They Built A $920M Business; Now Ask About Their Real Legacy

In the world of entrepreneurs and business, success is often measured in numbers -- most likely dollars and cents. Having built the foundation for a $920 million business, Gerry and Lilo Leeds certainly were successful. But that really isn't their legacy.

As co-founders of CMP Publications (later, CMP Media), Gerry and Lilo Leeds built one of the IT industry's great media companies. It started with controlled circulation print magazines in the 1970s, expanded to the newsstand in some areas, and then headed for the online world in the mid-1990s. CMP was the scrappy rival to IDG and Ziff Davis -- a disrupter role that CMPers fully enjoyed.

By the mid- to late-1990s there was an IPO, then the company was sold for $920 million just before the Internet bubble popped around 1999. 

Magic At 600 Community Drive

The deeper story -- the far richer story -- is about a family that kept creating jobs and giving back to the community. I arrived somewhere mid to late at the CMP revolution, fresh out of college in 1992. I was 22 years old. CMP was in transition mode around that time, with Gerry handing the reins to son Michael, and CMP starting to bet everything on the IT market -- shedding travel and health care businesses along the way.

Within two years, the Leeds family -- and my managers at InformationWeek -- trusted me to interview Bill Gates. I was so busy having a blast I often didn't notice the revolution around me. CMP had...

  • Onsite child care. Moms and dads actually ate lunch with their kids in the CMP cafeteria.

  • Profit sharing. About six months into my job, I got a $100 bonus. Everyone did -- because there was profit sharing. Way ahead of its time, and available to all employees.

  • Telecommuting. Go ahead, work from home even before broadband went mainstream.
  • Free stock. Imagine that. For the IPO the Leeds family actually "gave" employees some stock based on years of service, etc. Did I get rich? Nope. Did I bank a few dollars as a 26-year-old and deeply appreciate the Leeds family gesture? Absolutely. 
  • Pro-active re-hiring. Imagine this. If one division was doing poorly and suffered layoffs, there was an overall company hiring freeze for external candidates. Then, those laid off employees could "interview" first in line for open jobs in other divisions. If the candidates weren't a fit -- so be it. But at least they were given first crack at vacant positions before external candidates stormed in through the front door.

Bigger Community Revolution

Story over, right? Not at all. The Leeds family also drove an external revolution -- especially when it came to at-risk youth and education. As Patch reported:

"A noted philanthropist, Leeds co-founded and served on the board of directors of the Institute for Student Achievement, a nonprofit organization in Carle Place that aims to boost educational opportunities for underserved youth in the United States so that they can complete high school, ready for college. Founded in 1990, the organization has served more than 70,000 to date."

Overall, the Leeds family created wealth -- family wealth and community wealth. Not just the dollars and cents stuff. There was a sense of family within the halls of CMP. And there was a sense of optimism -- "I can take care of my family" -- when employees headed home for the weekend. 

To Michael and the entire Leeds family: I'm so sorry to hear about Gerry's passing. Thank you for the gift of CMP, and for teaching all of us former CMPers the right way to build and support the community around us. 

America could use a whole lot more of that right now.