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March 2011 Book Review

March 23, 2011

The Trust:  The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times

Written by Susan E. Tifft and. Alex  S Jones 

We have all heard of The New York Times — the world-renowned and a classic American institution, but even with the fame surrounding this institution, very little is known about the family behind the paper.  The Ochs-Sulzberger family was a major player on the stage of American history for most of the twentieth century.  They are arguably one of the most successful family businesses of our time.

Adolph Ochs started the New York Times from his meager beginnings at the Chattanooga Times.  He always held true to the motto “All the news that’s fit to print”.  This book chronicles several generations of the Ochs-Sulzberger’s family.  There is much to be learned from their family business practices — both positive and negative.  Some of the most instructive are discussed below. 

 Gender Bias

Adolph Ochs has one child, Iphogene, who he called “my ownest daughter and onliest son”. He made it very clear that she would not be a successor because she was a female. She was allowed to participate on the Board, but not in the operational aspects of the paper. She may have been a valued and excellent Publisher, but was never allowed the formal opportunity. All of the NYT publishers have been male. Gender issues plagued the NYT for quite some time after.

 Early Education/Incorporation Of Children In The Family Business

Adolph explained to Iphogene his passion for the paper and often took her into work and explained the reasons and mechanisms behind the paper process.  Second generation successor Arthur Sr. Asked Eddie Greenbaum, the family attorney and friend, to create an education program to inculcate the children with the significance of the NYT.  One result of this program was a once per year (or more) meeting between the siblings where free-ranging discussion about the structure of the paper, Adolph’s will, and their imminent inheritance of the NYT.

Board of Directors

In place early and consisted of family members and non-family members. They were in charge of approving successors, as well as a place for potential successors to gain knowledge and experience in the running of NYT.

Incorporation of In-laws

Adolph wanted to incorporate in-laws in the family business and made Iphogene’s husband, Arthur Sulzberger, a successor candidate.  The tradition continued with several more male in-laws being groomed for succession when traditional heirs were too young or not ready for succession.

Encouraged Children To Pursue Their Own Careers And Dreams

All of Arthur and Iphogene’s children had time to explore other avenues before joining the paper (if they chose to do so at all).  The children grew up to become a teacher, Red Cross worker, Doctor and Marine.

Succession/Transition Planning

Arthur had to wait a long time before Adolph stepped down and he wanted to ensure that there was a plan in place. As a result, Arthur created a position Chairman of the Board to keep himself involved but voluntarily stepped down as Publisher.

 Mentoring

Orvil had many mentors in the NYT besides direct family.  Punch, Arthur’s son, was also allowed and encouraged a mentoring relationship within the company (Specifically an employee named Turner).  Arthur Jr. was mentored by Punch and Mattson.    

Family Council

Split into groups on philanthropy, Family Governance, Employment Policy, Trust Participation and Board Succession. The Family Council also established special rules for family members: (1) Family members ascent to the highest level of newspaper was allowed, but that rise had to be based on merit and with equitable treatment for outsiders and insiders;  (2) A ‘Buy Back’ agreement that promised the siblings would give one another a right of first refusal on their shares of common stock in the company once they came into their inheritances – in an effort to keep NYT in family hands.

Outside Management

The NYT ownership was smart enough to recognize when a family member was not the best candidate for the job.  When Punch became Publisher and CEO, he relinquished the title of CEO to Mattson, an outsider.

Creating titles

Punch made a mistake despite his no nonsense stance on family favoritism.  He created two titles that did not exist prior or after for his heir apparent, Arthur Jr. — Assistant Publisher and Deputy Publisher.

Adolph created the foundation for a multi-generational family legacy and the family attributes their solidarity to him.  Family members have said on numerous occasions that he made them what they are — “a devoted family circle”.   Despite being a successful business they never lost sight of the fact that they were a first, a family.

To better visualize the family progression here is a pdf of the NYT Family Tree

Renée Montoya Lado M.S., N.C.C

President, Strategic Designs for Learning

Family Owned Business Network  Book Review Chair & Editor

Natalie McVeigh, MBE

Research Analyst, Strategic Designs for Learning

 Family Owned Business Network  Senior Book Reviewer

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