As GrowCo Comes To Town, 7 Questions With Inc. Magazine Editor James Ledbetter

         When I worked for James “Jim” Ledbetter at the beginning of his meteoric rise in the news media, I was his intern at The Village Voice. Co-founded in 1955 by Norman Mailer, the country’s first alternative newsweekly was located just three blocks from my Greenwich Village apartment in New York City, and working for Jim at the famed Pulitzer Prize-winning arts and culture beacon was my first job after graduating from Tulane.

         Jim wrote “Press Clips” a widely read and well-respected column critiquing the media. The New York Observer recalls, “Mr. Ledbetter brought a sharp analytical eye and dissected editorial decisions at the city’s top publications, transforming a gossip column in a lefty paper into a watchdog for journalistic standards.”

         For six months I was Jim’s research assistant, editorial intern, gofer, desk organizer and Girl Friday, and he kindly gave me a research credit at the end of 19 of his columns.

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         I remember being particularly overzealous with some of my FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests I sent to New York’s Office of General Services. Jim was writing an investigative story about then New York Gov. Mario Cuomo allegedly moving state agency offices out of The World Trade Center into properties his contributors owned, at a cost to the taxpayers with no apparent benefit to the State.

         Thankfully, Jim was more amused than annoyed when he got a call from a prominent PIO (public information officer) who expressed concern over my “enthusiasm.”

         The article “Cuomo’s Real Estate,” was published in The New Republic.

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         Jim also gave me one of my favorite pieces of media memorabilia.

         He knew how disappointed I was one afternoon when he didn’t let me accompany him to interview some angry newspaper staffers who were protesting, so he brought a picket line poster back to the office just for me. It says “Newspaper Guild of New York on Strike Against The Post,” and I still have it hanging in my office today. Ironically, I’ve been writing for The New York Post since 2003.

         Jim and I have stayed in touch through holiday cards and the occasional email, and his name has been omnipresent in the same media he covered so deftly at The Village Voice.

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         The unassuming, intellectual Yalie left The Village Voice after eight years and worked as the editor of The Industry Standard, senior editor of Time Magazine, web editor of Fortune Magazine, founding editor and editor in chief of Slate's financial site “The Big Money,” deputy managing editor of “CNN Money,” editor in charge and opinion editor of Thomson Reuters’, and he is now the editor at Inc. Magazine and

         Oh, and he’s authored and published five books that span the gamut from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Karl Marx. Jim’s sixth book, “One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries,” will hit bookshelves Tuesday, June 13.

         Jim’s coming to town for Inc. Magazine’s GrowCo Conference, from Monday, May 8 – Wednesday, May 10, at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, 500 Canal St. Created and curated by Inc. Magazine, GrowCo will host more than 600 attendees, 56 percent of them CEOs, and feature more than 20 sessions with 35 speakers. GrowCo brings together hundreds of entrepreneurs hungry for the advice, proven strategies and connections needed to start and grow a business.

         Jim will be interviewing AOL co-founder Steve Case on Tuesday, May 9, for GrowCo’s “What’s Next?—Prepare for the Future of Entrepreneurship” Keynote, so I thought it would be fun to ask Jim a few questions for a change:


LS: Why is the GrowCo Conference a “can’t miss” event, and why is New Orleans the BEST place to host it?

JL: Most conferences focus on a single industry, whether it’s health care or cloud software. GrowCo is the only event in America where the owners of fast-growing businesses can learn so much, and meet so many people, from a huge swath of different industries. And we are so happy to be back in New Orleans, an indomitable city with first-class hospitality.


LS: On the national level, do y’all at Inc. think New Orleans is as big an entrepreneurial hub as we think it is? What’s so special about New Orleans when it comes to fostering business?

JL: There’s no question that New Orleans punches above its weight in entrepreneurship. The city has tremendous energy, a talented and diverse workforce, a vibrant, world-class food and hospitality base and powerful tax incentives for new businesses.


LS:  Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg is one of your Keynote speakers and will talk about businesses embracing mobile technology. Why is it so important for small businesses to go mobile?

JL: You have to fish where the fish are. In almost any industry today, an increasing portion of your customer base wants to be able to do business with you through mobile devices. And if you can’t give them that, you increase the chances of losing out to competitors who can.


LS: “Shark Tank’s” Kevin O’Leary, another Keynote speaker at GrowCo, will talk about why you need to be ruthless to succeed in business. New Orleans is pretty laid back. Is there any room in the marketplace for nice entrepreneurs, and can they succeed, too?

JL: I don’t think there is any one temperamental path to being a successful entrepreneur. Plenty of successful businesses have been built on “conscious capitalism” principles, for example, bypassing O’Leary’s definition of a bottom line. The things you can’t do without are good ideas and hard work.


LS: One of GrowCo’s panels will focus on “How to Build a Brand People F**king Love.” As a business editor and reporter, what common qualities have you found that make brands more f**king lovable?

JL: The two most common I see are: Solve a problem that no one else is solving, even if it’s merely a question of making things more convenient. And a close second: Put the customer at the heart of the experience.


LS: On Tuesday, May 9, you’ll be interviewing AOL co-founder Steve Case at the GrowCo Conference. You’ll be talking about “The Third Wave.” What is it, and why is it so important for every business to embrace the latest technological advances?

JL: I don’t want to steal Case’s thunder. But he strongly believes that we are on the cusp of a technological advance as momentous as the mainstreaming of the internet.


LS: If you could ask any famous entrepreneur, dead or alive, any business question, who would it be and what would you ask?

JL: I would love to ask David Sarnoff, the commercial pioneer of radio and television, if in the early 20th century he thought he would have been able to develop his companies and technology in any other country besides the United States.


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