My Personal Progressions: Let’s Not Call This a Farewell Column Just Yet

In Perspectives by Joe Sullivanleave a COMMENT

With the Mercury’s viability for the foreseeable future assured by the remarkable generosity of donor responses to our Press Forward campaign, I feel it’s time for me to turn my attention to fulfillment of a personal goal.

For many years I’ve said (mostly to myself) that the one thing I haven’t done that I’d most like to do is write a book.

The only time I even made a start was 50 years ago when I was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal covering Congress and politics. Following the 1966 elections, I had an idea for a book about campaign strategies and techniques, drawing on the many campaigns I’d covered that year. My extensive outline was well received by Random House but not well enough to garner me an advance.

Slowpoke writer that I was then and am now, I felt I would have to devote full time for many months to gathering and marshaling materials for the book. But when push came to shove I wasn’t prepared to quit my job in order to do so. So my outline gathered dust.

Ironically, a year later I did quit my job in order to take a much better paying one as assistant to the president of the Chicago Board of Trade, Henry Hall Wilson, whom I had gotten to know while he was serving as President Lyndon Johnson’s Congressional relations chief. Then came the most incredible phase of my life in which I got immersed for a decade in the protracted process of creating its offspring, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and then serving as its founding president. A number a people encouraged me to write a book about my CBOE experience. But I was too busy at the time, and afterward it seemed too self-serving.

The 1980s took me to Wall Street where, along with three former CBOE colleagues and three emigres from J.P. Morgan, we formed a firm called The Options Group.

The primary product line turned out to be options analytic software, which we sold with some success for several years to securities brokers, trading firms, and investment banks. But this endeavor was also all-consuming, except for trying to be a good father to my three kids.

Having been born and raised in Knoxville with family roots that go back to James White, I’d always considered it home and envisioned moving back here some day.

Another pipe dream was to launch a Knoxville publication, and I seriously considered doing so when my CBOE years were sunsetting in the late 1970s. City magazines were voguish at the time in larger markets. But Phillip Moffitt and Chris Whittle, then of 13-30 Corp., convinced me that the Knoxville market wasn’t large enough to sustain one. I should be glad that Cityview’s Nathan Sparks has eventually proven them wrong.

By 1991, with The Options Group sold and my kids grown, I was at another turning point—one that led me back home for good. By this time, alternative weeklies were coming to the fore, and Knoxville had a fledgling one that Ashley Capps had started on a shoestring with a cadre of recent college graduates. Ashley was pleased to let me take it off his hands before the string ran out. And thus began my ever so memorable years as owner and publisher of Metro Pulse. Instead of lamenting the fact that we never made any money, I took pride in the fact that our editorial expenses in relation to revenues were at least 10 percentage points higher than any other member of our trade association. By the time I hit age 65, however, the wear and tear and had taken a toll. So I sold the paper and spared myself the management headaches while continuing to write a column.

For the next 10 years until the News Sentinel abruptly pulled the plug on Metro Pulse, that’s just about all I did professionally. Since then I’ve also added my support to its courageous former editors who spurned a News Sentinel severance package with a non-compete in order to launch the Mercury. And it’s immensely gratifying to see that its editorial accomplishments have been rewarded with financial backing to sustain it.

All the while, though, I’ve been mulling ideas for that book I’ve never written. Biography and history were the two spheres that I gave the most attention. But the subjects that occurred had already been well covered or seemed beyond my reach.

And with my 79th birthday approaching, time is no longer on my side. So I am pleased to report that a subject has finally clicked with me. I’m not willing to divulge what it is at this point except to say that it involves the two things I cherish most: my family and sports.

Unlike Jack Neely who can seemingly write a book with his left hand while churning out columns and other voluminous writings with his right, I’m not a multi-tasker. So just as was the case in 1966, it’s clear to me that I’ve got to concentrate on the book until it materializes—or doesn’t.

That means this may be my last Mercury column for some time, with apologies for its being so self-centric. Unlike MacArthur, I won’t promise to return but neither do I want to be the old soldier who just fades away. So I hope that Coury Turczyn will have me back upon completion of this tour of duty and perhaps for occasional contributions in the meantime.

I believe the most remarkable thing that’s happened within my purview in these past 25 years is that Knoxville has become a much more vibrant city. I am very gratified to have been a part of that and hope to be once again.

Joe Sullivan is the former owner and publisher of Metro Pulse (1992-2003) as well as a longtime columnist covering local politics, education, development, business, and tennis. His new column, Perspectives, covers much of the same terrain.

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