It's not too hard to understand why so many people like Steve Forbes, the editor in chief of Forbes magazine. I met him a month ago in New York City when he was waiting in TheBlaze TV's green room before an appearance on "Wilkow!" to discuss the economy. We started chatting and he seemed genuinely interested in my time as a war correspondent in Afghanistan. Not being an expert in economics, I was more interested in the man behind the empire.
Forbes is the grandson of B.C. Forbes, who founded Forbes magazine in 1917 and struggled to keep it afloat during the Great Depression. The “larger-than-life” Malcolm Forbes, as Steve Forbes described his father to me, took over as publisher of the magazine and had enormous influence on the direction the younger Forbes would take with his life.
Steve Forbes, chairman and editor in chief of Forbes Media, speaks during an event May 22, 2013 in Philadelphia. (AP/Matt Rourke)
Steve is the latest in a line of Forbes family members to helm one of America's most famous and prestigious business magazines, but over the weekend, reports leaked that the Forbes Media empire, which has remained with his family for 96 years, is on the cusp of being sold.
Last Friday, Forbes Media president and CEO Mike Perlis emailed employees to say the company had received "more than a few" indications of interest from potential buyers and that the "frequency and serious nature of these overtures have brought us to a decision point," as reported by the Associated Press.
Steve Forbes, a two-time Republican presidential candidate and author of multiple books, including last year's "Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets are Moral and Big Government Isn’t," spoke with TheBlaze about the possible sale of his company, why he thinks Obama doesn't love America like Reagan did, growing up with his famous last name, some of the most important lessons he's learned -- and the one question he never wants to be asked.
What's in your future?
I'll know that when this process is done. I think things will work out in a way where I will be involved in the business. And if that doesn't work out I will be involved in the business in another way. Retirement is -- you retire when you go under the ground. Not before.
What's the future of media?
We live in a world where there's more information, more interaction, more communication than ever before. In traditional media days, you had professional journalists act as a screen between you and analysis and information. Now everyone can create content. And while it's a lot like mining gold, there's a lot of junk before you can get to the nuggets. But you have a lot of people now able to create content who have an area of expertise, insights and they can create content in a way that would have been impossible in the old days.
In the old days you had to do letters to the editor -- now you do it instantly. You get feedback, you hope you get feedback. Now it's a new golden age. But it's hidden by the fact that for 175 years we had a model of media that has been blown up by the web. So the tendency is to focus on what is now no longer with us, rather than the huge proliferation, flowering of analysis and information. ... The books created by the printing press were all ugly compared to the (hand-illustrated) books before, but you had more of them and more flow of information and more communication, and a richer world for it. So you give up something but I think we're gaining more, even if you have to change the way you do it.[sharequote align="right"]"You retire when you go under the ground. Not before."[/sharequote]
Well obviously, the big one, the Bible. There’s everything there of human nature, and while times and circumstances have changed, human nature does not and there are countless lessons to be learned.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?
Well, certainly outside of my family, it would be people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, former chancellor of Germany. They all had various ways -- various firm convictions, principles, plus the skills to get things done.
Reagan had a wonderful sense of knowing what he wanted to focus on. One of my favorite stories about Reagan was in the early part of his administration, there was a breakout of the inevitable staff fighting you get, but this one was between State Department and White House staff ... leaks all over the place, resignations and screaming everywhere. And two journalists, Evans and Novak, asked him, "What are you going to do about this?"
Reagan, as he often did responding to a question, told a story, in this case it was the story of the two psychiatrists: a young one and the old one. They went to work together, commuted together and at the end of each day the younger psychiatrist was just drained, emotionally bedraggled, just worn out, and the older one looked as serene at the end of the day as he did at the beginning. So finally the younger one asked the older one, "How do you do it?" And the older one answered, "I don't listen."
Who was the most influential person in your life?
[sharequote align="left"]The most influential people in Steve Forbes' life? His parents[/sharequote]My two parents. My father was a larger-than-life figure. We sort of sensed at an early age as kids that he was different from other fathers. ... He was a strict disciplinarian and whenever we did something wrong we'd go to our mother ... for clemency and protection, like you'd go to a medieval church for sanctuary. He was a no-nonsense disciplinarian, but the amazing thing was as we got older in our teen years, he knew how to pull back and give you rope, not enough to kill yourself but to start learning. Instead of trying to micromanage, and he would say as we got older, this is your life, you make your successes and hopefully learn from your mistakes but you have to take control.
One example is two of my brothers went through a period where they forgot what bathtubs or razors were invented for, and my brother Bob had a beard down to his knees almost, and scruffy hippie clothes, and my father didn't hesitate to take him where he was traveling to various business meetings. He said, "if you want to look like that, go ahead, it's your life." So he figured if you're wise enough you'll learn and shape up. If not, there's not much he could do about it. So a combination of sternness and knowing when to pull back -- in retrospect, it's amazing.
How did it work out for Bob?
Fine, he makes me look like a liberal.
And your mother?
My mother was the complete opposite of my father, she hated the public limelight, deplored it. But she taught us the small things that make life work -- the details of everyday life, from tending to sick kids to sewing in name tags when we were going off to camp or something, in your clothes. So we saw the larger-than-life figure and the essentialness of the small day-to-day things that make life and family work.
What's the one question you wish someone would ask you but they never have?
(Laughs long and hard) What's the one question? One thing about it is when you go to the public square is that you get asked everything. And so in my mind the question should be, what questions do you wish they wouldn't ask? So I think I've been asked pretty much everything.
So what question would you prefer not to be asked?
One that I'm glad I wasn't asked was about Bill Clinton when he observed about what he wore under his suits, remember that one on MTV? (The famous "boxers or briefs" question.) So thankfully, I wasn't asked that question. That was one I wasn't asked and glad I wasn't.
And you're not going to answer it, right?
Only my wife knows for sure.
Can you compare the leadership of the past, particularly the Reagan administration, to the leadership of today?
Obama saw himself as the anti-Reagan. You remember when he ran the 2008 campaign, he had earned the enmity of Bill Clinton by saying that even he, Obama, did not agree with what Reagan did. He appreciated that Reagan was a transformational president and then Obama went on to say that the fact we haven't had a transformational president since, but he's going to be another transformational president going in the opposite direction of Reagan.
[sharequote align="center"]"Obama saw himself as the anti-Reagan."[/sharequote]
Clinton did not like being referred to as the seat-warmer between the two transformers. Their hugs at the 2012 convention had all the sincerity of two monsters hugging each other in a "Godfather" movie. And you saw that last week when Clinton, with a perfect sense of timing, said a president should keep their promises and forced Obama to start backtracking on Obamacare while providing cover for his wife and beleaguered Democrats.
In terms of leadership, Obama wants to be transformational, he's learning that just because you want to do something (it) doesn't mean it's going to happen, and he does not have the understanding of America or love of America or appreciation of America that Reagan did. And so Reagan's rhetoric was substantive and resonated with the American people, while Obama's is well-delivered with a teleprompter, but shallow. And that's become painfully more evident now that the curtain has been stripped on the "Wizard of Oz." The contrast is not going to be between two different philosophies between Reagan and Obama, but one understood his country, and the other did not.[sharequote align="right"]Steve Forbes: Obama doesn't have the "understanding," "love," or "appreciation of America that Reagan did."[/sharequote]
What makes you so grounded? Do you ever feel misunderstood?
Well, when things don’t go your way everyone feels misunderstood, from the time they reach consciousness as kids. First things kids learn from the time they’re 2 years old is the word "no." And then in the teenage years it's, "you don’t understand," they throw at their parents repeatedly. So that’s an irrelevancy. So I think if you’re not grounded, the world will make you grounded soon enough.
No one is master of the universe, and (that's) one thing we learned while we were growing up from stories about our grandfather who started our company. He had reached success in the 1920s and was then being destroyed by the Great Depression. So success is ephemeral. And one of the things my father used to do while we were growing up was take us to various business functions, and as we got older, we were supposed to know who was there and why and to help out. And one of the lessons he was purporting was that success is not permanent, you have to work at it each day. It’s like tending a garden. You don’t tend to it, it isn’t going to last.
Interview has been condensed.