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Forbes, Malcolm - Overview, Personal Life, Chronology: Malcolm Forbes, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact

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Forbes Business Magazine


Malcolm Stevenson Forbes was one of the foremost publishers and business moguls in the United States. From 1957 until his death in 1990, he was publisher, editor-in-chief, and sole stockholder of the magazine his father founded. By 1982, Forbes magazine grossed over $10 million annually. He converted the business publication his father had started into one of the most influential magazines in America. His mix of business and pleasure, and the spirited way in which he flaunted his wealth, became a trademark of both his personal and professional life.

Personal Life

Malcolm Forbes was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 19, 1919. He was the third son of B.C. (Bertie Charles) Forbes, a Scottish immigrant and founder of Forbes magazine and Adelaine Stevenson Forbes. He inherited his wealth from his father, who established him at the Fairfield Times newspaper in Lancaster, Ohio, as owner and publisher only days after his graduation from Princeton University in 1941. He went on to publish the Lancaster Tribune in 1942. That same year, Forbes joined the U.S. Army, serving on the European front during World War II. His wartime actions earned him the position of staff sergeant, and earned him the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. In 1946, when he was released from military duty, he joined the staff at Forbes magazine.

Forbes married Roberta Remsen Laidlaw in 1946. Their union produced five children: Malcolm S., Jr., Robert Laidlaw, Christopher Charles, Timothy Carter, and Moira Hamilton. Malcolm, Jr. took over the magazine upon his father’s death in 1990 and ran for the presidency of the United States in 1996. In 1985, Malcolm Forbes, Sr. and his wife, Roberta, divorced. As Steve explained in Forbes , his parents, “still loved each other, but could no longer live together.”

If only a few could remember Malcolm Forbes’ birth, millions of people knew how old he was when he died. Extensive press coverage of the lavish 70th birthday party he hosted for himself in Morocco in September 1989 ensured that. The list of celebrities read like a who’s who of Hollywood, politicians, and European royalty. Television and newspapers carried the minute details across the world, including the menu and entertainment. In 1983 in People magazine, Arthur Lubow commented, “Not since antitrust spoilsports put the kibosh on the Gilded Age has an American capitalist reveled so openly in the pleasures that money can buy.”

What made Forbes endearing to the American public, perhaps, was this sheer enjoyment of life. He was characterized as a man who loved the spotlight. It was said that he shamelessly enjoyed the privileges his money afforded him. Yet, Forbes demonstrated time and again, that he was as ordinary as any average American. In his book, Fact and Comment, he told a story about himself, from 1966, that could have struck anyone as familiar. He begins, “The other day I learned something that I guess housewives learn early in life. It was a wallet-walloping experience. Don’t go supermarket shopping when hungry. Recently, a fabulous new A&P opened up near home, and I went down around noon Saturday to pick up two wee, needed items.” As he goes on to tell, he was enticed in every aisle by everything from endive to clams to ice cream and bakery items. “The $2 mission turned into a $49.12 extravaganza,” he says. Even for all of his wealth, he had the ability to be candid in times of folly. He had a sense of humor about himself. Americans appreciated that and showed that appreciation by buying his magazine and reading his books.

Forbes was always in pursuit of adventure. He was a balloonist, a motorcyclist, and a sailor who took many trips on his huge yacht, the ‘Highlander." He was a noted art collector, particularly of Faberge eggs. The Chicago Tribune reported that Robert, Forbes’ second eldest son, eulogized his father by emphasizing his playful nature: “He was so many things to so many of us. Boss, confidante, raconteur, balloonist, columnist, happiest millionaire, leader of the pack, source, mentor, friend, super this, mega that, father, grandfather, father-in-law, uncle, cousin, and sparkling naughty boy.”

Malcolm Forbes enjoyed the well-earned nickname of, “the happiest millionaire,” up until the time he died of a sudden heart attack on February 24, 1990. Forbes’ philanthropy was not as well publicized as his spending. He gave millions of dollars each year to charities, and had been at a charity Bridge tournament the day he died. Malcolm Forbes even surprised his 750 staffers a week after his death in one last, grand act of kindness and generosity. In his will he left them all an extra week’s pay and had forgiven all loans, up to $10,000, paid to any company employee. He left control of his empire in the hands of his son, Steve.

Malcolm Forbes may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but instead of tarnishing it or losing it, he turned it into gold and made it shine. According to Advertising Age, “He expanded the magazine his father created in 1917 into a publishing powerhouse whether measured in circulation, advertising revenue, or the trepidation with which CEOs awaited stories about their companies.” With a circulation of 735,000, Forbes had doubtless become one of the top business magazines in America. In the early-1960s, the publication’s annual advertising revenues stood at nearly $2 million and by the time of Malcolm Forbes’ death, had risen beyond $150 million. When it comes to citing wealth in the United States, many continue to turn to the magazine’s annual listing of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Forbes also published the magazines, Egg, devoted to collectors; and, American Heritage, a magazine of American history that has been well-respected in the education of American students for decades.

Forbes’s lavish lifestyle and charismatic aggressiveness were more than personality traits, they were a driving force behind his empire. While business orthodoxy shunned mixing business and pleasure, this mix became Forbes’ trademark. He made a point of knowing the movers and the shakers of the business world that his magazine covered. In later years, when his magazine wanted a company to advertise, he could pick up the telephone and call the chief executive officer of the company directly.

Chronology: Malcolm Forbes

1919: Born.

1941: Earned his B.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.

1941: Established as owner and publisher of the Fairfield Times weekly newspaper, Lancaster, Ohio.

1942: Joined U.S. Army and rose to rank of staff sergeant, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

1946: Joined Forbes magazine as associate publisher.

1946: Married Roberta Remsen Laidlaw.

1948: Founded Nation’s Heritage a bimonthly historical magazine.

1949: Awarded Freedom Foundation Medal.

1957: Waged an unsuccessful bid for governor of New Jersey.

1957: Became publisher of Forbes magazine.

1985: Divorced Roberta Remsen Laidlaw.

1989: Hosted lavish, widely publicized birthday party for himself in Morocco.

1990: Died.

Career Details

A savvy businessman by all accounts, Forbes inherited his wealth from his father. As quoted in Forbes, he was fond of saying that he was loaded with “sheer ability, spelled inheritance.” Upon joining his father’s magazine after World War II, Forbes took the position of associate publisher. He eventually moved on to the posts of publisher, editor, editor-in-chief, vice-president, and, finally, CEO and president. As a politician, Forbes was less than successful. In his bid for Governor of New Jersey in 1957, Forbes said that he was “nosed out by a landslide.”

Social and Economic Impact

Malcolm Forbes had a great impact on the success of his family’s namesake magazine, an impact not lost on his family. “My father recognized that although the magazine was very strong editorially, it wasn’t going to sell unless he went out and brought it to people’s attention,” his heir Steve Forbes told Forbes, the magazine he now runs. “He pulled out all the stops…his early marketing activities sound rather mundane today, but they worked for us for a number of years: an advertising campaign in major papers and trade press; luncheons with CEOs at the townhouse adjacent to our offices, that was something he perfected. He also entertained corporate and political chiefs and foreign dignitaries on our boat, the Highlander. In the mid-Sixties, when he started collecting Faberge eggs, he linked them with Forbes magazine in an ad campaign as a symbol of quality.”

“He practiced something that most CEOs find very hard to practice,” recalls Steve Forbes, “and that is letting people make mistakes, but in a way that they can learn, rather than be destroyed.”

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