Fred Ruffner's Saving Grace

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, August 19, 2014 No Comment(s)

Fred Ruffner
We first met back in the 1970s or early ‘80s. Rosemary Jones, who had freelanced for Gold Coast magazine, introduced us to Fred Ruffner, for whom she did some work. He was a low-key, gracious reference book publisher who had a lot of money. He soon would have a lot more, when he sold his company, Gale Research, for $66 million.
Thus, it happened that in 1992, when we won a long lawsuit and were seeking investors to return Gold Coast magazine to its former glory, Rosemary Jones suggested we talk to Fred Ruffner. He had started another reference book company, Omnigrahics, but wasn't nearly as busy as in the past. We were looking for small investors, but Ruffner, it turned out, had always wanted to own a magazine. He wanted to buy the whole magazine. He did.
Fred Ruffner, we quickly discovered, was a first-class guy who did everything first class. We had one of the fanciest offices in town on Las Olas Boulevard, with a boardroom that could host a basketball game. He owned one of Fort Lauderdale's most spectacular Intracoastal homes, and opened it up for lavish parties. He used only the best paper and photographers. He tied the magazine into his various philanthropies, including the Gold Coast Jazz Society and anything to do with libraries. His business was built on libraries – every reference book had a built-in market of thousands of libraries ­– and he never forgot it.
He spent way too much money on the magazine. He paid people, including us, too much. He had an expensive consultant who knew nothing about the magazine business. He insisted on using a printer in Detroit where he had built his company. The result of his lavish spending was that within months of his first issue the quality he achieved made people forget that the magazine's reputation had been tarnished during the 10-year legal fight. The other result was that Fred Ruffner lost more money quickly than he had ever lost. After always wanting to be in the magazine business, after only three issues he wanted to get out.
We tried to convince him it was only a matter of time before success came. He had done the hard part. He was not interested. We had joked that the worst thing that could happen to him was that we would buy the book back. In late 1993 he asked us to do exactly that. Thanks to the excellent product he had produced, we were able to put an investment group together in months.
We knew his health was slipping, but we had hoped he would be around next spring when the magazine he helped save celebrates its 50th anniversary. That did not quite happen. He died last week at 88. The good he has done lives after him.

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