Forbes has a tribute to Jim Michaels, my uber-boss while I was at Forbes from 1994-2000 and editor of the magazine for 38 years.
As Pete Newcomb says on the Forbes on Fox show dedicated to Michaels' memory, Jim was adept at using fear to motivate the troops, but, as I found out, he also had a personable, warm side. A year and a half after moving to San Francisco to help start Forbes' Silicon Valley bureau, I received an attractive offer from a competitor. Knowing how important loyalty was to Jim and the Forbes organization in general, I was all but out the door, just hoping I'd be able to slink away before Jim's storied wrath descended on me.
The phone in my office rang. It was Jim. I steeled myself for a verbal beatdown...
Instead, he congratulated me on landing a nice offer, said the magazine would be sorry to lose me, and added that he thought I owed it to myself to come back to New York and hear him out over lunch. I said I'd be on the next flight to NYC. He told me to work out the details with his assistant.
I called Harriet, told her the red-eye would be fine, and asked where I should meet Jim. She said Jim had told her that I should name the spot. I thought for a minute, then figured I might as well be in the closest thing to home turf I could still claim in the City when I met my doom. Corner Bistro, I told her. There was a pause. For a second I feared I'd overplayed my hand. "In the West Village?" she asked. "How's one o'clock?"
The black Town Car rolled down Jane Street and pulled up at the corner of West 4th. Jim got out, gave the place a once-over, and saw me standing outside the Bistro's door. "Favorite place of yours?" he asked. Over cheeseburgers, Jim peppered me with questions about how Forbes could improve its tech coverage and be more attractive to young journalists.
Whatever my answers were, it dawned on me that I had the ear, at least for a little while, of one of the truly great figures in journalism. That's ultimately why I decided to stay. I told him about a strange experience I'd had at the massive Comdex tech trade show, in the bargain-basement floor of the convention center: looking for Xybernaut, a manufacturer of wearable computers, I'd come across a cluster of booths manned by companies pushing services for a totally free operating system called Linux.
Two months later, my story on open source software ran, featuring Linus Torvalds on the cover in colorized black-and-white. I don't think the editor of any other national magazine would have had the vision or the guts to run a cover on a Finnish geek who at the time was a nobody in all but the farthest reaches of the code-jockeying world, presenting the case for a meta-capitalistic system of incentives and competition that on its face looked quasi-socialist.
That Jim, an avowed Libertarian and no fan of dot-com boosterism, was able to see through the technical complexity and anti-capitalist rhetoric surrounding the open source movement to recognize the world-changing potential in Torvalds and his peers heading up Apache, Python, and a handful of other open source projects is a testament to the diamond-like clarity of his mind at age 75. After writing the piece, I came away with the impression that he had understood the story better than I from the very beginning.