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  • Writer's pictureRuss Newton

Another life lesson of some kind.

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

So, I was promoted to VP of Operations Los Angeles Times in 2005. My immediate supervisor was Mark Kurtich. He was an introvert, and I was an extrovert. At some point in the first year he gave me a list of culture things he wanted to change in the Operation. So I started in on that list. Well it took most of the year to get through the list but I did. In 2007, he set up a meeting with me, no subject for 4pm Friday.

I will mention at this time Jeff Johnson has been fired (Wrongly I should add) from being Publisher and a guy named David Hiller was named Publisher. The first time Mark and I met with him, he asked us why there were two VP's in operations. Mark had me explain that he was in charge of long term strategy and I was in charge of day to day. That happened two more times in the following month. The third time I said to David "Are you trying to tell us one of us redundant?" He denied it and said he was just wondering. I told Mark after the meeting I think he is going to get rid of me. Mark said no, he was just trying to learn about the operation. So, with that, back to my story.

I show up at the Friday meeting and what happens? Mark gives me a written warning for performance! Out of the blue. I read the warning carefully. I offer to Mark it seems odd to me, he was writing me up for carrying out his instructions! He told me to go home and think about it over the weekend. So I gave in 30 seconds after I left his office then whipped out my cell phone and called the SVP of Human Resources. I asked her if I could speak to her off the record. She replied with a laugh, you know how to get my attention. I proposed you start talking and if I think it needs to be on the record, I will tell you and you can stop or go on. I agreed. My first questions to her was, is it possible for a VP to get a Written Warning without human resources not being involved? She replied no. I said that is all I need to hear. She requested I keep on talking and when I finished she said "I think he his starting a fight with you he can't win". I asked what she meant, but she said I would figure it out sooner then later.

Well that next week, I received a call from the New Publisher to go out to dinner with him in a couple of days. I told Mark about this dinner and said what is going on? I had never had dinner with the Publisher by myself in the 30 years I had been in management. Mark said I was overthinking it and that David was new in town and just wanted company for dinner. So I went out to dinner with him and during the dinner he either offered me the SVP job or fired me, I wasn't sure. So I asked him that, did he fire me or promoted me? He laughed and said I am offering you the job. So I said why? Mark has an MBA, Mark has been here for 15 years, I just got here and I am a high school graduate. He said he liked my style and direct way and that the other SVP's had nice things to say about me. He then said Dick Malone (Big shot in Operations in Chicago) and Dave Murphy (GM at the times via Chicago) both thought I would be good at the job. We were eating at an outside patio and at that moment a homeless man garble a request for something to both of us. I pointed at him and said Dick and Dave would like this guy better for the job then me. He laughed and said you are hard man to hire, do you know that? I accepted then as I had pushed him as far as was wise. And latter on think I figured out why. Mark was never comfortable interacting with the other SVP's and I often stood in for him with they wanted to meet with him. In fact once Mark stuck his head in Jack Klunder's office (SVP of Circulation) and saw me in there drinking coffee. He backed out but asked me to stop by his office after I was done. When I went to his office, he asked why I was having coffee with Jack? I said, Mark if I don't have coffee with him, then the only time I am going to talk with him is at 2am when we have a big production issue that will impact him in the field. And if I don't develop a relationship with him outside of 2am in the morning, that is all he is going to have to think of me and that would not be good for our relationship. And I like Jack, so that is the real reason. He thought about for a second then said to me, "can you teach me how to do that?" I was stunned, I thought he was mad at me for doing this instead he wanted me to teach him how to do it. I tried but I don't think you can teach an introvert to be an extrovert. Any ways that is how I became a SVP. Oh, and for the two weeks Mark was still there, the write up, it never came up again and never was made part of my permanent file.


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