2014 Lifetime Award Honoree

James Flanigan

For 51 of his 77 years, James Flanigan has been the indispensable guide for his readers and colleagues to all aspects of American and international business-its upheavals, its transformations, its marvels and curiosities, its leaders and scoundrels, and the men and women of its rank and file. For Jim, journalism has always been an educational calling: ask him to describe his professional philosophy, and the words "teaching" and "learning" keep coming up. That's a mark of his openness to and fascination with the experiences that come in a neverending stream to the most inquisitive journalists, his joy in "the lessons learned in decades of reporting on economies and societies everywhere, businesses and people of all kinds," he observed recently. "Business journalism is a demanding but knockabout trade," he added, "full of secret clues and red herrings."

But it also reflects his fortune in having had as teachers early in his career two of the most remarkable business journalists of their time. The first was Ben Weberman, whose four decades in the profession included a stint as business editor of the New York Herald Tribune, where he gave the former copy boy James Flanigan a full-time job as a business reporter. "I don't know much about business," Flanigan confessed. "So I'll teach you," Weberman replied, "and you'll learn how the real world works." When the Trib folded in 1966, Flanigan moved to Forbes. There he was swept into the gravitational field of James W. Michaels, who as Forbes's editor was in the process of giving to the sedate, decorous business magazine journalism of the past the suitably modern tone of learned insolence that would characterize the Forbes of his era. Those of us who worked with Jim Flanigan after his subsequent move to the Los Angeles Times, which he served for 20 years, learned the editorial precepts of Jim Michaels almost at first-hand, for they were kept alive through Jim Flanigan's work. Michaels "demanded that the writing be clear and complex situations explained to the reader simply and directly," Flanigan recalls. "'Readers are nervous individuals,' he would say. 'You must take them by the elbow and walk them through.' A story should be 'dulce et utile'--sweetly or wittily told but also useful: come to the point." And indeed, you read Jim Flanigan's work not only for its percipience and foresight, but the craftsmanship with which he distilled these qualities into lucid gems of nine hundred or a thousand words, twice a week, every week-and when events warranted, three times a week or even four. He set a standard that the rest of us strived for in the knowledge that we were almost invariably doomed to fall short of his elegance of style.

That style is a reflection on paper of Jim's generous character. His shared insights into business and finance were the foundation stones of the Times's economic coverage, not least because of his perception that the making of Southern California was the diversity of its immigrant entrepreneurs and its workforce. In the same way, his personality provided the fulcrum of departmental esprit. "We all know that to be a good journalist you have to be a good person," says Davan Maharaj, The Times' editor-in-chief and a former business editor. "In my many years in our newsroom, I never heard a negative word about Jim. That's because apart from being a great journalist, he's a great colleague and a great human being." Jim Flanigan's career has encompassed a period of dizzying change in business, and there are few developments or trends he did not help us all comprehend-market booms and crashes, bubbles and bursts, scandals and triumphs. His approach to business was at once forgiving and uncompromising. Jim reserved his greatest abhorrence for corporate myopia; rereading his columns, one is struck by how often their topic is "vision," or more precisely its absence among business decision-makers. But he also displayed an abiding, optimistic faith in the best qualities of American business and in the values of its leaders, leavened by the hope that they would prove equal to their own aspirations. This was a lesson he absorbed from experience. "The work taught me long ago and keeps teaching me"-there's that word again-"that economic growth is the great hope and necessity for people to have a chance of a better life," he says. "But that belief starts with a deep faith in immigration. My mother and father came to the U.S. in the 1920s from Ireland. She had six years of education and he had seven. They left a physically lovely town on the west coast of Ireland but one that offered little or no work and opportunity. And they didn't find streets of New York paved with gold either. They found hard work, she as a domestic servant like many Irish girls in those days and he as a warehouseman." In the Thirties, Jim's father became one of the founders of New York's Grocery Warehouseman's Union (now part of the Teamsters), but continued to work nights in warehouses all his life, building an America that "gave me a great education and the opportunity to be a fellow who could follow dreams and love the work every day that I've done it." That experience helped make Jim Flanigan a most perceptive chronicler of the new immigrant experience-that wave of Asian and Hispanic entrepreneurship that has built California in recent decades. It was that experience of how America got built in the Twentieth Century that drives Jim's expansive conception of business as something that takes place on loading docks and factory floors, not merely in the corporate suite. Pondering Pope John Paul II's defense of Solidarity during a visit to his Polish homeland in 1983, Jim reminded his readers that "the striving for dignity in the American work force is in our oldest tradition-way back beyond the rise of labor unionism in the late 19th Century, to the very beginnings of our industry in New England." That same year, he warned that the gap between rich and poor was widening-anticipating by some three decades our current preoccupation with economic inequality. The ethos of "Neiman Marcus for the fortunate, K-Mart for the rest," he wrote, was "reversing an egalitarian trend of half a century." For generations of readers and colleagues, James Flanigan has defined an era- multiple eras-in business. To this day, he remains fascinated with the limitless variety of business and finance-banks, huge corporations, small ethnic cheese manufacturers, high-technology startups struggling for financing. His achievement is truly that of a lifetime.

Gerald Loeb Awards