OLD Media Moves

Michaels was a paradoxical, ruthless leader

October 4, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

Peter Brimelow of Marketwatch remembers Thursday what it was like to work for former Forbes editor Jim Michaels, who died Tuesday at the age of 86.

Peter BrimelowBrimelow wrote, “Michaels when I knew him in his last decades at Forbes came across as a nice little old man. But he was in fact ruthless to the point of cruelty and intellectually restless to the point of mania. The paradoxical result, a case study in leadership, was that the staffers he respected male and female, liberal and conservative, he was only concerned with results adored him, albeit always nervously.

“Forbes under Michaels had a peculiar political structure. There was an absentee owner, first Malcolm Forbes and then his son Steve. We never saw them on the editorial floor. There was the manager, Michaels. And then there were underlings, who all without exception were subject to Michaels’ merciless lash.

“Michaels was an instinctive proponent of Mao’s theory of permanent revolution. He once remarked to me that, if it were left to the staff, the cover of the magazine would be set three issues in advance, regardless of immediacy. Accordingly, his regular practice was to arrive back from vacation in the middle of the process of going to press, scrap the cover, kill stories, tear apart the layout and generally crush the egos and otherwise entertain the subordinate editors who had been left nominally in charge.”

Read more here.

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