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Gerard "Gerry" Leeds (and CMP): Memories

I posted a brief note on Dec. 1, when I heard of Gerry's passing. I have yet to hear of a memorial service; if there is one, I hope someone lets me know. Some people were telling stories of their relationship with Gerry on Linkedin, in the CMP Alumni Forum, but I'd rather tell mine here.

When I started in April 1979, there were only 100 employees. I was the only editorial employee in the San Jose office; accounting often mistook me for an advertising salesman. My friend Richard Parker had gone to high school with James Alkon, who was an editor at Computer Systems News. I applied for a job there. Instead of being interviewed by an editor, I was interviewed by the dynamic and colorful CSN publisher, the late Tom Cooper. We talked over breakfast at the Fisherman's Wharf Sheraton in San Francisco. He recommended me to the editor, Al Perlman, who took my résumé to Gerry. At that time, Gerry still had input on every hire in the company. He took one look at my résumé, which featured five jobs in five years, and told Perlman, "Hire him if you want, but he'll be gone in two years." Al hired me.

Ironically, Gerry was right. My intention was to use CSN as a holding job until there was an opening on the San Francisco Examiner, whose business editor, Dave Dietz, promised me the next opening on the business news staff. He reneged on the promise, and I ended up staying at CMP not for two years, but for 20 (on and off).

Flash forward to Comdex in Las Vegas in 1981. It is breakfast time, and I am dining with Al and a few other CSN staffers. Gerry is sitting across the room. He sends a bottle of champagne to our table, then drops by to explain. "I was wrong Paul," he said. "I thought you'd be gone in two years, but you're still here." When he said it, I realized that I had worked for CMP longer than I had for any other employer. He was pleased to hear that.

One of the most wonderful things about CMP was the annual summer conference, when all the sales and editorial employees were gathered for a week on Long Island to meet, mingle, learn and party. For the 10th anniversary summer conference in 1982, spouses were invited. My wife and 18-month-old baby came, but we weren't sure whether to bring the baby to the party, and if not, how to arrange child care. I mentioned the problem to Gerry, who said, "The woman who used to watch our children is still in the area," Thus, he loaned me the family nanny for the night. It was a great party, made better by the presence of my wife.

[Gifford Pinchot IV spoke one year at summer conference, and introduced CMP employees to what he called the Jesuit Rule: "It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission." A few months later, Gerry confided in me that hiring Pinchot as a speaker was "a bad idea." Another year, Penn and Teller came and taught a CMP executive to do the disappearing scarf trick.]

In  early 1984, I left CMP for a few months. When I returned, Gerry asked me up to his office and inquired as to what I wanted to be doing in five years. I told him I hoped I'd still be working for him. "No you won't," he said. "Here, let me take you downstairs and introduce you to someone." He introduced me to his son Michael, who was working for some other CMP Publication (one of the travel publications, I think). "Paul, this is the next president of CMP. Michael, this is one of our best employees." And thus began another warm relationship with the Leeds family, that lasted until the family sold the company in 1999 (and has continued on an occasional basis since).

Gerry and his wife Lilo ran an amazing company because they were amazing people who actually cared as much for their employees as they did their profit, and passed that attitude on to their children, who succeeded them at the helm, and to the senior officials of the company. [In fact, I know first-hand how much Gerry cared about the employees; he  found it very frustrating, in the late 90s, that he no longer knew the name of every employee; there were then 1,000 of us] Twice during my career, the unit I was working for disappeared. In neither case was I laid off; when the Leeds family was running the place, good people were kept until a position could be found for them. The third time, when CMPNet imploded, UBM, the new owners, showed no such reciprocal loyalty. I was out.


The only negative experience I had at CMP involved an executive whose rise was always a mystery to me. He was based on Long Island, a prequisite for promotion to senior positions at CMP. During 2000, CMPNet was suffering 33 percent turnover. The two units I ran, and had zero turnover. That's right. Zero turnover. He was not my immediate supervisor, but we were having lunch because we'd known each other for nearly 20 years. I asked if anyone in Manhasset had noticed that I ran the only CMPNet units with no turnover. "I can't answer that," he said, "Since I am not your supervisor, and this is work-related feedback, I would need your supervisor's permission to tell you." I have always felt that was the most stick-up-the-ass response I ever got from any CMP executive on any subject. He later ended up advising my division to lay me off (six months after both my units were shut down). I resented it at the time (and ran an anniversary column of my layoff for years), but I've gotten over it. It would have been nice to get one attaboy for running a piepond of tranquility in a time of unrest, but apparently I'll just have to congratulate myself for it. It was a very un-Leeds conversation, but of course, by then the Leeds were gone and the long, slow slide into oblivion (under this mystery executive's hands, among others) had begun.