Forbes’ annual list of world billionaires is out and for the second year in a row President Trump’s net worth has taken a tumble. Nathan Rousseau Smith has the story.
Publishing magnate Steve Forbes doesn’t know exactly what he’ll talk about when he gives a speech at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, in March.
“I always speak from notes,” he said ahead of his visit.
And he always wants to use “fresh material,” Forbes said.
He does know a big focus will be on moral and ethical leadership in the business world.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” Forbes said.
Ave Maria Law School created a new speakers series to introduce its students to ethical leaders from near and far.
The school in North Naples recently started a “Profiles in Ethical Leadership” program to host distinguished CEOs, entrepreneurs and other leaders at its campus to share their insights with students. Forbes will be among those leaders, the last speaker in the inaugural program.
The Signature Event will raise money for student scholarships.
“It’s a little bit different than what you find at other schools,” Forbes said of his interest in speaking at the Catholic law school. “They are not taking a cookie-cutter approach.”
In a phone interview with the Daily News, Forbes talked about everything from business to politics to the economy.
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The ‘trust factor’
It’s an ideal time to talk about ethical leadership because of the “trust factor,” said Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.
“There is less trust in government,” he said. “There is less trust in financial institutions, less trust in the economic system, less trust in the education system. Less trust, which I think is the basis of it all, in money, the integrity of money.”
That lack of trust is important, because in so many ways the capitalist system runs on trust.
So what characteristics does Forbes think define a truly great leader? Great leaders need to have a defined sense of direction, a trust in their people and the strength to move forward by making difficult decisions, even when they’re not popular, he said.
“No matter how good you are, there are always going to be things that don’t go right, mistakes you make, events, changes in the marketplace,” Forbes said. “All sorts of things — and sometimes there are no playbooks, so you have to make decisions where you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
Good leaders need a wider sense of concern and responsibility, rather than focusing so much on themselves, and they need a long-term perspective, instead of just considering the present and “what’s in it for me,” Forbes said.
“We certainly try to do that in our space,” he said. “And try to also innovate. If people sense that positive things can happen that creativity can bear fruit for the future.”
The world of publishing has changed drastically since Malcolm Stevenson “Steve” Forbes Jr. joined the family business as a researcher for Forbes magazine after graduating from Princeton University in 1970. His grandfather, an immigrant from Scotland with only a grade-school education, started Forbes in 1917.
From the beginning, he said, Forbes as a company had a belief in what’s now known as entrepreneurial capitalism, or private capital investing in private startups. Forbes never looked at business people as bad people.
“In the first issue of the magazine, my grandfather said the purpose of business was to produce happiness, not to pile up millions, not to pile up money. Today, we call that entrepreneurial capitalism.”
The ‘Drucker rule’
The media business, Forbes said, has tried to keep the “Drucker rule” in mind and continue to move forward. The late Peter Drucker, considered a management guru, said every organization should always ask itself: “What is our purpose, what is our mission, what is it we are trying to do?”
If you do that, you’re more likely not to get sidetracked and to stay the course, Forbes said.
“The roads themselves may change, but you still have a sense of where you want to go,” he said.
Today, the biggest generator of business for Forbes Media is its online publishing.
“We had a very good 2018,” Forbes said. “We’re off to a good start this year. Less than 15 percent of revenues comes from the magazine, and the rest from online or other services.”
The company, he said, now has 2,800 contracted contributors.
“We run over 110,000 submissions a year, so we’re doing well there,” Forbes said. “The key thing there is to remember what your goal is and your purpose is.”
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A drama critic?
Some have compared his family’s global media company to a drama critic, and Forbes thinks that’s fitting.
“We love it when a production is done right,” he said. “We hate it when a production is not done right.”
The guiding light for the business has been to provide its viewers and readers with the information and insights they need to move ahead and live well, Forbes said.
“We write about those who are doing right and those who are doing things wrong, because there are always lessons to be learned,” he said.
The company is always pursuing new ideas and new opportunities, Forbes said.
“We now have 40 international language editions around the world, license agreements,” he said. “The scope of what we offer online is enormously expanded.”
Economy and trade with China
What’s Forbes’ take on the U.S. economy?
“The economy is strong,” he said. “I think it will be better reflected in the market, the stock market, when and if we get a trade deal achieved with China.”
He believes the United States will strike a better trade deal with China within the next few months.
“The China deal will be a pretty big one, in terms of the amount of pledges to purchase products in the U.S. As far as that’s concerned, I think we will be even agreeing to sell them natural gas,” Forbes said.
After the longest government shutdown in history recently ended, Forbes emphasized the importance of moving ahead with the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement in one of his columns.
“I think it does more good than harm,” he said. “If Congress doesn’t ratify it, it’s going to hurt the economy.”
Trump good for business
Forbes, a Republican candidate in the 1996 and 2000 presidential primaries, said President Donald Trump’s administration has been good for business in many ways.
“They’ve made enormously important strides in deregulation,” Forbes said. “Regulations are another form of taxation, and when it’s abused or overdone there can be bad consequences.”
Manufacturing, he said, is springing back to life again now that the government is not overburdening the sector with regulations.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which significantly cut the federal corporate tax rate, has been good for business, too.
“Of course, I would like a flat tax. Other than that, this tax cut was not bad.”
He describes the federal tax cut as a gift that will keep giving by “not punishing people and businesses that are trying to get positive things done.”
“That low rate will be a boon for a long time to come,” he said.
Once key trade disputes are resolved, Forbes said he expects more business owners in the U.S. to invest in and expand their businesses.
“It’s picked up a little bit, but I think it’s got room for imminent growth,” he said.
Asked why he ran for president twice, Forbes said he wanted to advance a pro-growth agenda that included a flat tax, medical savings accounts, a new Social Security system for working Americans and a strong national defense. He didn’t see anyone else raising a hand for the job with those ideas at the time.
“I decided instead of complaining to do something about it. So I ran,” Forbes said.
Would he consider another presidential run?
“You never say never,” he said. “But my role now is an agitator.”
The American middle class is ‘under siege,’ publisher Steve Forbes says. He believes a solution is to cut tax rates to businesses and sees a chance of such legislation passing next year if President Obama signs on.
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