The Washington Post – Sale of a Family Business Newspaper

The recent announcement that the Washington Post newspaper was being sold to Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com, brought back memories of a speaker presentation that Alan Spoon, former president of The Washington Post gave at one of our Center’s meetings. Several years ago we had the opportunity to have Alan Spoon, meet with our Center members at the Northeastern University Center for Family Business, where he discussed the close working relationship he had with the Graham family. Some of the issues he discussed included; non-family executives, educating investors, creation of value and the benefits of longer term vision vs. short-term profits.

Following is a summary of Alan Spoon’s remarks when he was president of the Washington Post.

The Story of The Washington Post: Perspectives from the President

For ten years, Alan Spoon was President of The Washington Post, serving with the famed mother-son team of Katherine and Donald Graham. At this breakfast meeting, Center members learned how Alan managed his role as a non-family member leader of this exceedingly high profile family owned and managed enterprise. More…

Dangers of Poor Employee Communication in a Family Business

“We turned her down, and later found out she had approached the union, to stage the union drive, in order to win her job back.”

As family business entrepreneurs, we often tend to manage by hunch, figuring things out as we go along, especially in the earlier startup years. Many of the issues we face as our businesses grow; we plod through, without much advice from outside advisors. Surprisingly, most of the time it works out well. For our family business, this time it didn’t.

We had been in business for about 15 years, and our compensation plan was pretty basic; salary plus a holiday bonus. The bonus was pretty much automatic. One year we decided to revise the bonus portion, realizing that as longer-term employees’ compounded wages increased, it was increasing the bonus portion disproportionately. We decided to cap the bonus for the highest paid managers.

One of our long-term managers became upset with the new bonus program and decided to leave the company.

About six months later we had a group of employees, petition for a union organizing More…