The newswire industry is all about competition. And because it's essentially a duopoly, that usually involves Business Wire (BW) and PR Newswire (PRN) trying to one-up each other with announcements about new product offerings, technological developments, and global expansion.
But on January 17, BW had news that would be hard to top: Billionaire Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, had announced plans to purchase the 45-year-old newswire. Such a development was one that was months in the making, with BW's president and CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz in the driver's seat.
"We wouldn't have done it if we didn't have Cathy as CEO," Buffett told PRWeek shortly after the deal was announced. "There would've been no deal."
Tamraz says that BW had been looking for an acquisition partner for some time, as part of its strategy to ensure the future of the company. But it wasn't an immediate concern, as the company didn't have any debt. So BW instead turned its attention to global expansion, opening offices in Tokyo and Paris.
But a November 12, 2005, article in The Wall Street Journal caught Tamraz's eye. The piece, "Warren Buffett, Unplugged," described the billionaire's old-fashioned approach to business and hands-off management style.
"I read it, and it just resonated," she says. "It was one of those blink moments. I knew instantly that there was synergy."
And so, she wrote him a letter, introducing the company and its founder/chairman Lorry Lokey. Hoping to appeal to Buffett's simple style, she faxed the letter instead of e-mailing it. From there, things moved extremely quickly: Buffett called Tamraz, requesting some more information about the company's financials and long-term goals, and after a few phone meetings, he made an offer that BW accepted. In fact, it wasn't until late December, after the terms of the deal had been set, that the two finally met face-to-face.
Despite Buffett's hands-off management style, Tamraz notes that his name alone will be a benefit for the company. "I think it is good for the industry overall," she says. "Being backed by Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett almost gives an accreditation of the work we've been doing for 45 years."
And Tamraz has certainly been an integral part of BW for much of that history. She first joined BW in 1979 as a news clerk and eventually climbed the ranks to the top position. In December 2005, Lokey announced Tamraz would also assume the title of CEO, after having already served as president for two years. "The joke around here is, 'Gee, they made you CEO, and you sold the company,'" she says with a laugh.
Phyllis Dantuono, EVP of global bureaus, has worked with Tamraz for 20 years and says despite her increased responsibilities, Tamraz is very hands-on. "She is still able to very much, when necessary, delve into the nuts and bolts," Dantuono says. "She literally understands every corner of this business and of this industry."
Tamraz admits that her long history with the business gives her a unique perspective. "Nobody really gets anything past me because I've done most of it," she says. "My belief system is such that you have to get your hands dirty, and you've got to live and breathe it in order to understand it."
Dantuono adds that Tamraz will often offer new ideas about every part of the business, whether it's strategy, sales, or operations. "She has a great sense of intuition, and I think that comes from being around and being experienced," she says.
Even with the Berkshire Hathaway sale almost finalized, there isn't a day that goes by that Tamraz is not thinking about the future of BW - whether it's globalization, meta-tagging, or the convergence of IR and PR.
"This is a crisis du jour business - anything can happen on a given day," she says. "I don't think I could sit back... that just wouldn't work well for my personality."
Cathy Baron Tamraz
President and CEO, Business Wire
Various BW posts from news clerk to SVP (1979-1998), EVP (1998-2000), and COO (2000-2003)