"The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.
Only that day dawns to which we are awake.
There is more day to dawn.
The sun is but a morning star."
So wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden some 150 years ago. And with the recent news that Fast Company has been purchased by a quintessential entrepreneur, I find those lines as inspiring and fitting as ever. They are the four sentences that end Thoreau's classic reflection in the woods, the words that inspired our new owner, Joe Mansueto, to name his own company Morningstar 21 years ago.
We could not have conjured up a better angel. Fast Company is a magazine about innovation and entrepreneurship. It should be owned by an innovative entrepreneur. Joe is a visionary who founded his mutual-fund ratings and research concern in a one-bedroom apartment with $80,000 in personal savings. He is a five-time Inc. 500 winner, and a Fast Company idealist and maverick.
In Morningstar, he has built one of the most progressive organizations in America, an ideal community of people, a culture defined by Thoreau's values of simplicity, independence, and thrift. He brought the company public earlier this year using an online Dutch auction — just like Google did. And like this magazine, Morningstar has empowered its customers to make better and more intelligent decisions. The company's raison d'etre is to give individual investors sophisticated but accessible information so they can make their own financial choices without being at the mercy of the pros.
Like Warren Buffett, one of Joe's heroes, Mansueto is a contrarian investor, savvy enough to buy at the bottom of a market. For him, the attraction was clear: It is the opportunity to buy two very powerful brands (our magazine and Inc.) with strong management, talented and dedicated staffs, and loyal and highly engaged readers. Without the unrealistic demands for quick returns on private equity or the typical short-term focus of a major corporation, Joe can invest in a long-term future.
It helps immensely that he is a self-made billionaire and a self-described "magazine junkie" who once was a teenage stringer for his hometown newspaper in Indiana. A University of Chicago MBA, Joe also loves business. And his very first message to us made clear that his number-one priority is to "make sure we create the best magazine possible."
When Fast Company was bought by Gruner + Jahr in late 2000, our founding editors were hopeful and optimistic. They believed G+J would help them take the magazine "to the next level of performance." But the tech bubble had already burst and the economy crashed, forces that were beyond anyone's control. Our G+J years, unfortunately, were filled with frustration and turmoil — a revolving door of executives and publishers, strategic missteps, layoffs and cutbacks, litigation, and meddling in the magazine's editorial direction.
Our new owner plans to be an investor here, not a publisher or a CEO. He puts his faith in the teams in place and will get out of their way and empower them to do their best work. We are so very lucky to have him aboard. We're thrilled that he shares and lives Fast Company's values as well as our mission: "Fast Company is for people who are passionate about their work and want to do it better. Our readers are innovators and business builders who are driven to succeed by working and leading differently. They see work as a source of personal growth and an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world around them."
Our job, our very personal and creative job, is to help our readers lead more meaningful and productive work lives by giving them the ideas, the tools, and the inspiration to do their absolute best.
Despite premature reports of our passing, I can only say, there is more day to dawn. The sun is indeed a morning star.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.