Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Business North Carolina celebrates its 40th anniversary

Writing in depth business stories for a monthly publication was a novel concept when then-Dow Jones President Ray Shaw and his sons Kirk and Whitney started this magazine in 1981. Newspaper business sections were notoriously dull. Inflation and unemployment were both running near 10%, making the startup’s timing questionable.

But media leaders, advertisers and readers were waking up to the mounting influence of corporations and entrepreneurs, ushering in a Golden Age of business journalism. Newspapers built large staffs to cover business. Local and regional publications sprang up to cover previously unheralded movers and shakers who often wielded more clout than government and political leaders.

Business North Carolina is privileged to have filled a niche for covering the most interesting people and topics in the Tar Heel State for four decades, earning a reputation for some fearless journalism delivered by talented, fair-minded journalists. A traditional approach to business coverage under the Shaw family’s leadership transitioned into a more eclectic, aggressive style during the nearly three decades that David Kinney led the magazine, both as an employee of former owner News & Observer Publishing and as a majority owner.

Since 2015 the magazine has been part of Old North State Magazines, whose owners have deep N.C. roots. They possess a genuine respect for the readers, advertisers and employees who have combined to make the publication successful in a challenging media world.

The following section celebrates a proud magazine history and, more importantly, a love for the state in which Business North Carolina has thrived.

To mark Business North Carolina’s 40th year, we asked an array of leaders and writers to describe a product, person, business or cause that had a big impact on them.

Krispy Kreme Donuts
Barry Saunders

About 20 years ago, on one of my first trips abroad, I was strolling with a friend through the world-renowned Harrod’s department store in London when I spied a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop.

After determining that it wasn’t a mirage — mirages don’t smell like that — I stopped to buy one or five. My friend, a sophisticated world traveler, sighed in exasperation and asked why I would come all the way to London to buy a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut. You could buy those anywhere, she sniffed.

“I do,” I said and proceeded to buy a couple more. That was the only “I do” she ever heard from me. She, bless her heart, had been eager to introduce my country self to London’s international haute cuisine but concluded, accurately, that my taste was too low-brow for hers.

I don’t think our friendship ever recovered from that incident.

Friends come and go, but my love affair with Krispy Kreme, North Carolina’s greatest export, continues uninterrupted.

Even during the great low-carb craze, which nutritionists and Wall Street predicted would knock a hole in the doughnut industry, my love remained as strong as Krispy Kreme’s coffee.

Two implausible rumors hit Rockingham in the early 1970s. One was that a new company, Clark Equipment, was paying $5 an hour. (The minimum wage at the time was $2.)

The other was that the Krispy Kreme in Charlotte stayed open 24 hours in a row.

Both rumors proved to be true. Whenever my teenage buddies and I could commandeer a car on weekends and come up with enough money, we would make the 120-mile round-trip drive to the Krispy Kreme on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte.

The doughnuts never made it back; the memories have never left.

I’ve set my watch to Big Ben, visited Buckingham Palace, even seen up close the lights of the Awful (not Eiffel) Tower — a manmade heap of what some called junk that stood for years on the side of U.S. 1 in Rockingham just before you got to the Little Philadelphia community.

No sight, though, has had as lasting an impact on me as pulling up after midnight for the first time, seeing the bright, fluorescent light bouncing off the gleaming tile of that Krispy Kreme and realizing that it was still open. Hot Now, indeed.

Saunders is a veteran N.C. writer who publishes The Saunders Report.

UNC Health
A. Dale Jenkins

North Carolina is blessed with many great home-grown companies and organizations that have impacted me and my family. Choosing one is difficult. But UNC Health is vital to thousands of North Carolinians each day. I joined the UNC Rex board in 2005 and later the UNC Health board, a tenure spanning about 15 years.

Great companies and organizations do the right thing for the people they serve. At UNC Health, I met genuine people who had a deep passion for caring for our sickest and finding cures for our most challenging illnesses. I saw intelligent people who chose careers in public health over more lucrative opportunities to be part of a vibrant, innovative organization whose mission is to help all. I witnessed the organization’s impact with rural hospitals that likely would not have survived without a UNC Health partnership. I observed a talented management team who __+ontinually looked for ways the organization could improve every day to have an even more meaningful impact. I saw servant leadership every day.

The opportunities I had with UNC Health impacted my sense of purpose, the way I lead my company, and my responsibility for the well-being of
all people.

Jenkins is a Shelby native who is the former CEO of Raleigh-based Curi, which was established as Medical Mutual Insurance Co. in 1975.

Red Oak Beer
Phil Mintz

Not long after I first started as a field manufacturing extension agent with N.C. State University, I visited Spring Garden Brewing in Greensboro after the owner responded to one of my early mailers about our work. I was amazed to see an elaborate “micro” beer-making process in the basement of a restaurant. It turns out that I was speaking to the great Bill Sherrill, the owner of what has become Red Oak Brewery. Red Oak is a tasty local beer of choice for many across the state and is now brewed in a highly visible facility along Interstate 40/85 in Whitsett. I always look for it in restaurants both in our state and others during my travels. It’s fun to ask the servers if they have Red Oak draft and tell them that they should get it because so many people like it.

Mintz is executive director of N.C. State University’s Industry Expansion Solutions.


Billie Redmond

Paragon Bank was founded in May 1999 in Raleigh to serve as a private business-to-business bank. Bob Hatley and a small group of seasoned bankers understood the need for a bank to help businesses and their owners grow and thrive. I served on the board for 17 years and learned so much about many industries. Working through the Great Recession to the Great Recovery was an amazing opportunity to have a voice in policy and compliance, community engagement and investment, and to experience a unique culture. It shaped my ideas about service. In January 2018, Paragon merged with TowneBank, headquartered in Suffolk, Va. Its vision, culture and core values are very aligned with Paragon’s.

Redmond is the founder of Trademark Properties in Raleigh and a former chair of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.​

A brilliant mentor

Jim Dodson

It may not seem terribly original, but the North Carolinian who shaped my life, work and worldview in uncounted ways was my late and incredibly original old man, Brax Dodson. He was a gifted man who helped produced the state’s first major travel advertising campaign in the late 1960s — titled “Variety Vacationland,” complete with rah-rah theme song you simply cannot get out of your head. He also founded the Piedmont Advertising Club, which brought a lot of fresh young talent into the business world.

He was, at heart, a brilliant mentor, an upbeat adman with a poet’s sensibilities whose love of this state — and the people and businesses in it — saw no limit. Perhaps this is because we hail from Carolina farming stock that dates back to Colonial times. My old man was the first in his family to attend college. His first job was selling advertising space for the Greensboro Daily News and the Durham Herald before moving on to The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News. He later owned a newspaper in Mississippi, but always intended to finish his career where it began.

As an executive at Bennett Advertising based in High Point, my father gave some of the state’s finest artists their commercial start. Bob Timberlake is one of them. My dad went on to represent the world’s largest industrial equipment publication for three decades.

As a teenager, not entirely kindly, I bestowed the nickname “Opti the Mystic” upon him due to his embarrassing habit of quoting long-dead sages or wise statesmen when you least expected it, especially to my impressionable teenage dates. Of course, they fell in love with the man. Almost everyone did. Gratitude and optimism were in his bloodstream.

It took growing up and having children of my own for me to fully grasp what an incredible gift it was to have a father like him. That powerful awakening occurred when Opti agreed to make a trip with me to England and Scotland in 1995 to enjoy the golf courses where he learned to play the game as an 8th Army Air Corps officer shortly before D-Day.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, he was dying of cancer. He felt this final trip might be good for us both. What I learned and we shared on this journey about life-affirming values that came out of such moments found its way into a bestselling 1997 memoir called Final Rounds. This little book has gone on to sell more than half a million copies and is still in print, inspiring thousands of letters over the years from a vast array of readers, including CEOs and middle-aged fathers and mothers.

The book changed my life, too. After reading it, Arnold Palmer invited me to collaborate with him on his memoirs. That led to the authorized biography of Ben Hogan that brought me home to North Carolina for good in 2005. At least four attempts have been made to bring Final Rounds to the big screen. If a film version ever gets made, as I believe it will, North Carolina will be where it finally happens.

Opti the Mystic, I believe, would insist on that.

Dodson is the longtime editor of PineStraw and O.Henry magazines, and author of 15 books. He lives in Greensboro.

A giver

Patti Gillenwater

In 2012, Chuck ReCorr, a local philanthropist, included me in the group of nonprofit board leaders that he sponsored for a Harvard training program. ReCorr is a longtime wealth manager in Raleigh who has backed similar experiences at Harvard for more than 100 nonprofit leaders in the Triangle. That experience led me to change the focus of my search firm to serve the nonprofit community. I could not be happier with that change in direction and the change in direction that is satisfying every day.

Gillenwater is president and CEO of Elinvar, a leadership and executive search consulting company in Raleigh.

We asked several North Carolinians to share thoughts about how the state has changed and suggestions for improvement.

Women rise

Ann Benjamin Zuraw

When I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, there were few career opportunities for women in business and particularly entrepreneurs in North Carolina. I lived in New York City and San Francisco and moved back to Greensboro in 2000. It makes me proud to be part of a community supporting the growth of women in business. There are numerous options in Greensboro, including the Women’s Resource Center, Junior League and the United Way, that encourage women entrepreneurs to connect through social media and networking. In addition, the management and operational education offered via nonprofit organizations and conferences are amazing. It has been rewarding to watch these women entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

Zuraw is president of Zuraw Financial Advisors in Greensboro.


Absolute power

Harry Smith

North Carolina is a special place. That’s easy to see given the growth in population and the success the state is seeing in recruiting world-class organizations. The success is a culmination of several factors including some natural ones: North Carolina has a great climate and is blessed with incredible mountains and great beaches, giving residents a lot of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

North Carolina is also very strong fiscally, which makes me incredibly proud. There is absolutely no question that the policies and direction charted by the Republican-led legislature have created a strong fiscal position for North Carolina. They deserve the credit; facts are facts. Numbers don’t lie and neither do trend lines. They are either good, flat or bad. Fiscally, the trend lines for North Carolina are incredibly strong, which positions us well for the future.

Unfortunately, I’ve also watched partisan politics create a disappointing divide that is hindering North Carolina. It is creating a decay that offsets the strong fiscal policies that have positioned the state so well and limits North Carolina from reaching its true potential. Absolute power is not a good thing, which I have witnessed first-hand. Differing views and opinions create thought and reflection in governing bodies. An example was the legislature’s decision to take away the governor’s ability to appoint members to some state governing boards. That was a gross overreach and in my strong opinion has created boards that lack the diversity in thought, opinion and skills to position some of the state’s most important assets for success.

Leaders in today’s fast-paced world have to know when the time has come to pass the torch. Most business leaders believe that the optimal time for CEOs in the private sector to exit in a healthy way is after four to six years. The focus should be on the health of the organization and bringing in new vision and energy, while ensuring that the organization is directionally sound. Staying too long creates jaded approaches to governance and unhealthy divides that create a decay, often offsetting great things that have been accomplished.

It’s my hope that political leadership in our great state can recognize the need for fresh leadership that promotes the best interests of our state and
does not carry baggage from years of political battles.

Smith is CEO of Pamlico Air, a Washington, N.C.-based air filter company with more than 1,000 employees. He is a former chair of the UNC Board of Governors.​ He lives in Greenville.

Regional business brokerage firms fueled the advertising growth of Business North Carolina in the early to mid-80’s. The magazine quickly captured large ad schedules from both national, regional and even local brokers trying to establish a presence in North Carolina.

Inside the early issues of BNC, readers found ads from Interstate Securities based in Charlotte, Carolina Securities in Raleigh, Richmond, Va.- based Wheat First Securities and Independence Securities in Greensboro. Other brokerage business would come from Nashville-based JC Bradford and Johnson Lane Securities of Atlanta.

This business did not come easily at the beginning simply because BNC was just another magazine startup. Advertisers wanted to see where this magazine was going and whether it could sustain itself for at least a year or two. We were lucky there was little or no competition from the beginning, and business-to-business advertisers were searching for a sound editorial and advertising product.

Investment bankers also saw Business North Carolina as an important marketing vehicle for their deals and public offerings from clients. Many early issues of BNC would include “tombstone ads” from Bowles, Hollowell and Connor, NCNB Investment Banking and First Union Bank’s Capital Markets Group. Each issue carried more and more tombstone pages.

Durham native Rogers joined BNC in January 1982. He worked as sales director for six and a half years. He later joined Shaw Publishing, then started his own magazine publishing company.

Edward Martin

While reporting for BNC, I almost killed a congressman. In the spring of 2001, Charles Taylor was one of Congress’ richest members, with an estimated worth of $55 million from banking and farming — back when $55 million was worth something. I interviewed him at his Brevard home and suddenly, he recalled that he had to make a civic-club speech. We rushed out the door — and then he ran back in to cut off the bathroom light, which is how the rich get rich. We leaped in my pickup truck. In Asheville, I was slowing down but still doing probably 30 mph when he suddenly decided to review his speech.

But it was in his briefcase that he’d tossed in the bed of my pickup. I glanced over and realized he had the door open and one foot out, ready to step out of the vehicle. I slammed the brakes and yanked him back in as cars behind us honked and swerved. He was unruffled. He gave a right good speech. I was the one who was shaking.

My first story for BNC was after I began freelancing in 1992. Then-Managing Editor David Mildenberg assigned me to investigate the shark fishing industry, particularly finning, the slaughter of sharks just for their fins. I wrote the story on a little Corona portable typewriter with sticky keys — yes, a typewriter — in my bedroom. Mildenberg liked it but bellyached because he had to enter it key by key in the BNC computer system. That prompted me to get my first computer, back when computer shops “built” computers. Mine had an Intel 386DX processor and was about the size of a washing machine, but with less computing power. I forget which side you wound it up from.

Martin is a BNC senior contributing editor. He has won a record number of awards from the Association of American Business Publications.

Luann Nelson

I wanted to share the story of then-Managing Editor David Kinney spending a whole day shut in his office on North Tryon Street with a sheet of graph paper, designing a doghouse. But another memory elbowed it aside.

In March 1987, I noticed a couple of weeds near my front door, pulled them up, and went on my way. The next morning I woke up with a terrible case of poison ivy.

I had an interview that week with a very important person at NCNB. I bought a long dress to hide my ankles, bandaged my wrists, slathered on Benadryl and makeup, and headed downtown to see this gentleman, who answered my questions, then asked how I liked Charlotte. “Very much,” I replied, “except for the poison ivy.” He commiserated and asked what part of town I was living in. “Near the Fresh Market, off Selwyn,” I said, referring to our Myers Park neighborhood home. He cocked his head and asked, “What street?” I thought that’s weird, but told him. He asked, “What number?” I was taken aback but replied “2845.” Then he asked, “Does Jim Wilburn still live next door?”

Turns out we bought the same house where he lived in the late `60s. It was also where he had gotten such a bad case of poison ivy that he ended up hospitalized on a steroid drip.

His name was Dennis Rash, who played a key role in carrying out Hugh McColl Jr.’s plans for Charlotte’s Fourth Ward neighborhood, along with many other projects.

Also, David Kinney built a very fine doghouse, but it lacked air conditioning.

Nelson and her husband live in Asheville and own hotels. She stays busy as a volunteer and researching history for the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Moira Johnson

Mac Attack

I started working at the magazine in the summer of 1987, about six months after the News & Observer Publishing Co. purchased the business from the Shaw family. Print production was then done with galleys of text that were waxed on the back side and pasted to boards, which were  sent to the printer. They would make negatives with a camera and send us back copies that were called “blue lines” because of the blue type on a pale blue background. Editors would mark corrections, which would be hand cut and incorporated back into the pasted boards. These would be sent back to the printer to make plates for the press and printing process.

Two months after I joined, Publisher Frank Daniels III said we were shifting production to use Apple’s Macintosh computers, a cutting-edge technology.  He contracted with Don Wright, a New York-based designer, to redesign the magazine and to make the move to a digital platform using the then-popular Pagemaker page layout program.

Art Director Kim Walker and I had a couple of weeks to learn Pagemaker and how to navigate the computer system. We each took a manual home each night, studied a chapter or two and then returned to work the next morning and taught each other. We created templates for the sections and pages in the magazine, taking measurements from a printed manual and converting those measurements into a digital page. It was a harrowing, sleepless couple of weeks for both of us.

Many typefaces had not been created digitally yet. Palatino was the body copy face for the magazine and was available as a digital format, but Futura was the headline face and had not been designed digitally. So we were forced into a hybrid production style. The body copy was  laid out as pages and printed that way, but the headlines and graphics had to be pasted onto the boards by hand.
We eventually went to an all-digital platform for everything, including graphs and charts, but that process happened over the course of several years.

Tragedy strikes

The saddest day in BNC history was Dec. 9, 2001, when our business manager, Laura Gosser, and her husband, Ray, were involved in a plane crash in Arkansas as they were returning to Charlotte from a family funeral in Texas. Ray was a pilot, and the flight was delayed several days due to weather conditions. Finally, they started the flight back, hopefully to return in time to make our company Christmas party that evening. But they didn’t show up.

Later that night, after the party was over, one of our sales reps heard a radio report that Ray and Laura had been in a plane crash. It was later determined that the single-engine plane that Ray had leased for the trip had a breakdown, prompting him to make an emergency landing on a road near Monticello, Ark. A wing caught some paving equipment on the side of the road, causing the plane to flip and burst into flames. Laura was killed instantly. Ray crawled free, then tried to save his wife. He suffered severe burns and died several days later.

Laura had taken care of our financial and office management functions and was a beloved friend and colleague. It was a truly catastrophic loss.

Ironically, about three months earlier, Ray and Laura had been visiting New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, and had considered having breakfast at the famous restaurant at the top of World Trade Center that morning before changing their plans. They had flown to New York on Ray’s own plane, which was grounded for a lengthy period because of the 9/11 attack.

Johnson was BNC’s longest-tenured employee, working more than 30 years as production manager. She retired in 2020.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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