From cover capers to connections

Entering its 40th year of publishing, In Business magazine remains the voice of small and independent businesses.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Historians looking for a way to explain the perils of publishing might note the nearly cover-free beginning Robert and Suzanne Beecher experienced in launching the first monthly edition of In Business magazine in March of 1978 (below). The Beecher’s concept of a local business magazine was about to come to fruition. The news gathering, writing, editing, and most of the layout was finally done and then, one day before that inaugural edition was scheduled to go to press, they realized they had forgotten something pretty important — the cover.

IB's first cover, March 1978

Suzanne Beecher, who served as assistant publisher for that first edition, can laugh about it now but at the time it was “panic city” for a couple who already operated a local shopper publication called Ad City. “We were so excited about the concept and about writing it and editing it and working on the layout, and then the last minute, I don’t know but it might’ve been the day before we were scheduled go to press, we realized we forgot to do a cover,” she notes, laughing at the memory. “That’s how we came up with a green cover with the logo on it.”

It might actually have been a good sign of prosperity because green ink is a better color for the cover of a business magazine than red ink, but the world of publishing is one of constant change. What the Beechers started in 1978 has gone through several necessary transformations, each one leading to the monthly publication you see today.

The ball may have never gotten rolling if Suzanne hadn’t issued a bit of an ultimatum. Observing IB’s first anniversary in March of 1979, Suzanne (then editor) began her monthly Editor’s Comments by recounting how she had reached the point where she could no longer tolerate her husband’s lament about the lack of a local business publication.

“Suzanne,” Bob (Beecher) kept repeating. “Why hasn’t anyone done a publication for local businesses? There are lots of trade journals and consumer magazines around, but there’s no way for local businesses to reach each other. I just can’t understand why there’s no publication for local businesses.”

Replied Suzanne: “Bob, I’ve listened to that idea for the last four months, and I refuse to hear it anymore! Why don’t you do something about it? Everyone’s been telling you what a great idea it would be …”

As you can surmise, Robert finally got around to launching this magazine, and his comment about finding a way for local businesses to reach each other still rings true because 40 years later connecting businesspeople is what In Business magazine is all about. In this particular era of business, connections are made through multimedia channels. Back in the Beecher’s day, they were made through ink-stained effort.

When the magazine launched, Robert Beecher had already introduced the aforementioned shopper publication. He also ran a typesetting business called Setype, so he had been in the publishing field for several years. “He had an idea that we could have a way for smaller businesses to communicate, and since we owned small businesses dealing with some of the same issues … it was kind of a brainstorm,” recalls Suzanne, who at that time owned and operated a restaurant called the Cutting Board in Middleton. “Robert is an idea guy, and he’s come up with several great business ideas in 39 years.”

The Beechers owned the magazine for 11 years, and looking over back issues from the first decade, it’s obvious their focus was on information for small and independent businesses. They shaped many of the magazine components still recognizable today, including the “New Business” department, which evolved to today’s Startups. Cover stories spotlighted area business practices and trends, and there were occasional business book reviews.

Now an author, blogger, and the founder of DearReader.com, an online service for book lovers, Suzanne Beecher noted that a lot of IB’s early editorial content was about small business issues she and Robert had dealt with their entire careers. “It was easy to relate to small businesses and the things they have to deal with,” she notes, “and, of course, people are always interested in that new business down the street. Who owns it? What are they paying? How did they solve a problem? People are always interested in what someone else is doing.”

Perhaps the biggest business story of that era was one that would not become evident for years — the launching of Epic Systems, which eventually became a dominant player in electronic medical records and is now Dane County’s largest employer.

Due to an eye disorder Suzanne developed, the Beechers sold In Business magazine to current owner Bill Haight in 1989. They would continue their entrepreneurial pursuits in Florida, where they have lived for years, and they still receive the magazine and appreciate the way it has found new ways to accomplish its original mission — finding ways for local businesspeople to reach each other.

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New era

Haight knew a great deal about In Business magazine when he got wind of the Beecher’s interest in selling. “It was well thought of in the business community,” he notes. “I liked it and most of the people I knew liked it.”

Haight wanted to raise the level of sophistication, which meant increasing the volume of business news. He already had an editor in mind in the person of Ruth Benedict, who wrote and edited for IB’s parent company, Magna Publications, also owned by Haight.

2003 Book of Lists cover

Over the next three years, Benedict would pull double duty as the magazine added more of the business-oriented elements visible today, including Court Filings, the Top 200 Companies (now the Largest 100 Employers) and other lists, plus well-received CEO profiles written by Benedict (many local chief executives would be photographed for the cover). The changes were part of a strategy to introduce many of the same business issues that national publications like the Wall Street Journal were reporting on, but by leveraging the wealth of local business expertise.

“For a while our format was that we always had a cover photograph of a CEO of one of the area’s larger companies — J.H. Findorff, American Family Insurance, and the like,” Haight recalls. “We really tried to push the idea that we should be presenting more factual information, not just lifestyle stuff, and then we added new features such as the court listings, which was somewhat controversial. Some people said we shouldn’t take glee in other people’s problems, but most of our readers looked at the Court Filings as a service.”

During Benedict’s tenure, the magazine also added the Executive Register, the feature that would eventually lead to more widespread efforts to connect area businesses. The “ER,” which has since morphed into today’s annual Exec Connect event, included vignettes of community-minded business executives and wider features that delved into various facets of their executive experience.

Benedict wanted to bring to light the challenges local executives faced and overcame, which would offer readers a more in-depth view of local business leaders and hopefully some business acumen, as well. “What I really liked about the ER was that we gave the writers some direction and asked them to explore the low points about the executive’s life and career. That was often the most interesting part of the article — what they had experienced and learned on their business journey,” Benedict notes. “I knew it was very popular because people would talk about it out at Rotary and out in the community, and other business people said they had learned something.”

She credits Haight for helping her bring a new level of sophistication to In Business. “He was so on the mark and so focused, and he came in every day with great ideas,” she recalled. “He always had his finger on the pulse of the business community, always thinking, always brainstorming with others, so I remember it being very collaborative.

“There was just a lot of energy between us, and with the staff, and with the freelancers. Everybody had the idea of taking a pretty good product and making it a very good product. We were just sponges.”

The five-year period between Benedict’s departure and the arrival of Jody Anderson, later Jody Glynn Patrick, saw the introduction to the private sector of the Internet and a technology revolution that would bring electronic business applications such as email and efficient, innovative software that would gradually replace legacy systems. It was the kind of historic economic driver that challenged (and still challenges) business organizations to keep pace or lose business to disruptive new models.

While all this was happening, there was at least one hallelujah moment in terms of business news. By 1997, the long debated Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center finally opened for business, giving Greater Madison more potential as a destination. The development of Monona Terrace would be followed up by the Kohl Center, the Overture Center, the development of the sprawling Epic System campus, the renovation of Camp Randall Stadium, the construction of the Constellation and the Galaxy on East Washington Avenue, the multifamily building boom in the heart of Madison, and the New Holland Pavilions and future opportunities to more fully develop the Alliant Energy Center campus.

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Eventful period

Under Glynn Patrick, who served as publisher, IB would hire a full-time editor and move away from a heavy reliance on freelance writers. She introduced more color, hired a full-time graphic artist, and insisted on a more consistently professional writing style with a wider variety of local sources.

Executive Register, July 2006

“The point is writing for sophisticated business people,” Haight explains. “Jody and I both felt that In Business magazine should have business articles for business people. Business writing is a lot tougher than writing about a lot of other things because businesspeople, for competitive reasons, are reluctant to talk about a lot of things. They don’t have to talk to you.”

They do, however, like to talk with one another, which is why IB readers have seen a proliferation of networking events in recent years. Some were related to editorial programs such as the Executive Register, some are held in association with newer features such as the 40 Under 40, and some simply meet the local craving for social interaction (see IB Introductions). All are in keeping with the Beecher’s original mission of fostering greater business communication.

Glynn Patrick, who retired in 2013, says the success of the first ER event would convince her to expand IB’s menu of business events. “The executives I thought would attend the event are busy and they have a lot of black-tie engagements throughout the year,” she recalls. “Would they want to see some of the same people that they routinely did business with at an executive level? The answer was resoundingly, yes.”

While connecting others, Glynn Patrick is proudest of the way IB’s staff has connected with one another. That was evident when Glynn Patrick was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and her staff (and friends) doted on her upon her return to the office, and when cash-flow issues arose during the Great Recession — major advertisers decided not to pay — and she asked staffers to take at least one week of unpaid leave. “They agreed to take a week of unpaid leave but were still determined to get the magazine out,” she recalled. “Most people came in every day and worked, and that kind of family gets you through a recession because we were all willing to do it.

“That kind of caring about your job and that kind of professionalism is why In Business magazine succeeded when some other magazines, especially national publications, had a really hard time.”

Connecting more than just CEOs

Jon Konarske, IB’s current publisher, notes that over the past 10 years he has seen the business evolve from a print magazine to a true multimedia company. It has expanded online products and now hosts more than 20 events each year.
IB will continue to look for new opportunities for business professionals to connect through the magazine, new digital offerings, or vital face-to-face meetings at IB events. “Our mission has been quite simple: To connect and advance the Greater Madison business community,” Konarske states. “Even though we live and work in a digital world, connections are more important than they’ve ever been. As a company, we take a lot of pride in this mission, and that is something that we’ll continue to focus on as we move forward in what we hope is another 40 years of In Business.”

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IB anniversary timeline

As part of our 40th anniversary celebration, In Business magazine is paying homage to its roots as a business publication. In this historical timeline, we track our magazine’s evolution from a fledgling journal to the multimedia company it is today.

March 1978

Founders Robert and Suzanne Beecher publish the magazine’s first monthly edition, promising a magazine for small and independent businesses. Despite long hours and cash-flow problems, the new magazine would be distributed to more than 7,000 businesses by the end of its first year.

The 1980s

Over the next decade, the Beechers would launch many of the magazine components still visible today, including a “New Business” department that evolved into today’s “Startups,” and they presented cover stories that spotlighted area business practices and trends.

1988

After Robert Beecher stepped back to concentrate on their other businesses, Suzanne Beecher transitioned into the publisher’s role and hired Niki Denison as a full-time editor.

1989

In Business magazine is purchased by current owner Bill Haight, who also owns Magna Publications. He appoints Ruth Benedict as editor to add more visual appeal and industry lists such as the “Executive Register.” Magna becomes IB’s parent company.

1992

In May 1992, Haight announces Benedict’s pending departure and eventually names Todd Franklin editor. Franklin gives IB an early facelift and launches a new annual feature — “Fast Growing Companies.”

1995

Lisa Tyler Hochgraf, who was hired as Franklin’s associate editor in 1993, becomes full-time editor upon his departure. However, it was a short-lived tenure, as she leaves in June to become editor for two magazines of the Credit Union Executive Society in Madison.

1996

Edie and Jim Devine, Nov. 1996

After a brief experiment with having the editorial team at Magna Publications assume responsibility for editing both Magna’s higher education newsletters and In Business feature stories, the magazine returns to an on-site editor with the hiring of freelance writer Melanie McManus. She is with the publication for only one year but expands the concept of the “writing editor” who writes full feature articles.

In Business was about to undergo another redesign, and make the editor a full-time position for writing and editing the magazine and supporting a more integrated product.

1997

Implementing these sweeping changes was new publisher Jody Anderson, later known as Jody Glynn Patrick. Anderson hired Paul Zukowski as the new editor and charged him with becoming more interactive with the business community and revamping the magazine into a more sophisticated vehicle for meeting readership needs.

2000

By the time Joe Vanden Plas became editor in May of 2000, the magazine’s content was shared with an estimated 60,000 readers.

Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick was diagnosed with breast cancer and her subsequent successful battle became the basis for a book titled During, which was written with husband Kevin Patrick.

2001

IB had several milestone launches including its Extreme Networking Event, an exclusive networking event for the top local executives in the business community. It is the first major event hosted by IB, and it was renamed Exec Connect in 2014.

The magazine also publishes its first 40 Under 40 to honor rising young business professionals in the Greater Madison region. The 2017 class of 40 Under 40 will be the 17th annual class.

IB publishes the first annual Book of Lists.

2002

Current publisher Jon Konarske joins In Business as an advertising consultant.

2005

Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick wins the Athena Award, which recognizes the achievements of professional women.

2006

Staff writer Jennifer Smith succeeds Vanden Plas as editor and is later succeeded by Heather Skyler. Jessica Hamm, Jan Wilson, and Karen Bosold join IB.

2007

Terri McCarthy joins IB.

2008

IB launches its first Commercial Design Awards, an event recognizing outstanding commercial design projects. This is also the year that the IB Events Division is created, and Jessica Hamm is promoted to lead this fast-growing segment of the IB brand.

2009

Vanden Plas rejoins IB as editorial director as the Great Recession is in full swing. With business failures mounting, IB focuses its coverage on business survival. Carol Hornung and Gloria Babcock also join the IB staff.

2010

IB launches IB Intros, quarterly networking events intended to meet its mission of connecting the local business community, and the IB Seminar Series, quarterly educational seminars designed to share best practices for business development.

2011

IB launches its new website IBMadison.com, along with the twice-weekly IB Ezine newsletters.

The first IB Expo & Conference is held at the Alliant Energy Center. The event attracts more than 1,100 business professionals and 110+ exhibitors each year.

IB also launches the popular IB Icons speaking series, which showcases the iconic companies and people influencing the local or regional business landscape.

2012

Alan Sanderfoot is hired as creative director to lead an upgrade in the magazine’s look and overall professionalism, resulting in the magazine’s highest industry recognitions, including the award-winning 40 Under 40 video series.

2013

Jon Konarske is promoted from associate publisher to publisher and Sanderfoot becomes associate publisher upon the retirement of Jody Glynn Patrick.

2014

IB’s first Executive of the Year program is held to honor local business leaders who have had the most profoundly positive impact on their respective organizations during the preceding year.

IB is recognized by Folio magazine with a prestigious Eddie/Ozzie Award in the Digital B-to-B category for its 40 Under 40 IBTV interviews, and was a finalist in the B2B General Interest/Enthusiast category for its June 2014 edition and the general interest B2B Series of Articles category for the On the Job features written by Departments Editor Jan Wilson.

The “On the Job” series was also a finalist in min magazine’s Editorial and Design Awards program for Best Editorial Series in print.

2015

Jason Busch becomes online editor following the departure of Tom Breuer.

IB holds its first Women of Industry Awards program.

2016

Chelsea Weis joins IB.

2017

IB commemorates its 40th year of publishing.

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