My first job after college was at an English-language newspaper in Mexico City called The News. It paid $70 a week and came with a stack of business cards.
I was hired to cover finance because no one wanted that job. Everyone else wanted to write about politics, sports and culture.
It turned out to be a blessing. The country was on the verge of an economic transformation spurred on by the privatization of banks, renegotiation of debt and signing of a free trade agreement.
I was assigned speeches by Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and interviewed American executives, including John Reed, the head of Citibank.
I learned the basics of journalism, but also a lot about how companies operate.
Or mostly how companies shouldn’t operate.
For example, my employer had one copying machine, but because it was so prestigious it was placed in the CEO’s office where no one could use it. The building had two elevators, but one was reserved for senior executives. Not the best use of resources.
My aspiration at the time was to work at the Wall Street Journal, a unit of Dow Jones. I befriended reporters at the Journal who explained how the company operated.
It did not sound great.
Dow Jones maintained three offices in Mexico City at the time. One for the Wall Street Journal, another for Dow Jones newswires reporters and a third for a joint venture DJ had with the Associated Press.
The three groups of reporters competed aggressively and rarely collaborated.
Dow Jones owned Telerate, an online system for financial professionals, but to save money the company rarely provided those machines to their reporters.
That lack of access to data and information hurt their reporting.
One of the reporters said he had been hired over the phone and never met his boss in New York.
A year later I joined Bloomberg. The company provided every new hire with a terminal.
That decision a) put reporters on a level playing field with their sources b) became a powerful recruiting tool and c) created motivated beta testers who pressed for improvements.
It would take more than a decade for Dow Jones to begin merging their newsrooms. And it would only come well after the colossal failure of Telerate.
Several years later, when I was managing Bloomberg’s Latin American news operations, I ended up hiring that reporter who had never been visited. I made it a point to fly down and see him.
Your first job is an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work as much as what does.
Some of the lessons I took away for a successful company:
–Encourage a culture of collaboration
–Provide employees the tools they need
–Make it a priority to support/visit key people
(Part of a series of posts about lessons I learned from three decades at Bloomberg LP)