PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1992 - SEPTEMBER
Wednesday 9 September 1992, Brussels
Brussels this morning is bright and cheerful but already there is an autumn chill in the air. The year has wound on and on, and is now ready to wind down. How extraordinary that time can zip by so fast.
The uncertainty prevailing in my life throughout the summer has not ended. All that has happened in the last week is that one avenue has been definitely closed - that of managing Europe’s largest newsletter business. The Memorandum from Will came about a week ago and last Thursday the official announcement was that David Hurst is to be the new Editor-in-Chief of FT Newsletters. What a kick in the teeth for us senior editors. David is 36, is currently head of computer support at the FT newspaper. He does have some editorial experience, we understand, but it doesn’t seem like much. For the past three years, he’s been working solely with computers. And, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t have an ounce, not a gram, of publishing experience. Dennis has called him a lightweight and thinks it may have something to do with the fact that FTBE, as a company, is up for sale. Such rumours have been flying around for a month or two. But I don’t see how the two are connected really. The more I think about it, the more galling it is. After all, I simply had a one hour interview in which my credentials as a publisher were explored. Yet this new man has no publishing experience at all. The full story is not being told. I am hot to write a memo to Will, copied to John and to someone senior to Will on the paper but I am already in negotiations with John McLachlan to buy my newsletters and it seems counter-productive to stir up ill will (no pun intended).
Yes, at 10am on Thursday morning, the very hour of the announcement, I was in John’s office explaining my desire to move on. I tried to elicit some form of explanation from John but he wouldn’t give any. He waffled for a while about satellite operations such as Gerard’s or X25 but I waited patiently to reinforce the message that I want to buy my newsletters. I stressed that ‘EC Energy Monthly’ would be worth nothing to them without me as editor, although because it was worth something to me, FTBE could legitimately ask something for it. I said ‘European Energy Report’ had always been a marginal newsletter and it was only my tight control that kept it profitable, and I said that we probably wouldn’t be able to agree on a price for the East Europe newsletter. He asked me for some numbers and I gave some - £25,000 for ‘EC Energy Monthly’, ‘Something over £100,000’ for EER and £50,000 for East Europe. John said he would need a week to get back to me. I wait with baited breath. I suspect he will not deal. I have also offered a hybrid deal whereby I buy ‘EC Energy Monthly’ but continue to look after ‘European Energy Report’ and ‘East European Energy Report’ on a contract basis.
Unfortunately with Kenny and Henry still off sick with hepatitis A, a burden of daily work falls on my shoulders. I must put an issue of ‘EC Energy Monthly’ to bed tomorrow but usually I have Henry doing the production efficiently and tidily and Kenny helping out editorially for three or four days. More about them and about Henry’s wedding in my next broadcast - for now back to the grindstone.
20 03, Wednesday 9 September 1992, London
Back from Brussels. I was looking forward to watching some television on my return tonight but Mark is occupying the lounge and watching a video. My study is tidy, there is little post, I am not hungry. I finished two books on the aeroplane: Primo Levi’s ‘The Wrench’ - excellent, excellent - and Clifford Irving’s ‘The Trial’, also very good. Whereas the former I would classify as literature, the latter is a good thriller. I particularly liked ‘The Wrench’, and another Levi book I’ve read, ‘The Periodic Table’, because it makes heroes out of ordinary scientists and engineers - glorifies the skills that are the building blocks of our society.
It was a busy three days in Brussels and although I didn’t manage to dig up any scoops I did find a number of interesting bits and pieces, sufficient to fill the newsletter tomorrow. It always surprises me what there is to find if one only looks around, even in this period, at the very end of the Commission close-down during August. Admittedly some of the stories are quite old but what do the subscribers expect? Cardoso e Cunha is leaving his job as Energy Commissioner at the end of the year. Thus my newsletter comes full circle. The first issue coincided with his starting in the job. He will take up a post as director general of the 1998 International Exhibition to be held in Lisbon.
Jacques Delors has, reportedly, said he will resign the Presidency of the Commission if the French vote on the 20th to reject the Maastricht Treaty. Early opinion polls suggested they might but Miterrand has since brought out some heavy political and cultural guns and the French people can be swayed like sheep with the proper manipulation of the media.
I had an interesting meeting with Brian Jensen. After handing him the redraft of the Thermie report text, he suggested we go into business together, with Euroteam in search of more contracts. I told him my situation and that things were yet uncertain, but his enthusiasm for our working together seemed both strong and genuine. So far we have worked well together over the Thermie project, and it will have been quite lucrative (assuming I get the Ecu5,000 and assuming I don’t have to do too much more work). He was also keen on extending our partnership to the ‘EC Energy Monthly’ newsletter and believed that it could be sold profitably into Denmark with some added value by him. We will talk more of these things anon. I’m hoping to be back in Brussels during the last week of the month.
Henry’s wedding went off without a hitch, at least as far as the spectators were concerned, and if you don’t count the fact that Henry was barely recovered from his bout of hepatitis. The marriage service was held in a large Victorian church in Hamilton Terrace, Maida Vale. Henry and Lynda had paid for a small choir which sat in the gallery, and there were two vicars, one presumably a friend of the family. About 130 people came both to the church and to the reception afterwards. This was held in a grand building in Conduit Street decked out with plush carpets and Christian Dior advertising. Henry’s Dad, a legal fellow, is currently looking after the lease of the building - at least it saved the cost of renting a grotty hall somewhere. The only problem was getting there and then parking - Regent’s Street on a Saturday afternoon, no joke. But once there, no expense had been spared on the buffet food or on the service. There was a surfeit of waiters to bring around the tasty titbits and fill up our glasses, either with champagne or orange juice. There wasn’t that much seating so we had to stand for the best part of two hours before the cake was cut and before the speeches. I spent most of that time talking either to John or Dennis and his wife - Kenny and Liz didn’t make it due to Kenny’s illness. Barbara talked quite a lot to Dennis’s wife also. Henry gave a calm, splendid speech, much peppered with jokes about his illness. By contrast, his best man Sam, Dennis’s son (it was through Dennis that Henry came to be working for me) gave a rather self-centred and extravagant speech. He did make people laugh but the speech didn’t leave quite the right taste in the mouth. B and I left right after the speeches and raced to Grandma’s by four or so, where Adam had been since before 11 in the morning.
7 01, Wednesday 16 September 1992, London
After a poor summer, autumn has swept in its cold air almost overnight. One day it was August and the next it was September; the nights have been cold enough to warrant restarting the central heating. As ever I am reluctant to admit we’re on our way to winter and the end of another year.
On Monday night I didn’t get back from the office until 8 so I flopped in front of the TV and didn’t even have the strength to do yoga. I watched a Western ‘Blood on the Moon’ I’ve kept on video. A very young Robert Mitchum plays a simple hoodlum with a conscience. A nicely turned tale about the time when indians are on reservations and homesteaders are taking over from the cowboys. Then, last night, I was tired too, but got home by six. And all I did last night was watch television. In ‘Eastenders’, Sharon has fallen in love with the brother, Phil, of her husband, Grant; and indeed has spent the night with Phil. There was already one episode where Sharon skated on the very edge of telling Grant but, in the end she decided, to stay with her husband. That was a couple of weeks ago. Now Sharon’s wondering around with a long face and asking everyone whether it’s important to tell the truth. It seems she’s about to tell Grant after all - or so my lodger Mark thinks. I, however, fail to believe that the programme writers will let this tension slip through their fingers so quickly. The friendship between Sharon and Grant was a long time in the making and the love scene a long time in the coming; now I’m sure the producer will pump the triangle for some months to come. And then tonight. Well, my workload is less heavy today, so I will be fresher and sprightlier tonight - I’ll be all dressed up with nowhere to go. Likewise on Thursday night. It’s just as well I’m going to Madrid for a week on Saturday, or else I might start worrying about myself!
Oh dear, Johnnie Major has got himself into a pickle over the pound. It’s been weak for a while and yo-yoing around near its bottom level in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. The government has staunchly tried to support it, both by spending foreign reserves and by stating categorically that it would not devalue the currency. However, there is an inevitability about this process. The UK remains engulfed by a recession, the currency is weak and there are no underlying reasons why it should strengthen, indeed it is overvalued. The government hopes that by propping the currency up until after the French referendum on Maastricht it will strengthen of its own accord. Although the opinion polls that suggested the French might vote no, did cause the pound to swing low, it was already weak before then. Thus, even if the French vote yes, the pound will have to be devalued at some point not long after, rather than immediately after. In any case, it looks like we’ll have higher interest rates today or tomorrow. The question is should I buy my pesetas now or wait until Monday.
UK troops are committed to a UN peace-keeping force in former Yugoslavia. The problems are so complex that the UN is right to move cautiously and slowly. Endless peace conferences have shown that the Serbs are more interested in claiming land than in peace. The fighting, the deaths, the refugees all amount to a huge tragedy on West Europe’s doorstep; but there is nothing to be done, we cannot go in with a military offensive and force the Serbs back; who is to say what territory it should have - only the UN could have such authority and thus responses must be done through the UN, however slow and cumbersome the process.
My dear Tosh is beginning to make some funny noises. It has served me well. I did take it on a couple of trips, but I never used it take notes in a library (as I thought I might). The main advantage of having a portable has been the facility of moving my working place around the house and of having a word processor on holiday, when we’ve driven somewhere in the UK. I probably should try and sell it now. I don’t trust it to serve me for years to come; and, as I already know, Toshiba no longer supply the batteries. I wonder if I could get £500 for it - I’d then have to buy another one though - ah yes! a Mac Powerbook. Other people waste money by smoking, I just keep buying computers.
20 34, Thursday 17 September 1992, London
A and B arrived this evening. I take A to the park and we find ourselves racing around. A loves to run races and, although I always worried about his bow legs, he runs really fast now and with style. On a fast trot around the park at the same pace, I actually get out of breath. He can also run doing somersaults as he goes. I read him a Brer Rabbit story before he goes to bed - ‘Brer Rabbit meets his match’. We both like these stories, and the original Uncle Remus version is far superior to Enid Blyton’s reworking which I read to A when he was younger.
John McLachlan promised to get back to me by tomorrow but he has not scheduled a meeting so I must assume the worst. If he tells me FTBE will not sell I will have plenty to think about in Madrid. Dare I leave and set up a competitor to ‘EC Energy Monthly’. What other choices are there? If he gives me a price we can discuss, I’ll probably have even more to think about, and I’ll wish I wasn’t spending a week in Madrid.
It has been a hectic week, and I don’t have much to write about so I’ll sign off.
Monday 28 September 1992, Brighton
A bright sunny weekend, most of which I spent finishing the final draft of ‘King Top-of-the-World’. I must send it off to the Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds today, the deadline is 1 October. I have allowed the play and this deadline to preoccupy me over the last few weeks even though I have rather more important things on my mind. But now it is finished I can concentrate on my future.
Two Fridays ago, and two weeks after my interview with John McLachlan about buying the newsletters, he answered me. At short notice, he called me over to Broadway Buildings to tell me that, even though the FT isn’t seeking to sell my newsletters, everything does have its price. That price is £250,000 for ‘EC Energy Monthly’ and £500,000 for ‘European Energy Report’. John, as usual, waffled for ages and I argued for a short while but there was clearly no point. After this interview, I was quite in shock, I really couldn’t believe they would put such a high price on ‘EC Energy Monthly’. It only made a net contribution (which is significantly more than net profit) of £40,000 in 1991, and the normal procedure for pricing a newsletter is to look at five years net contribution. But the real shock comes from the company completely failing to take into account the value of me as an editor of these newsletters and pricing them as though I were completely and utterly and instantly replaceable. If I had written this entry up immediately after the interview I would have gone on at some length, but now, ten days later, I am rather more clear-eyed. Of course, I threatened, as strongly as I could, to resign but why should the company begin to negotiate when they don’t want to sell and they are quite happy with me in place. Dad’s advice, earlier in the year, was not to resign and then to negotiate as I had originally intended but to try and negotiate, amicably, a split. That approach has clearly not worked - I must have known it wouldn’t - and indeed, if I now think about it, I may now be handicapped by John’s weakness for resentment. Will he, I ask myself, negotiate after I resign, having already set out his position. A business pragmatist surely would, but John has been too unassailable and has developed too strong an air of invulnerability.
Wednesday 30 September 1992, Brussels
TO RESIGN OR NOT TO RESIGN
My mind is full of all sorts of possibilities for the future but can I really make the decision to resign when I have such a good post, bringing in, regularly, a high income. I have struggled throughout the year to come to some resolution about my future. As far as I could see there were three possibilities - aim to be a fiction writer, become an energy expert/consultant by staying on at the FT, or aim to run my own newsletters. I tested myself on the first of these options, in the spring, by writing a radio play. Had it been accepted by the BBC, it is unlikely that I would have opted to take up writing full-time anyway, but, as it was, the play was rejected. So that cleared that possibility out of the way. The second possibility was always, it seemed to me, the safest, but one which did not fit well with my personality. It is really the third option that has come to predominate. Through the summer there were two plans - becoming editor-in-chief of newsletters at FTBE or purchasing one or more title and becoming a small publisher/editor. Well I let the first of those run, and, in the end, I failed to secure the post. I always thought, in any case, that if it came to negotiation, I would not be able to accept the job because management was not prepared to give the reign I would need. And then, of course, I made an offer to buy my newsletters. I did really believe management would sell me ‘EC Energy Monthly’, and I was thus shocked to hear John’s price. Now what do I do?
One of the chief factors that must lead to my decision to resign is that I now understand quite well that the management at FTBE is decrepit. Given the poverty of dynamic management, there is little hope for my potential to be utilised, rather it has been, and will be, exploited. Since I am no naif this will lead, increasingly, to friction. It already has. I am clearly better off, while I am still relatively young and have some energy, to face the hard uphill struggle to create my own business. I ask myself, why stay at the FT? what for? The only true answer is for the regular income and security that it brings. Well, I’ve had it for five years and I’ve got £60,000 in savings, it’s time to take some more risks. That’s it. Time for a change. I have written a first draft of my resignation letter.
I should write something about Madrid. I spent the whole of last week there at the World Energy Congress. The Congress is put on once every three years by the World Energy Council. In 1989 it was in Montreal, and in 1995 it will be in Tokyo. I’ve never been to one of these big WEC conferences - over 3,000 delegates attend - and thought I should go while I had the chance with a European venue. I flew out on Saturday to give myself time to look around. I can remember going to Madrid twice before - once to do a job for MORI, and once for 24 hours on the invite of Repsol but, with the exception of the Prado, I’ve never been a tourist as far as I can remember.
Paul K Lyons
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