By Shawn Rhodes
Sometimes successful businesses begin in unlikely places. Rarer are those led by people who started at the bottom and worked their way to the top.
Fortunately for St. Petersburg, one of those companies – and one of those leaders – calls the Sunshine City home.
“When I arrived in 1975 I showed up in St. Petersburg with just my suitcase,” said Paul Tash, CEO of the Times Publishing Company and Tampa Bay Times.
Tash arrived in Tampa Bay on a scholarship to work for the locally-owned St. Petersburg Times. Not knowing what his duties would entail, he remembers asking his boss:
“I’m here, is there something you’d like me to do?”
There was no way Tash could have known that question would begin a 40-year journey with plenty for him to do, not only for the newspaper but for the Tampa Bay Area as well.
Although the newspaper began as the West Hillsborough Times in the back of a Dunedin drugstore in 1884, it underwent massive changes by the time Tash joined its ranks. It played a pivotal role in Pinellas County gaining its independence from Hillsborough County in 1912. By 1964 it had already claimed its first Pulitzer Prize for the work Martin Waldron and other Times staff had done investigating the Florida Turnpike Authority.
“(We) enjoy making a difference in the lives of readers by informing citizens so they can make decisions,” Tash said of the Times, one of the largest locally-owned newspapers in the world.
However, when his tenure as CEO of the Times began in 2004, many of the Times’ readers were about to enter a recession that would affect not just Florida, but the entire country.
“That recession was punishing to us all in both depth and duration,” Tash commented.
Additionally, the way people consumed news was changing as well. Like many businesses, Tash had to rethink how technology was going to affect his customers.
“The changes in digital news and marketing were an opportunity and a challenge,” Tash said. He added that newspapers used to have a monopoly for news and advertising, but now many options exist.
With the recession over, Tash had to face a question many business leaders struggle with:
‘How do I run a good business?’
Tash shared three lessons he’s learned as the CEO of a thousand-person company:
“First, know what you want to be best at,” he said. “Second, have energetic and committed leadership willing to put in the work. Third, be committed to tomorrow as well as today. Look for the best ways to serve client needs and build for the future.”
Tash credits his success not to himself, but to his people.
“People want a sense of larger purpose,” Tash said. “If we win a Pulitzer Prize everyone in the organization should take pride, because that work doesn’t happen without everyone taking a role in it.”
When asked about his plans for the future, Tash mentioned something all business leaders should consider when thinking about the relationship they have with customers:
The main thing I think about is making sure the Tampa Bay Times has, and will continue to have, a vibrant and compelling place in the lives of our readers, Tash said.