The story of BRW has lessons for all publishers and those who run large organisations. In 1981 Fairfax dominated business publishing but suddenly faced the threat of Kerry Packer entering the business space through a fortnightly magazine called Australian Business.
Encouraged by visionaries like Vic Carroll and Max Suich, Fairfax gave me the job of developing a team of journalistic and publishing skills to take on the might of Kerry Packer. Few thought we had a chance of beating Kerry in magazines. But we recruited and developed a unique team of business journalists and publishers, including Stuart Simson, David Koch, Ross Greenwood, Ivor Ries, Amanda Gome, Tom Brentnall, Neil Shoebridge, Steve Congerton and Ali Cromie.
The BRW group operated and innovated with enormous freedom (subject to budgets) almost 900 kilometres from Fairfax’s head office. We won the Packer battle and went on to establish more products, one of the best websites in Australia and a joint English/Mandarin publishing operation with the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, which was designed to enable BRW to thrust Australian publishing into Asia.
Then in 2000 Fairfax effectively decided that innovation should be centralised at the head office. BRW Asia was shut down and the BRW website trashed. Without that innovation drive BRW never really recovered. That centralisation of Fairfax innovation not only hit BRW but allowed Seek and others to take the classified rivers of gold.
In 2000, after 19 years at BRW, I joined The Australian as National Business Commentator. In 2007 Alan Kohler, Steve Bartholomeusz and myself started Businesspectator.com.au. Once again I found myself among a hotbed of innovation and development. Since the News acquisition of Business Spectator innovation has, if anything, increased. What particularly delights me is that we are restoring the Australian flag in Asian publishing.
Meanwhile, I wish Amanda Gome and her team all the best in developing BRW online. It is where publishing is going.