January 31, 2014

Salutogenesis Factor #2d: My BNA Family

Today’s post is part of a series about "salutogenesis," which means the origin of health. So far, I’ve discussed a variety of factors I believe have contributed powerfully to my well-being, including:
Today, I want to talk about my "business" family at the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), where I worked for 40 years.

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March 1955 -- Expelled from law school
April 1955 -- Hired by BNA as legal editor
December 1994 -- Retired from BNA as VP for human resources

BNA: A Unique Company
BNA was founded in 1929 by newsman David Lawrence (known as DL) as a subsidiary of the United States Daily, now known as the "U.S. News & World Report." BNA made lots of money during World War II; it was the place to go for the official rules, regulations and case decisions on the government's wartime wage and price controls. BNA had an unlimited paper quota during that time of severe shortage and became the nation's largest user of air mail and special delivery services during the war.

In 1946, DL decided to sell BNA. He called in the company's five top editors -- Dean Dinwoodey, John D. Stewart, Ed Donnell, Adolph Magidson, and John Tyler -- explained his decision, and offered them first crack at buying the company. The five of them went off for a weekend to mull it over, returned, and told DL they'd take his offer on one condition -- that every BNA employee be given the opportunity to buy stock in the company.

As a result, BNA was completely employee-owned from 1947 until 2011, when it became Bloomberg/BNA. It was decided that the price of the stock would be set twice a year by the board of directors. In his book Making Employee Ownership Work, John Stewart gave this pithy description of the process by which the board determined the price of the stock: "It's a metaphysical exercise, sometimes tinged with politics." The board had one article of faith, however: the price must never go down and it never did.

For its first 50 years, the rate of return on the stock averaged 20 percent a year. That rate slowed a bit after that, but it invariably out-performed the general stock market. The same stock price and dividend went to the Class B stock held by BNA retirees, who ended up owning more than half the company.

In early 2011, the BNA board set the stock price at $17.50. In August, Bloomberg L.P. announced it would purchase BNA, paying $39.50 in cash. And I had thought getting kicked out of law school in 1955 was the worst thing that could happen to me! How wrong I was.

During its years as an employee-owned company (1947-2011), employee shareholders elected 11 employees to the BNA board of directors at the company's annual meeting in April. The company started with one non-employee director and later added two more. Nominees were made by a panel of five: three current employee board members and two other employees, traditionally one sales person and one woman.

We always tried to nominate more than 11 employees, so that board service became a contest. In addition, any employee shareholder could get his name on the ballot by getting holders of 2 percent of company shares to sign a petition of support. In over a third of the elections, a "two-percenter" made it onto the ballot and sometimes onto the board.

In his book on BNA's employee ownership, John Stewart observed that in time the contest for board service became so political that the company's productivity suffered in the months leading up to elections.

I was elected to the board in my last 18 years with the company. I was pleasantly surprised in the April, 1978 election -- right after my coming out as gay and alcoholic -- that I was reelected with more votes than I'd received the year before.

I unearthed this board picture above from my files, but don't know the year it was taken. The woman at left with her elbow on the horseshoe desk is Loene Trubkin, generally regarded -- from John Stewart on down -- as BNA's best-ever outside director. She remains a treasured friend and has contributed to this blog. Many have been moved by her poem about cancer, Karma. In an introduction to that post, our BNA colleague Hugh Yarrington described the poem as "a good cry, a rant, an emphatic piece of pure rage in the face of the utter unfairness of all that comes with decades of incurable disease." Loene later posted a tribute to Hugh on his demise last year.

BNA: A Special Family

These two men were BNA presidents during most of my time there. On the left is John Stewart, one of five original founders of the employee-owned company. John knew everybody in the labor relations field. 

Fortunately for me, John knew Gormley Miller, who headed the library at Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School where I had worked as an undergrad and law student. When I got kicked out of law school, Gormley called John and got me an interview with him. Years later, I visited John in the hospital during his final days and thanked him for taking a gamble on me at that lowest point in my life. John -- an inveterate gambler at the Las Vegas crap tables and in the high-stakes "guts" games that were all the rage at the BNA family table -- said, "I only wish all my gambles had turned out as well."

Bill Beltz is the man on the right in the photo above. (He was never on the right politically.) He was hired in 1956, a year after I was. We became best friends.

A favorite restaurant for BNAers was Malonas on Pennsylvania Avenue, just east of the bridge into Georgetown. Its "blue plate special" lunch cost less than one dollar, and included entree, beverage (soft drink or ice tea.... those multiple-martini lunches came later), and a slice of pie or cake. Pictured here in front of Malonas are Bill, Lili Crane (more about her later), and Tom Downer, a Tufts University pal of Bill's who was also a new BNA editor
As I did with Dusty in my Gay and AA families, I fell into a pattern of following Bill, this time up the BNA ladder. We were both active members of the Newspaper Guild, which at that time represented only the editorial department at BNA. When Bill was elected chairman of the BNA Guild unit in 1965, we decided to try organizing the non-editorial employees. Many of us in the union (but not Bill) thought that the timing was good, since most of the employees in support departments were women . . . and Bill was single and a cross between Paul Newman and Marlon Brando. One woman who had signed a union card actually asked for it back when she learned Bill had a girl friend.

In the middle of the organizing drive, Bill was promoted to a managing editor post, which took him out of the bargaining unit. The organizing drive slowed down when I succeeded Bill as unit chair, but the Guild still managed to win an NLRB election by one vote. 

The union chair was a career stepping stone in those early years. John Stewart, then BNA's executive editor, had been chairman of the Guild Unit as had Ed Donnell, John's successor as executive editor when John moved up to president of BNA. After my year as union chair, I followed Bill into BNA management. 

Bill moved up from managing editor to associate editor in charge of BNA's numerous labor relations publications. When Bill became executive editor in 1972, I assumed the associate editor job. My progress in the editorial department stopped there, but Bill became BNA's president.

In time, with 15 years as associate editor, I started to feel "burnout." After a coincidence ot  retirements and resignations of managers in units dealing with BNA's employee relations, I suggested consolidating several scattered units into a new, unified HR department. Bill liked the idea, and I became HR vice president for the rest of my time at BNA. It was a job I loved, though managing human resources was a lot tougher than writing about it. Luckily, I inherited an excellent staff of professionals who took on the task of trying to make me look good.

I love this photo. It shows the genuine affection Bill and I shared, and the fun we had working together. That's Deanne Neumann  in the background. She epitomizes the BNA family employee: a talented, hard-working gal with a wicked sense of humor. 

BNA stock's return on investment during the 1970s averaged about 20 percent a year (that includes the stock dividend of 4-5 percent annually). That phenomenal growth seems a miracle to me now, especially since that decade included heavy drinking and intense partying by many of us.

Frequently on non-deadline days, several of us would begin a round-robin of phone calls by 11am to determine where we'd "drink lunch" that day. Two-martini lunches were considered normal. Some days, a few of us never got back from lunch. 

We'd also gather for "a drink" after work. In the winter, with any forecast of snow -- 20 percent chance of flurries -- we'd be on the phone with our spouses to say that we were staying in town "to wait out the storm." Sometimes those "waits" lasted six hours or more.

This photo shows me with my best drinking buddy, Brit Shaw. In most of my photos, either Brit is holding a drink or I am. Usually, as here, we both are.

While much of this era was fun, it brought troubling and sad consequences for some. My life certainly became more manageable when I stopped drinking in March, 1978. 

My BNA Family Today
I always thought that the sense of family we felt during the "good old days" was unique, in part because of our employee ownership. We weren't a huge company -- 1,000-1,500 employees -- and the work was genuinely interesting. I'm more convinced now than ever before that our family environment at BNA was special and unique.

Most of my contemporaries don't have any contact with former business colleagues. Several of my older friends have expressed disappointment that the "friends" they thought they had at work turned out to be only acquaintances who faded away after the shared territory of work no longer existed for them.

I feel lucky to be in contact with so many former colleagues. There are 80 names on my "BNA retirees mailing list." Not all are close pals, but their continued interest in the company shows our strong sense of family as an employee-owned organization. The bond continues today, though we're now Bloomberg/BNA.

Quite a few BNA co-workers remain good friends today, 18 years after my retirement. Here are just a few: 

Nancy Montwieler was one of my best hires. She's been BNA's lead reporter on fair employment practices. We gather with several other BNA retirees for long lunches every month or two. Nancy and her husband Bill often joke about their planning for Nancy's job interview with me. She was determined to get the job, and spent a lot of time the night before the interview trying to decide whether she should wear her mini-skirt to the interview. We laugh about that story now; I certainly don't remember what she wore, and it probably didn't register at the time.

Brian Locket is another member of our lunch group. I've always admired Brian for his broad range of interests and activities. A recent one-on-one lunch required four hours, since it included a visit to one of his volunteer activities -- the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. Look under the media tab for reports by CBS and NBC on the foundation's work. I was so impressed that I found the donation tab on the site and contributed to the Foundation. (Brian -- you can pick up the tab next time we have lunch.) 

Brian's wife Danuta (Danny) is also an activist. She serves on the board of Women for Women International, which helps women in eight countries devastated by war and conflict.

Brian and Danny know how to enjoy life; they spend most summers on their sailboat off the coast of Maine.

My BNA career brought lots of perks. One of the best was attending the week-long Leadership Forum at the YMCA's conference center at Silver Bay on beautiful Lake George. I inherited BNA's representation at this conference from John Stewart. Kathy Gill (now Kathleen Mundle, at left in this photo) took the slot when I retired. The other two with us on the Silver Bay lodge porch are Jackie Blanchard, then BNA's labor relations director; and Jane Tamagna, director of training and development. Kathy and I also spent about 15 years traveling to six cities in the first two weeks of March as part of a five-person BNA team that provided one-day labor relations briefing sessions. The women in this photo remain good friends. Once I "came out," I found it easier to develop close platonic relations with women like these.

BNA's Queen Mother and My Queen of Hearts
Lili Crane came to BNA about the same time Bill Beltz and I did. She ended up as manager of BNA's Research and Special Projects Division, the unit that handled subscriber requests for additional information or special projects. This unit gave BNA an edge on the competition, and Lili was the key factor.

About a year after Lili retired, I was part of a BNA customer satisfaction committee that sat unseen behind a one-way mirror while a group of law librarians were asked how BNA and its competitors could provide better service. The librarians didn't know who was sponsoring the meeting, and for a while, they didn't really provide any useful feedback. Then, one of them said, "You know what BNA should do? Bring back that woman they used to have. What was her name?" Another librarian responded "Lili." Then a third said, "Yeah, bring back Lili!" Soon others chimed in  to the "Bring back Lili!" chant.

Lili had an unmatched zest for life. She loved theater, museums, travel, bridge, poker. In this photo, Lili and I are preparing to head back to Washington after one of our BNA bridge weekends at Mary Miner's house at Deep Creek, Maryland.

Lili was also a regular at BNA's poker games. The largely male group easily accepted Lili, especially after they discovered her gift for profanity. She wouldn't be outdone!

When she retired, Lili and her friend Zelda traveled almost nonstop for several years. They'd return home just long enough to do laundry and catch up on sleep before heading out again.

Lili was my role model on how to handle retirement and aging: enjoy the former and ignore the latter. She told me that her number one precept was to get out and do something interesting every day. She had absolutely no problem going to the theater or movies or museums on her own. When her daughters finally persuaded her to stop driving, she still showed up for Monday bridge at our local senior center, even though she had to catch two different buses to get there. Neither the cold of January nor the heat of July kept her at home.

I threw a party for Lili on her 65th birthday. Then on her 70th. And 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th. She was the life of each party. I think this photo is from her 85th:

Lili Crane 1918- 2012
"Bring Back Lili"
Members of Two or More of My Families
Given the way I'm defining my families, it's inevitable that some people belong to more than one family. This is particularly true of my BNA family since it's the biggest. Here's an example of a BNA'er who belongs to another of my families. Bet you can't guess which one.
Bill Feldman
Bill left BNA before retirement, but I still think of him as a BNAer. Here he is a few years ago on roller skates, leading the Different Drummers band down MacArthur Boulevard during the July 4th Parade in my Palisades neighborhood. In recent years, he's had a more important part to play in the celebration: bringing his signature Key lime pie to my post-parade lunch.

Drum Roll Please:
A Member of Three of My Families

David Froemming
I first met David when he was executive assistant to Jim Graham, then executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Jim is now a member of the DC Council. David came to BNA in the early 1990s as executive assistant to Paul Wojcik and groomed him to become president of BNA. David and I began a daily email exchange back then, and it still continues . . . 20 years later. 

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