. I think the proof is in the pudding. The business was enormously successful and he was the advertising director. Joe Carroll didn’t come on board until October ’77, but we launched the paper in September of ’76. I could tell you story after story of Ollie going to see CEOs, and they’d come out to the parking lot to greet him.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned Jan Ritter, who was Furniture/Today's first director of classified advertising. Were there any other women who came on board early on as sales reps or account managers, and did they face any discrimination?
POND: Women came on board with us later.
As it turned out, I think the first three or four salespeople at Furniture/Today all happened to be guys. They were selected because they were good salespeople, not because they were guys. However, by then we had a sales staff in New York for the home textile publication made up of Sheila Rice and Barbara Cogan. Barbara had previously worked as the Northeast rep for Furniture/Today, so I think Barbara was probably our first woman rep. She was on board with us before the launch of Home Textiles Today, so she was on board within the first two years. And she came to work for us from the DuPont Company, where she was a merchandising person. She eventually became the publisher of Home Textiles Today, and she certainly was one of the first three or four women to be publishers of a business publication in America. That was in the early '80s, more than 25 years ago.
Barbara never faced any discrimination of any kind that I can think of. Maybe it was a peculiarity in the home textiles industry, maybe it would have been different in some other industry, but it certainly was not different in the furniture business. Barbara was a very successful salesperson in the furniture business, so quite comfortably became the publisher of Home Textiles Today.
INTERVIEWER: Would you like to say anything about your involvement in charitable organizations or efforts?
POND: The thing I’m most interested in is education, and so I’ve given mightily to education, whether it’s on an individual basis through scholarships or to institutions. Obviously, my loyalties are to those places where I went to school, and I’ve been on the boards of those schools and I’ve devoted enormous time to that. I’ve been a trustee at Colgate University. I’ve been on boards at Duke University, Wake Forest, a founding director of the Harvard Business School Publishing Company. I’ve been on the board at Forsyth Country Day School, on various search committees, and so on. Most of my money, time and energy has been dedicated to education, primary, secondary and higher education.
INTERVIEWER: As a primary example yourself, have you ever had a chance to focus on encouraging entrepreneurs?
POND: Not specifically. I have endowed summer fellowships under the umbrella of social enterprise at the Harvard Business School, so that at least some time in their lives, Harvard MBAs could get a look at how they can make a difference in pro bono organizations, not for-profit organizations, and how they could bring some of the skills of entrepreneurship to those organizations. It’s actually a bit faddish at the moment, this concept of social enterprise, but I think people learned over time that our non-profits could certainly be more effective than they currently are.
INTERVIEWER: Would you consider serving on the board of a furniture company at this point?
POND: No, and for all the same reasons as before. You know, I have unique knowledge and insight that I’d garnered from years and years of association with nearly all the CEOs in the furniture industry, be they retailers or manufacturers. I would never have benefited — and I couldn’t have benefited the industry — if people had not willingly trusted me to keep certain things confidential, so they could tell me what was really going on in a particular situation.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else you'd like to say about Furniture/Today or your career, or anything else we may not have adequately covered already?
POND: I think a summary comment would probably be that the industry embraced the concept of Furniture/Today because, in the end, they needed and wanted a newspaper of their own. We could never have been successful if there had not been that need for the paper, and we would never have been successful if we didn’t understand and have a sense for the people in the business. We were extremely fortunate that such a wide-open window of opportunity still existed in American journalism as existed at that time in the furniture industry. We were able to create a world-class example of the best in journalism, whether you're talking about consumer or trade journalism — doesn’t really matter. We were just lucky. By that I mean lucky that the opportunity was there. Not lucky in the execution; we worked hard.
INTERVIEWER: You were the right people at the right time and in the right place.
POND: Yes. You could bang your head against the wall as an entrepreneur, but if there’s no need for what you want to do, you’re not going to be successful. You’re just not. It’s not just in the execution. It’s a combination of, you’ve got to see the opening, find the opening and fill that need, and you've got to do it quickly. It’s a very, very competitive world everywhere now, and particularly with the openness of the Internet, people find out overnight what’s going on. You’ve got to move very, very, very, very fast to do things. Things moved more slowly back then, relatively speaking, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine how things actually got done back then, it’s that different. Bill and I, I think we had the time of our lives and loved every minute of it. I would say the same thing for Ollie and for all the people that joined us in the early days. They loved it.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much, we appreciate your time. It’s been very enjoyable for me.