Cleared For Takeoff

Let me introduce myself by telling you about the greatest guy I never met. Charlie Horton founded two trade magazines, and I had the pleasure to work for both publications for 20 years.

I never met Charlie because he passed away six months before I walked through the door of his company. But I have kept a copy of a memo he wrote as he prepared to launch his second magazine. The memo’s a bit torn-and-frayed and coffee-stained, but I keep it close since it clearly spells out what makes a successful business-to-business magazine and reminds editors of what they need to do to make it so.

Here’s what Charlie wrote:

“Maybe something else counts – like knowledge of the industry; like constant involvement in its affairs; like continuing face-to-face encounters with thousands of its people; like an intense commitment to the progress and well-being of the industry. One hundred percent of our loyalty, 100 percent of our interest, 100 percent of our commitment is right here – and it does make a difference.”

Charlie’s philosophy has been my philosophy ever since. And while he wrote those words long before any of us learned how to spell “www,” I know they apply just as much to what we do on the web.

The editors didn’t just serve as reporters, but as the best ambassadors and – we were never ashamed to admit – cheerleaders for a dedicated group of hard-working professionals that earned their pay doing strenuous jobs that would leave most of us bewildered for instruction and panting for breath.

Now, he wasn’t talking about the ground-handling industry; he was talking about the plumbing industry. Plumbers are underdogs – easily discounted and unrecognized until, of course, you need one. Not a single customer likes to pay the plumber’s bill to fix the water heater, but just try going an hour without hot water.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about my new readers just yet. I’ve certainly walked through airports in the United States, Europe, China and Japan. That might count for something. But my dad was an electrician at O’Hare Airport, and when my sister and I were kids, he’d take us out in his truck crisscrossing runways in front of taxiing aircraft. That might count for more.

I do know what I bring to the table is the experience to care about readers and make their interests my interests. So it was a relief to talk with George Prill, the original editor of this magazine, my first week on the job and hear more than a faint recognition in his voice as he described my new readers. “The forgotten guys.” “Underappreciated.” “Underrecognized.” “Underserved.” George also reminded me of Charlie’s philosophy when he told me that I should consider myself primarily in the ground support business rather than the publishing business.

I’m not sure why I’ve ended up editing magazines for people who don’t get the recognition they richly deserve. But I’m sure I’ll fit right in as I learn to celebrate a new industry.

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