A Mad Decision Paying Off 100 Years Later

Chris Bishop
Published 5 years ago

World-famous Forbes magazine woke up to its second century in an overcast New York after a night of whiskey, bagpipes, banter, billionaires and Stevie Wonder.

Forbes celebrated 100 years of publication with a huge party for the rich and famous on the swanky Chelsea Piers overlooking New York Harbour. It was a who’s who of business from South Africa’s mining magnate Patrice Motsepe to Warren Buffett and Sean ‘Diddy’ Coombs.

The business magazine – celebrated in songs with a cover that is the envy of  billionaires – has survived two world wars, depressions, recessions and the decline in the print business. It began reporting in a business world where oil and steel were king; it completed its century when Artificial Intelligence and technology were making people rich.

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The magazine was the brainchild of parsimonious Scotsman BC Forbes, a man who spent a few years working in South Africa, in the early 20th century; first, on the Natal Mercury, in Durban, then on the Rand Daily Mail, in Johannesburg.

Forbes sailed to New York in 1904, with $50 in his pocket, to make his fortune. He struggled to find a job and worked for free for a New York publication to prove his worth.

“For my grandfather this was a leap of faith. He didn’t know whether the owner was going to pay him or not. Money was very important to my grandfather. He used to say the best way to make copper wire was to get two Scotsmen to fight over a penny!” joked his grandson Steve Forbes, the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine who hasn’t missed a column for nearly half a century.

Forbes also recalled how his grandfather had booked into New York’s the Waldorf Astoria, one of the most luxurious and expensive hotels in the world. He had to scrimp and save, by walking to stories and saving his taxi money, to make the bill every month.

“A lot of his friends asked if he was mad. He couldn’t afford it, but every night he was in the bar mixing with the biggest and most powerful business names of the day,” he says.

Mixing with the right people, coupled with sharp and honest reporting, helped make Forbes magazine a success from its launch in 1917.

At the function was a sartorial reminder of BC Forbes. Grandson Kip Forbes wore his grandfather’s tailored tweed suit, that looked like it was made yesterday.

“I think it was made for in the him in the 1940s and it has survived the mothballs, so I thought it was right to wear it tonight in his honor,” he says.

Kip Forbes agreed that his grandfather was parsimonious as well as a shrewd business journalist.

“He used to say, I don’t give advice, I sell it,” he chuckled.

The event was supposed to see a jet plane, mounted on a boat, float up to the quayside at Chelsea Piers, but the rough weather on the night caused the Coastguard to put the block on this.

Instead the high-flyer of the night was Stevie Wonder who played a set opened by My Cherie Amour.

But the music closest to the Forbes family greeted guests. The skirl of the  bagpipes was in honor of the founder who had traveled a long journey from poverty in the village of New Deer, in Aberdeenshire, to creating the magazine of billionaires amid the riches of New York.

Steve Forbes toasted his late grandfather with a sip of 12-year-old Scotch given by one of the sponsors of the party. With the sip came the Forbes wry wit.

“My grandfather would have appreciated this… especially as it is free!” says his grandson to laughter from the large crowd.

Related Topics: #100 years, #Anniversary, #BC Forbes, #Magazine, #New York.