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Pat McGovern Did It Right

Forgive me, for this has nothing to do with software development--it has to do with the passing of Pat McGovern, an extraordinary man I once knew.

What made him extraordinary? Not enough room here, but following are a few personal remembrances of the multi-billionaire founder and chairman of IDG and trailblazing tech journalism visionary. Think of it as a lesson in leadership and how to do things right.

When I worked at the seminal IDG tech publication, probably the favorite time of year for me and all the others was holiday time, when "Uncle Pat" would come around and visit with each and every one of us, no matter what their rank or station. He would go from office to office, cubicle to cubicle. He would chat with each of us, bringing into the conversation our kids' names, ages, interests and other bits of personal information.

Sure, we knew he had been briefed by all the managers, and that he had an amazing photographic memory so it was easy for him to summon up these hundreds of details at will. That wasn't the point. The point was that he had billions of dollars, and in his 70s, he didn't have to do this grind anymore. But he did it. I heard he did it for every employee in every company. Now, I don't think that's physically possible with the size the IDG empire had grown to--more than 300 publications and 450 Web sites--but that's what people said.

I do know he did it for a lot of his companies, and I can't imagine the time and effort involved. The man's stamina was incredible. It would take nearly a full day just to go through our office alone. I don't think I could've done it.

Of course, the best part of those visits was at the end when we could stop sweating about saying something stupid to the man and he would shake our hands and give each of us a holiday card, with five crisp $100 bills inside.

That's one of the reasons we would've tried to run through a wall for the man and probably why so many good people stayed so long there and worked so hard.

And when you stayed, you were rewarded. Near my 10-year anniversary, he sent a limo to take me and few other veterans to dinner at a luxury hotel in Boston. He greeted us inside the lobby with flowers for the ladies and he pinned a boutineer on my lapel.

He then treated us to some of the best food and wine money could buy--and fascinating dinner conversation money could never buy.

From administrative assistants to chief editors, everybody got picked up in the limo and treated to dinner. We were given cards admitting us into membership of his exclusive club and told we could call him personally whenever we needed to. Who does that?

And his vision. That's obvious when you start from your home office and build something the size of IDG, but he was always thinking ahead, in ways large and small. He was way ahead of nearly everyone about the opportunities in China. I read today that he made over 100 trips there to pave the way for business.

Another less well-known initiative has stuck with me for years. It happened at the height of the tech crash, when the dot-com bubble burst and tech companies and media outlets that covered them were folding faster than you could track.

In the middle of this, when everyone was retrenching and cutting costs, I was picked to attend a seminar where employees were given a couple days off to think about how they could help improve things at their companies in innovative ways, no matter what their job was. Sure, I knew it was an ongoing program and managers had to periodically pick employees to attend these retreats, so I was nothing special. But, in the midst of this economic downturn, I remember that at least one attendee was flown in from Europe. Who does that?

The people running the program, instilled with his philosophy and values, were thinking ahead. He had seen ups and downs before and he knew this too would pass and he needed bright, innovative and dedicated workers to beat the competition in the next upturn of the business cycle.

He said as much in a gathering held to rally the troops when rumors were running rampant that our dinosaur publication was going to be shut down. I've seen it all before, he said. Things will get better. You people work for my very first publication--my baby, so to speak--and I'm not going to shut you down. Keep working, keep improving the product, keep flying out to cover the conferences and talk to users, keep your chins up.

Now, after yesterday's news, who will do that?

Posted by David Ramel on March 20, 2014