About once a month, responding to yet another earnest proposal that Twin Cities Business feature a company reaching a milestone in longevity, I find myself saying something like this: ?
“Congratulations. Succeeding—and even surviving—in business for 25 (or 30 or 50) years is an achievement you’ll want to celebrate. We’ve found, though, that it’s not a very compelling reason to prepare a story. Every company has a round-number birthday every 10 years, and if we based stories on company birthdays, we would always be looking backwards, when we really . . . .” And so on.?
But of course it’s different when it’s our own anniversary. We are 200 months old this month—16 and 2/3 years—and we have plastered that fact at the top of the cover and devoted all of this issue’s feature-story space to a compendium of profiles highlighting the number 200.?
We know, of course, that 16 and 2/3 years is an unconventional milestone. Does anyone else measure their age in months? ?
We also know that it isn’t even very old, as enterprises go. At least two dozen Minnesota companies—including Target, 3M, Cargill, Hormel, H. B. Fuller, Valspar, and Supervalu—are more than 100 years old. Dozens more are at least 75. Hormel’s Spam is 73 years old; General Mills’s Gold Medal Flour is 130.?
Nevertheless, we celebrate, my associates and I, in part because a lot of people thought in 1993 that we weren’t going to make it to year two, let alone issue 200, and in part because we expressed some basic beliefs in this space 200 months ago to which we have adhered.?
Careers are built slowly: a sale here, a product improvement there, incremental increases in responsibility, a few accolades, a small step forward. There are few moments of clear triumph, few occasions of important breakthroughs or big paydays. For me, one such day came in late August 1993, when volume 1 number 1 of this magazine was delivered from the printer and distributed among friends and advertisers. ?
It was lively, colorful, and unpredictable, as we had promised it would be—a business magazine that didn’t look like a business magazine. The stories were eclectic and, we believed with only a little conceit, well edited. ?
We believed as much as one can believe anything that this new publication would be welcomed by the readers we wanted. The earliest reactions to the first issue confirmed our confidence, and a second issue that we also regarded to be strong was already at the printer. ?
Sailors say that the moments of greatest exuberance arrive not when the boat is skimming the waves, but when the wind first fills the sails. I’m sure they’re right.?
We wrote in that first issue that the magazine would be an advocate for business and empathetic toward its subjects. We promised to avoid insults, sarcasm, and self-importance. I wrote that Minnesota businesses are populated by people who deliver innovative and technologically advanced products to their customers, reward their employees, keep their promises, pay their taxes, and enhance their communities—and that those would be the people we would cover in the magazine. ?
(A few people assumed that we would be Pollyannaish, but that was nonsense. A skill necessary to producing a pro-anything publication is knowing who not to feature. It is a skill we exercised as we selected the 200 Minnesotans who are profiled in our cover feature.)
We added that the magazine would be produced by people who believe that business is important, interesting, and worthwhile, and that success in business is worthy of celebration. Those aren’t the loftiest of values. They pale, for example, against duty, honor, and personal responsibility. They might even be called pedestrian. As I head toward retirement from publishing next autumn, however, I am gratified to be able to claim that the values we started with have been demonstrated by the magazine through ups and down in the economy, challenges from competitors, and turnovers in our staff (including my own departure from the magazine in 1995 and return six years later) for 200 consecutive months.