How Malcolm Forbes changed Forbes magazine
Steve Forbes writes about his father Malcolm on what would have been his 100th birthday.
Forbes writes, “My father knew that the first task of successful branding is to produce a distinct, first-rate product. That’s why in 1945, when he joined the company his father had started in 1917, after being badly wounded while serving as a machine gunner during WWII, he immediately focused on upgrading the magazine’s editorial content. Barely surviving the Depression, Forbes had limped along during the 1930s and the war years overshadowed by its competitors. Content was mostly made up of freelance material of uneven quality. MSF began the process of hiring full-time, first-rate editorial staff, rightly believing that this would dramatically improve the magazine.
“One of MSF’s innovations came in January 1949, when Forbes introduced what would become its annual report card on industries and companies, thereby starting the buildup of its statistical muscle. January had traditionally been the deadest month of the year for advertising, but with this issue’s advent it became one of the best.
“Pop’s best hire was James Michaels, who became the publication’s longtime editor and did more than anyone else to bring about Forbes’ editorial dominance and prominence. We developed a well-earned reputation for hard-hitting stories that evaluated companies the way perceptive critics critique stage plays. What made these pieces ring true was our growing sophistication in digging into corporate balance sheets in a way no other publication could. My father, who micromanaged this company, told me more than once that Michaels was a genius, and that was why—unlike with other key people—Pop gave him a wide berth.”
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