Saturday, March 27, 2010

Goodbye, "Howard" McGraw


BusinessWeek salutes "Howard" McGraw

Above is a story that has been on the BusinessWeek.com website for the past three days: an AP obituary of former McGraw-Hill CEO Harold McGraw that gets his name wrong in the headline.

BW was not alone. Apparently nobody at the AP or its member papers (such as this one) noticed that his name is "Harold" not "Howard." Otherwise I assume there would have been a correction and all these mistakes would have been fixed.

Strange isn't it? You'd expect that if the error was going to be corrected anywhere, it would be at BW.

I guess there's a bit of symbolic significance in this boner going uncorrected. Over the past few years, BW has become unrecognizable since the days when McGraw ran the magazine's former parent in the seventies and early eighties. One observer recently contended that BW had morphed over the past few years into the "Reader's Digest of American finance."

McGraw was an old-school CEO who rejected a bid from American Express, handsome as it was, on the grounds that Amex would not have been a proper steward of the company or the magazine.

The New York Times reported in its obituary that McGraw said Amex “lacks the integrity, morality and sensitivity” to merge with McGraw-Hill.

Wow. Can you imagine anyone rejecting a bid for a media company today on the grounds that an acquirer lacked "integrity, morality and sensitivity"? I wonder sometimes if those words have been cut out of the dictionary.

On the contrary, the current CEO Terry McGraw, his son, was only too happy to toss BW under the bus when it ceased being profitable. He put it up for sale and would have sold it to a venture capital outfit if the price had been right.

I happen to think that Terry's a good guy, but I doubt very much that he would have rejected a buyer for BW because it lacked "integrity, morality and sensitivity." Hell, it looks like he wouldn't have rejected a buyer even if it failed to come up with much in the way of bucks. Bloomberg paid chump change for BW.

So of course nobody noticed Harold McGraw's name was misspelled. It's also not really surprising that rather than pointing out how the company and BW were saved by this forgotten old man, BW runs an AP obit that underplays the Amex battle and doesn't even get his name right.

That figures. The correct spelling of his name wasn't the only thing that has been forgotten.

© 2010 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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