So The Globe and Mail is about to become Thomson Corp.'s only newspaper holding. I guess there can be no denying that Ken Thomson is pretty fond of this newspaper.
In his time, he has called The Globe the crown jewel of his empire, a pretty impressive title given that the man oversees a company with $6-billion (U.S.) in assets spanning several continents.
Around this newspaper, I am among the reporters who have taped quotes from Mr. Thomson on their desk. "The Globe," Mr. Thomson said in a 1996 article I saved, "is a very, very special thing within the Thomson organization and the Thomson family. As long as we have The Globe and Mail, we're happy."
My colleague Andrew Willis has a similar quote from Ken's oldest son David taped to his computer. "In my lifetime, I can't conceive of a circumstance that would compel us to sell the jewel in the crown of the Thomson Corporation," the Thomson scion said during a visit to the paper in November.
Those quotes are clipped by journalists because, at heart, we are all cynics. And most of us assume that one day Mr. Thomson or David will part with The Globe, which Thomson Corp. bought in 1980.
While reporters take their "I told you so's" wherever they can get them, I am starting to think the Thomsons' desire to hang on to The Globe will outlive me.
So, what gives? Is sentiment, rather than business, driving the Thomsons' hold on The Globe? In the National Post this week, veteran business scribe Rod McQueen argued this case.
"Since there's no more monopoly and there will soon be no other newspapers left in the Thomson chain, there can be only one reason why Ken Thomson is keeping the Globe, and that's pride," he wrote.
Mr. McQueen knows better than most people about these issues. During his years in the business, he has chronicled the rise and fall of many corporations.
And he was probably one of the few to walk away with money from the downfall of the family-controlled T. Eaton Co., thanks to his popular book on the troubled retailing empire.
On the surface, it does seem kind of strange to own just one newspaper. It doesn't give Thomson many economies of scale.
After Tuesday's announcement, Thomson Corp. president Richard Harrington said the mistake critics of his plan have made is that they still think of The Globe as a newspaper.
He said he sees The Globe as an information delivery system through which Thomson customers can access the company's many other services. For example, the newspaper's Globe Information Services operates Web site globeinvestor.com. Mr. Harrington's vision is to marry that site with products offered by Thomson Corp.'s division, Thomson Financial. First Call, a product of that division, provides money managers and brokers with a host of services, including equity and fixed-income research and corporate news.
In the end, Mr. Harrington wants to offer one-stop Internet shopping to his customers. The Globe is the brand through which he will reach Canadians.
"We think that if we can leverage their [The Globe's]content, their brands and their data bases, along with our Thomson Financial group, that will clearly give us the opportunity to be the No. 1 financial information provider within Canada," he said.
Mr. Harrington's vision doesn't stop here. He not only plans to keep on buying electronic-information companies but financial analysts have speculated he may also take a run at a company, such as information giant Dow Jones & Co., which owns The Wall Street Journal. The Globe will be the brand name for Thomson's information empire in Canada and the United States. Thomson could also integrate its holdings with Dow Jones.
The possibilities, Mr. Harrington said, are endless. In the end, newspapers have a role in a company like Thomson. They just have to be more than newspapers. For now, The Globe newspaper is a good fit for Thomson.
Mr. Thomson describes the fit between his company and The Globe as "good chemistry." He doesn't deny he is fond of The Globe. However, he says he learned from his father that business and emotion don't mix.
In 1930, Ken's father Roy laid the foundation for Thomson Corp. when he obtained a franchise to sell radios. He opened up a radio station in North Bay to boost sales of his radios.
Years later, when Roy sold the station, Ken asked his dad if it was hard parting with something that clearly held so much sentimental value. Roy, Ken said, paused for about three seconds and then told his son that business is business and sentiment is sentiment.
"He told me never to mix the two up," Ken said. "It is good advice to live by."
Maybe I am just a sucker for a good story, but for now it seems like The Globe is a good business fit for Thomson. I will, however, keep Ken's quote taped on my desk. "Never say never" is also advice to live by.
Hollinger Inc. president David Radler, a man not known for pulling his punches, said that as far as he is concerned there is no question sentiment played a role in Mr. Thomson's decision to hang on to his beloved Globe. He figured the decision was "50-per-cent emotional."
So what about the other 50 per cent? No one, Mr. Radler said, should underestimate the executives running Thomson.
"Who is to argue with anything they have ever done? Harrington's record of success is unparalleled in Canada. The rate of return on Thomson stock is one of the highest in the world." Susanne Craig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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