A Look Back
It’s difficult for me to believe that Quality Digest is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I started working for the magazine in June of 1984. I was 20 years old and still in college. It was a part-time, temporary job that lasted 21 years. At that time, the magazine was just a few years old and was called Quality Circle Digest . We had a circulation of around 750. Now, it’s more than 75,000 (the largest audited-circulation publication for quality professionals).
While I was with Quality Digest , I had the opportunity to interview many interesting people, including W. Edwards Deming, Philip Crosby, Joseph M. Juran, Allan Mogensen, Tom Peters, Stephen Covey, Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, Alvin Toffler, John Cleese and countless others. However, what I enjoyed most was meeting and talking with the magazine’s subscribers and advertisers. It always gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction to hear how much they enjoyed the magazine.
I started out as an editorial assistant. I wrote news stories, transcribed interviews, typed articles, copyedited, line edited, proofread and slowly learned about the world of quality. I next became the magazine’s assistant editor, then editor in chief and then, finally, publisher. Although many people associate me with Quality Digest because of my many years with the magazine, I was always just an employee. The magazine is a division of Quality Circle Institute, better known as QCI International, a corporation owned by Donald L. Dewar, who started the magazine in November 1981.
Don is a quiet man of great determination and faith in the power of his employees, which is fitting since he is primarily responsible for bringing the employee participation movement to the United States from Japan in the 1970s. He not only founded Quality Digest , but also Quality Circle Institute and the Association for Quality and Participation. He’s a terrific boss, and I can’t begin to thank him for the faith he showed in me during the 21 years I worked for him. He always showed me tremendous respect and gave me the guidance, encouragement and freedom that I needed to grow Quality Digest . Even when I made the decision to leave Quality Digest to devote more time to my growing family and business, Don was (and continues to be) incredibly supportive.
Of course, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. During the magazine’s first quarter of a century we (usually me) made some incredible mistakes. There was the time that we published a cover story about union-management cooperation at Eastern Airlines shortly before it was shut down by a strike. Then there was the time I asked FedEx CEO Fred Smith during an interview if his company planned to apply for a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He informed me that they had just won the award the day before. (Remember, this was in days before e-mail.) Oops! And while Quality Digest was a very early supporter of the ISO 9000 movement, we probably were a bit too skeptical of Six Sigma when it first debuted.
We also faced some serious competition. Our friends at Quality magazine pretty much ignored us when we first started hanging around Quality Expo. And why not? They were the big guys with all the big advertisers. Heck, when we started Quality Digest , we didn’t even sell advertising. When we started selling against them, they proved to be tough competitors. The same is true of the American Society for Quality, which publishes Quality Progress magazine. They ignored Quality Digest at first, too. We soon realized what fierce competitors the folks from Milwaukee could be. But competition is a good thing. Being the scrappy underdog made us all work hard to produce the very best we could with very limited resources. If you ever meet my wife, Heidi, ask her about the deadline weeks in the early years when I routinely got home at 1 or 2 in the morning every night. (You see why I am so proud of that No. 1 rating.) By the way, I owe Heidi a big thanks for her support. She cooked countless meals for weary editors on deadline, sat in trade show booths signing up subscribers, and never wavered in her support of me or the magazine.
A successful magazine is the result of the hard work of talented, dedicated staff. I want to particularly acknowledge the efforts of Dirk Dusharme, April Johnson, Tia Cronin and Marion Harmon. Their tireless efforts were essential to the magazine’s current success. I’m proud of what we all accomplished in the first 25 years, and I and all the rest of the current and former staff are looking forward to the next 25 years.
Share your thoughts on Quality Digest’s first 25 years on my blog at www.qualitycurmudgeon.com.
Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest’s editor at large.