TURNING POINT

THE BOARD members were sitting around the table at a now-defunct Chinese restaurant, and they were arguing. All through dinner the conversation had turned on whether or not it would be the better part of valor to cut their losses by closing down the magazine, which was then struggling to make it into its second year. As one director asked what we could do about fulfilling subscriptions already paid for, Ray Hunt opened his fortune cookie and smiled. He casually tossed it across the table to me, and I picked it up to read, “You have made a wise investment.” The magazine wasn’t shut down.

That little story doesn’t suggest that the world sometimes turns on a fortune cookie, because anyone who knows Ray Hunt knows that fortune cookies don’t have much to do with his business decisions. But it does illustrate the tenuous-ness from which this magazine, like most small new businesses, came into life.

Success stories are often that way, accepted as humdrum by people who watched them and regarded as proof of an intervening God by those who did them.

It’s merely a matter of fact, and in no way an overstatement, for me to say that today D Magazine is a certifiable Dallas institution, with circulation, advertising and profit figures -not to mention an audience profile -that make it the envy of the industry. An eclectic group of talented people, who often scuffled with each other as much as they worked with each other, combined to make that success happen. Fortunately, they were working in a city patient enough to overlook their minor failures and occasional excesses in the hope of having a magazine to match its own standard of quality. It was a chemistry that worked, and I’m proud to have been the catalyst.

Now it’s Lee Cullum’s turn to take the helm and guide this magazine as the magazine attempts to guide this city. She has settled comfortably into the editor’s chair; it is a role so natural for her that the magazine seems almost to have been created so that she could fill it. I have no doubt that Lee Cullum and D Magazine will have a major voice in Dallas for the years to come.

When success begins to flow so naturally and easily, the mind starts to wander. Soon enough, other dreams start to make their seductive passes, and sooner or later, one gives in. And that is what has happened to me.

The same restlessness that brought my great-great-grandfather to Texas from the East in 1842 still spirals through the blood and sends me traveling in a reverse direction. I’m off to New York on a quest not very different from his.

The reason has to do with business, as it usually does. I thought up the idea of D Magazine because 1 was 25 and needed a job. My prospects were so poor that I had to start a company in order to get one to employ me. Since that time I’ve grown to love publishing almost as much as I love Dallas; and to woo the one successfully I must temporarily forsake the other.

In making a break like this, one naturally looks back down the path that brought him to this place. All I can see are the many, many people who helped, in ways small and large, to build this company. Fortunately, in remaining a member of this company’s board I’ll continue to work with Ray Hunt, Carl Sewell and Bernie Kraft, who are as much responsible for this company’s success as anyone else. It’s impossible to single out all the people who helped (the editors wouldn’t give me that much room), but I can’t let the opportunity pass without mentioning a few. Such as John Johnson, Mike Boone and Don. Templin, who’ve fought our legal battles over the years. Or Ann Richardson, who was with D from the start and is now publisher of its sister magazine, Texas Homes. Or Ev Bragdon, who taught me the fine art of magazine production, or tried. And my very good friends, Jim Oberwetter and Steve Bartlett, who have pinch-hit, listened, counseled, calmed me down and revved me up as the need be.

It should be forever recorded somewhere that Jerrie Smith named D Magazine (my mother can claim co-honors here) and was its earliest angel. (We recently came across minutes of a prepublication board meeting in which the directors unanimously voted that “D as a name will never make it.”) Winfield Padgett wrote the first check, and that’s something an entrepreneur never forgets. Stanley Marcus had enough faith in the idea that he made the first subscription appeal to his own customers, and that got us off to a flying start.

But the best is for last. Ray Hunt gave me my head of steam, but with endless patience also made sure I learned how to run a business. From the beginning he understood what this magazine could do for this city and the editorial independence it would need to do it. He is that rare man who artfully combines vision with pragmatism, and I have watched the two qualities intertwine to my own and to this city’s benefit.

And then there’s Bernie Kraft, for whom I’ve played straight man for more than seven years and who now finds that the joke’s on him as he takes my place as president. Business partnerships that work are rare enough, but this one has enriched my life. Unfortunately, it has not enriched my wallet, and I leave town with a gin debt to Kraft of $328.

That’s how the story ends. Embarrassing but true.

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