From Metro chair to publisher
My 16 years at The Toronto Sun and its successor company -- Sun Media Corporation -- was one of the most exciting times of my life.
I was rescued from the world of politics by Doug Creighton, the genius founder of The Toronto Sun. I knew nothing about newspapers when I first started. In fact, I jokingly told people that the only two things that I knew about newspapers, as a former politician, was how to get my name in the papers and, when I was very intelligent, how to keep it out of papers.
I started as publisher and CEO on Aug. 31, 1984. I had the assistance of many long-time staffers -- including Hartley Steward, Les Pyette, John Downing and Lorrie Goldstein -- to name just a few. I was really a raw rookie and was spoon-fed all the knowledge about putting a newspaper together. I learned the lingo about running the presses straight or collect, the importance of the newshole and the critical time each night of "getting off the floor."
Learning to be a publisher from the top required great patience from my many teachers who wondered what a former Metro Chairman was doing in their midst, and especially as their CEO!
The Sun had continued to grow from its already lofty heights that Creighton built from its first day of publication. It was known to be irreverent, "in your face" and at times outrageous but, most of all, very readable.
When I started in 1984, Creighton went off to run The Houston Post, the company's first venture in the U.S. after its successful launch of tabloids in Edmonton and Calgary.
I was lucky enough to be part of a strong growth era in the company's history in which, among other things, The Financial Post was converted from a business weekly to a daily publication. I also watched the acquisition of Bowes Publishers Ltd. and the start-up of The Ottawa Sun.
During the late 1980s, we were on a roll and the economy was booming. We took full advantage of this very positive economic climate and the corporation became the second largest newspaper chain in the country. Morale was great, everyone worked together and the team was really a true family.
In the early '90s, we faced an ugly recession but still we managed to steer through it and continue to make a profit each year and keep our family of staff intact. When our founder Creighton left in late 1992, I was given the opportunity of becoming president and CEO. There were some difficult times at the beginning as staffers wondered if things would be different after such a major change. I do believe that we remained united, loyal to each other and always willing to take on our competitors.
In 1994, we found out that our parent company, Maclean Hunter, was under a serious takeover threat from Rogers Communications. The word "hostile take-over" was used for the first time in our history and, for the next two years, we were owned by this media giant, RCI, which was and is still run by its brilliant founder, Ted Rogers -- a generous and outstanding Canadian.
Ted always emphasized that "the best is yet to come." Little did we know that he would give us the opportunity, in just two short years, to buy back the company. It was like returning to our roots.
I will never forget Aug. 2, 1996, when, in one of the famous atrium meetings, we made this announcement. It was a great day and tears were flowing from many of the staff. The future was ours and it was as if we had started all over again.
We knew that our fiercest competitor, Torstar, felt that we were now a much more serious threat as we continued to take marketshare away from them in both retail and classified advertising. They wanted to stop us and made an unsolicited hostile bid for Sun Media in the fall of 1998.
We fought hard and ultimately Quebecor came in with an increased bid over Torstar and captured the company.
For the next 18 months, it was my responsibility to merge the Sun Media publications with those already owned by Quebecor. It had been a true roller-coaster ride! In time, I stepped down to take on new challenges.
Personally, it was a very emotional day for me as I left The Sun behind. When a group or individual leaves the great Sun organization, it signifies that a piece of the company has been eroded away. Those who remain must be even stronger because it is important for The Sun to continue to shine each and every day.
(Paul Godfrey now runs the Blue Jays.)