Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Steve Forbes Steps into His Father's Shoes

Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Steve Forbes Steps into His Father's Shoes

Article excerpt

NEW YORK CITY-Following the sudden death of Malcolm Forbes, editor in chief since 1957 of the business magazine founded by his father, the torch of leadership has once again passed from father to son.

Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., commonly known as Steve, is now charged with taking Forbes forward into the 1990s, a task inherited from his father-arguably the most colorful figure in magazine publishing history.

What will life be like at one of the country's healthiest magazines under a third-generation Forbes?

"Forbes will remain substantially the same," says Steve Forbes. "My father and I shared similar views on publishing and editorial philosophy. There will be no noticeable changes in the months ahead."

Of course, there has been one immediate change: Steve Forbes has taken over his father's wide-ranging "Fact and Comment" column at the front of the book. As deputy editor in chief, prior to his father's death, he wrote a page of editorials called "Fact and Comment II" that followed the elder Forbes' three pages worth of commentary.

In the past, Steve Forbes had taken a more circumspective tone than his father, who made sometimes rambling, vituperative remarks. In one recent issue, for instance, Steve Forbes discussed economic incentives for Poland, while his father scolded those who overuse the phrase "Have a nice day."

Few people expect Steve Forbes to try to emulate his father's flashy style. "Malcolm Forbes was one of a kind," says John Jay, advertising sales director of Time Inc. Magazine Co.'s Fortune. "No one can quite follow his act. I'll be surprised if Steve tries to imitate his father. Actually, Steve has a style all his own that has helped make Forbes what it is today. I think Steve will be his own man, not his father's."

Steve Forbes says as much himself: "My father would be disappointed if I tried to walk in his footprints. We're different people. But although our styles may differ, the spirit is the same."

In that spirit, Steve Forbes vows the magazine will retain its lively irreverence. It will still be written solely for the reader, he says, not anyone else. Explains Don Garson, Forbes' communications director: "We're not afraid to tell it like it is-not just with facts, but with our interpretation of events. In making judgments, we also sometimes make enemies. But this lively editorial has been the key to our success."

Key role in transition

Forbes editor James W Michaels will play a key role in the transition, competitors say. According to Stephen Shepard, editor in chief at McGraw-Hill's Business Week, Michaels deserves as much credit as anyone for Forbes' winning editorial. "As long as Jim remains, the editorial tone shouldn't change much," Shepard predicts. "When Jim retires, Steve Forbes can really put his imprint on the magazine. Then things will get interesting."

While no one seems worried over the editorial direction at Forbes, questions loom over the promotional side of the business. Malcolm Forbes was a flamboyant master of promotion. His talent for wooing chief executive officers went a long way toward making Forbes the nation's second leading magazine in advertising pages. Steve Forbes is said to be more serious, and may not bring the same promotional flair.

"The biggest impact of Malcolm's passing will be on the promotional side," suggests Michael Weiser, chairman and CEO of Weiser Minkus Walek Communications, an advertising agency. "Malcolm Forbes did certain things as the living, breathing embodiment of the capitalist tool. I don't know that Steve can match that. Or that he should try."

Adds Fortune's Jay: "There is no reason to think Forbes will suffer as a magazine. But Malcolm sure did bring in a lot of business. …

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