Friday, December 5, 2008

The Boss

When the Freeman was sold by the Goodson Newspaper Group to the Journal Register Company in the late '90s, my brother-in-law asked how it impacted me.

"I'm working for George Steinbrenner now," I told him, knowing he'd catch my drift.

Boss Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees was a visionary. He also was a brilliant administrator, sharp businessman, driven personality, loud, energetic, competitive, impulsive, sympathetic, profane, motivating, infuriating and a host of other adjectives, favorable and unfavorable.

At Journal Register Company, that also described my boss, Bob Jelenic.

Bob Jelenic died this week at 58. Cancer claimed him much too soon, about three years after it forced him to retire from the newspaper business.

Yes, Jelenic was all of what I mentioned about Steinbrenner and then some. He was bigger than life.

His decisions impacted thousands of employees, often not to their liking. Indeed, many will never forgive him for hard-line business decisions that impacted them negatively. "It's my job," he told me one day in a rare letting-down of his guard when discussing a particularly wrenching decision.

In many ways, Jelenic was ahead of his time. He understood the concept of running a tight ship long before most other newspaper company executives, who have since followed his model. Other companies are doing things today that Journal Register Company was doing a decade ago.

I'd be lying if I told you I didn't grimace each time my assistant said he was on the phone. But our conversations nearly always went well. Many more of his messages were encouraging than scolding. And we generally had time for a few minutes to chat about hockey, one of the Canadian-born Jelenic's passions.

Above all, Bob Jelenic was fair. All he asked from his publishers and others in his employ was dedication, hard work and good results.

I'm a better publisher for having worked for and with Bob Jelenic.
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