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  • Writer's pictureRuss Newton

Life Lesson number 4 (work version)

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

As you well see if you recall the previous posts on the subject, most of these events happened in a very narrow range of time. Guess I was lucky. So this tale is set about a year after the on the floor meeting with Gene Bell, Senior Vice President of Operations. I was working third shift, and one morning nearing the end of the shift around 6am, a young professional looking man walked into the office I shared and asked me a question. He introduced himself as Jeff Johnson, the press room analyst.

This was not someone powerful that could hurt me. I could have easily blown his request off (as my peers apparently did). But I didn't. He said "I asked for some data from the first shift shift supervisor a couple of weeks ago and have not received it yet" I replied, what exactly do you need? He told me. I said is it okay to give it to you tomorrow? It is the end of the shift and I really could use a beer and the guys were going over to the local bar that opened early for us. "He replied "That would be great". Now I didn't give the perfect response. The data he was asking for was easy to pull together, maybe an hours work. But in my defense it was the end of the shift and he seemed to be happy with the deadline I provided. The more important part of this test I passed. I treated him with respect, asked clarifying questions and gave him a deadline (which I did make) of 24 hours later. From that first interaction we ended up becoming friends of a sort during that time. I worked nights and he worked days but I do recall a couple of evenings out on the town with him and his wife Melissa. One involved a place that was advertising dwarf tossing later that week sticks in my mind as being slightly inappropriate at that time, really inappropriate today!

Jeff and the famous Melissa! at their home in Tiburon, CA 2016

But as time passed, he quickly climbed the career ladder much quicker than I. He was named Packaging Manager at the Chicago Tribune while I was the Pressroom Manager at the Daily Press. Chicago at the time printed and inserted over a million papers, the Daily Press was about 125K. No comparison job wise. And shortly after that he was named VP of Operations Orlando Sentinel then SVP a minute after that. During that period of time he was the classic definition of a mentor for me. I talked to him every four months or so and when I was having challenges in my career. (and HR VP from hell) or (a job offer to go to New York Newsday) he gave me really good advice. One incident in particular sticks in my mind. The HR VP from Hell pulled me in her office and told me they had a new job for me, press and packaging manger. I asked what it meant for a good friend of mine, Bill Boster and she said it was my call what to do with Bill. I said what if I wanted to stay press room manager? She said that job no longer existed. So I called Jeff and he pointed out it seem likely they were going to make a change in Packaging regardless of what I desired and it would be a good resume item to have on my career list. More conversation then that took place but you get the idea. Well a couple of years later I interviewed for the Packaging Managers job in Orlando and having Packaging experience certainly helped me out. And the fact Jeff was the SVP didn't hurt either. I may do detailed posts on the next few items in the future but as you will see, Jeff was involved heavily in my career progression. Four years in Orlando and Jeff took the job of CEO at Landoll's in Ashland, Ohio. A few months later, I was hired there as VP of Operations. After that business was sold out from under us, I joined Jeff in Los Angles at Director Of Packaging Operations for the LAT. He was General Manager. Five years later, I was named VP on Operations. Jeff took a principled stand and left the company (Details at this link: (You may to copy the link and have a subscription to the NYT to read it). I stayed with the company and rose to President and COO of the San Diego Tribune, more on that later. Then I was fired, retired, divorced and went back to work at the San Antonio Express News. I know without knowing details that Jeff (who was by then Publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle) was behind that. Then he hired me to be General Manager of Bay Area Production Services, the print and inserting operation for the San Francisco Chronicle.

So the morale of this lesson is be nice to everyone, you never know when you will meet the person who will guide you to almost every job I have held in the past forty years.


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Apr 27, 2020

Great story about two great men! But I am a little biased :)


Apr 26, 2020

Great Story!!

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