Why I'm Violating a Cardinal Rule
Thirty-four years ago last May I was hired into this industry by Supply House Times and PM founder Charlie Horton. He passed away in 1989, so it’s unfortunate that only old-timers remember him and the profound influence he had on the industry that he loved and defended with the ferocity of a Samurai warrior. Two things in particular I remember learning from him have stayed with me throughout my career.
Being chewed out by Charlie was a rite of passage for all of his employees, and it didn’t take long for me to gain the experience. He read one of my early articles and got peeved at seeing too many fancy words that served no purpose other than to show off my vocabulary. So he called me into his office and told me something that has been imbedded in my brain ever since: “Remember this - you are not part of the publishing industry, you’re part of the plumbing industry. Don’t write over your readers’ heads.”
So I’ve spent the last 34 years trying to suppress my highfaluting instincts.
A second lesson I learned from Charlie was that a publication needs to focus on its audience and their issues, not self-absorption. He took a dim view of the tendency of certain editors and publishers to devote magazine space to articles patting themselves on the back or making sales pitches to advertisers. This is not to say Charlie was above self-promotion. He wrote scintillating promotional letters to advertisers about upcoming issues, and composed some of the most provocative promotional copy ever written in the months leading up to the launch of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine in March 1984. I’ve saved some of those masterpieces, especially those touting me as a superstar while introducing me as the new publication’s editor. I only hope I’ve proven to be half as good as he hyped I would be.
However, the marketing stuff was all in the background, snail mailed in those days to prospective advertisers. None of it clogged up the pages of his flagship Supply House Times, whose content remained focused on the interests of its audience.
That policy, too, is something I’ve always abided by. Until now. Forgive me, Charlie, but just this once I’m going to violate a cardinal rule of yours by making myself the subject of this article.
That’s only because I can’t think of a better way to reach so many industry friends with the news that I am taking leave of my positions with BNP Media Co. and this magazine. It is an amicable departure driven by personal as well as professional considerations.
At age 64 it has finally dawned on me that my career as a wordsmith has been a means rather than an end. Time has come to cash in some of the equity I’ve built up over the years, both financial and interpersonal, to pursue my true callings. Ranking highest among them is being a fully engaged grandfather to my three impossibly charming granddaughters. Aging brings with it an awareness of how fleeting is the window of time in which to enjoy watching them grow up and to be a positive influence in their lives.
This is not to say I’m “retiring” in the strict sense of the word. You’ll likely see me pop up from time to time writing articles or working on various projects for industry friends. It’s just that I look forward to choosing assignments out of preference rather than duty.
It’s been said that if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s certainly been true of my career. Things got less enjoyable during this miserable recession of the past three years, but not enough to erase so many joyful memories of serving this great industry and befriending so many of its magnificent citizens.
I want to thank scores of past and present colleagues whose friendship, guidance and assistance over the years has made my job seem more like fun than work. And, a special word of thanks is owed to the present stewards of this magazine for being gracious enough to grant me this space to say farewell.
One final piece of advice for them - don’t make a habit of it. Violate Charlie Horton’s cardinal rule no more than once a career. Now return to the interests of your audience - and don’t write over their heads.
Anyone who wishes to contact me can do so from now on at firstname.lastname@example.org.