It was one of those critical moments of life.
Mid eighties. My business partners and I had bought a national magazine and were publishing for the teen market. We had a sturdy vehicle that went to every high school in Canada and offered a potential 3.25 million readers between the ages of 12 and 19. (I’m giving you background here, the real story is on its way).
While we had lots of energy, a fair bit of publishing skill, we were sorely underfunded for this venture. You might say we had enrolled in an MBA program (Masters, Business Administration) at the University of Life. We certainly learned by degrees!
However, we felt quite confident about our potential and set out to find funders to come on board.
Now, it’s always seemed to me quite logical that when you need support for something you choose carefully who to ask.
It should be someone who’s had real success him or herself.
It should be someone who understands your business.
It should be someone who’s a proven risk taker with a proven track record.
It should be someone with enough money that they could lose some and not notice.
We chose Conrad Black. At the time he had a wildly successful publishing empire, Hollinger, Inc.. He’d just bought Canada’s oldest magazine, Saturday Night. Why not take a chance on the country’ teenagers, we thought. It’s important to know this was before the Lord Black conundrum and subsequent activities that have tarnished the black name.
Believe it or not, our proposal (hammered out on a Commodore 64) well received and within days we found ourselves going out for lunch with the VP of Finance for Hollinger, as well as the Comptroller.
They took us down the street from #10 Toronto St in Toronto, to an upscale restaurant with $150 bottles of wine and entrees to match.
How do you dress for an event like this when mostly you’re working with teenagers, doing fashion shoots, writing in depth stories, and negotiating your way around the intricacies of printing plants.
I chose silk. Cream coloured silk. Gorgeous slacks and a pleated blouse. Very tailored. Pleats horizontal across the neck and shoulders front and back. Pleats vertical across bodice and back. Cream coloured shoes. This was likely the only ‘good’ outfit I had back in those days of hammering out stories on a Smith Corona portable, juggling kids and diaper bags, and generally making self employment work.
Anyway, I digress. Here we are in an extremely fancy restaurant. Hmmm. What to order? What’s ‘safe’. Safe for a business deal meal, if you know what I mean. Not spaghetti! Salad should be good, I thought.
Imagine my chagrin when I excuse myself to visit the powder room and while re-applying lipstick, I look at the front of my blouse in the mirror… actually I looked at the quickly growing spot of oil smack dab in the middle of my chest. Oil from salad dressing on silk is like ink on a blotter. It just grows and grows. And you don’t grab a paper towel and dab at oil. You don’t risk dowsing yourself from the soap hand pump and then fluffing your pleats under the dryer. Actually this restaurant didn’t have hand dryers; they had single-use linen towels. I contemplated a creative knot with the linen towel but then feared being centred out by the staff for stealing.
This could be an excellent Saturday Night Live skit, but I sure didn’t feel funny at the time.
Maybe I could just leave, and hope they didn’t notice…
What to do? I did the only thing a girl with a pleated square blouse could do. I turned the thing around. Stain on back. Smile facing front. Back to my chair at the table. Back against chair until time to leave. Walk out between partners. Deal done. For five years we enjoyed a financial partnership to our favour which gave us stability and publishing power that lasted for two generations of teenagers. I’m sure our good fortune with this presentation and arrangement had nothing to do with the reversal of my pleated blouse.
However, it was one of those learning curves in the world of business. Don’t wear silk. Don’t order salad. Or get a bib!