The Corporation as an Incubator
I was summoned into the office of Grolier's president, Elsworth Howell, whose real love was Howell Book House, a line of technical books on breeding and training show dogs. Howell himself not only owned purebred dogs, but also was a regular judge at the annual Westminster Kennel Club championships at Madison Square Garden. He was a fascinating man.
Also in the meeting: Executive Vice President Bob Clarke, a lovely guy and legend in direct marketing, who had started in the Grolier mailroom; Ed Bakal, a tough former paratrooper who had jumped into Normandy on D-Day; and Lew Smith, elegant, professorial and married to a concert pianist.
"We are going to start the Peter Possum Book Club for grades one, two and three," Howell said to me. "And you are Peter Possum."
I was to choose and edit the books, write and design all the promotional material, decide on tests and mailing schedules, track responses and tally up the money.
Howell then set the ground rules.
"Unlike Scholastic and Willie Whale, these books will be in full color throughout, 64 pages and will be priced at 35¢ each. You have to figure out the cover art, because we cannot afford varnish."
Howell looked out the window for a split second and then turned to me and said, "One more thing. I am not going to pay royalties to authors or illustrators. This means all titles must be out of copyright and in public domain."
This was the first "Holy Shit!" moment in my short career. I didn't know squat about mail order or book clubs or public domain or book production or writing and designing direct mail promotions.
In short, I was handed a big job for which I as totally unqualified.