Friday, June 16, 2006

Ron Blunn and the lost art of customer focus

Two days ago, my pal Ron Blunn died of cancer.

Ron was my predecessor as managing editor of the Financial Times of Canada back in the 1980s. He was a visionary journalist and a tough, inspirational mentor. He took a kid who thought he knew how to write and, well, taught him how to write.

Examples, examples, examples,” he would say, pounding his fist loudly into his palm. In other words, don’t say it, show it. If you have a thesis, prove it.

What does this mean to investors?” he would ask. “Why should they read this story? How is it useful?”

The day Ron died, on June 14, I gave a presentation in Guelph on business lessons from magazine publishing. My point: in everything they do, great editors put the readers' interests first. The message for business: the way to engage customers is to put them first in everything you do.

Today I realized that it was Ron Blunn, more than anyone else, who taught me that.

I should note that Ron and I also learned from the late David Tafler, the former editor and publisher of the Times who also passed away way too young. Tafler believed that all stories in the publication had to be “Specific, Useful, Timely and Exclusive.” If subsequent management had been as reader-focussed as Ron and David, the Financial Times of Canada would still be around today.

In 1985, Ron Blunn moved into business development for the Financial Times. To most of the writers at the Times, it was a curious career switch: how could he leave journalism? The answer, of course, was that other disciplines paid better, and could be just as satisfying. Ironically, the key spinoff products Ron came up with (the Mutual Fund Sourcebook, and Investment Executive magazine) both outlived the Times by far.

About 1990, Ron left the Times and formed his own investor relations firm, Blunn & Company. Again he was a pioneer, becoming an expert in annual reports and the future of corporate disclosure. Ron's work was industry-leading and he was sought-after as a speaker and consultant across North America.

My best wishes to Ron’s wife Heather and his two 20-something sons, Josh and Oliver. He will be missed.
BTW, about 10 years ago Ron moved into my neighborhood, just six blocks away. Every time I drive by his house I think, “Gotta call Ron sometime.”
Call a friend today. Because sometime never comes.

Addition, Friday afternooon.
Here's the link to Ron's obituary in the Globe, with service details.
And click here to see a moving memoir from his I-R colleague, Dominic Jones. He has much better detail on Ron's post-Times career, including his three-year stint at RT Investor Relations, which I'd forgotten about.

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