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…

Learning from families in business who have been there, done that…

and are still talking to each other.

Dr. Justin Craig
Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship
D’Amore McKim School of Business
Northeastern University
Boston, USA

Family Business

Research continues to highlight qualities that contribute to family business resilience. Many non-family entities are starting to mimic key behaviours such as frugality in good times and bad, judiciousness in capital expenditure and carrying little debt.

Successful family businesses, typically:

  • Understand the importance of professionalizing the family business through the introduction of family governance initiatives that are appropriate to the needs of the ever changing business and family
  • Champion the introduction of initiatives that maintain transparency
  • Distinguish between what is a family matter and what is a business matter
  • Are vigilant monitors of the overall condition of the business and the well-being of the family

They also:

  • Understand that some things are inevitable and discuss these openly
  • Appreciate the reasons why succession is challenging
  • Facilitate next generation aspirants’ understanding of the rights and responsibilities of leadership
  • Consider a role in the business as more than a job, more than a career.

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