At the Helm: Frank Blethen

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the publisher and CEO of The Seattle Times Company.

Generation of family ownership: Fourth.

Years with the company: 52.

Size of company: Regarding print circulation, we’re the second largest newspaper on the West Coast after the Los Angeles Times. We’re also among the largest family-owned papers and a nine-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Number of employees: About 1,400 full- and part-time. Nearly 1,000 are employed at the Seattle Times, and the others are employed by our affiliates, including the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Issaquah Press, along with Rotary Offset Press, our commercial printing facility.

First job at this company: Copy boy in the classifieds section. I collected the copy our phone staff typed on our new Selectric typewriters, sorted it for the ads and ran it to the composing room, where the paper was set in type.

Best thing about this job: The people I get to work with, including my family. There’s something about a family business that’s unique, but when the business is journalism and public service, it attracts people with similar public service values.

Worst thing about this job: Dealing with economic setbacks and downturns.

One of our greatest successes: The Greater Good Campaign, a public service effort we undertook to stop the state legislature’s defunding of public higher education.

Best advice I ever got: My mother always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do.

Quote from our company’s vision statement: Serving community through quality independent journalism.

On my office wall: Native American art and grandchildren’s photos.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Creating a camaraderie among my cousins in the fourth generation and a nucleus for our stewardship. Also, developing a program to inculcate the next generation into the business as they passed through high school and college. Finally, five of our Pulitzers have been awarded during my—and my cousins’—watch.

Best thing about working in a family business: Not having to work for a public company or bankers. In all family businesses there should be a sense of service to employees and community.

Worst thing about working in a family business: I can’t think of a downside.
My advice for other family business leaders: Stay true to your family members and to performing community service.

On a day off I like to… Spend time with my wife watching movies, walking, hiking and reading.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: In 1979 we established The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy that engages readers in the work of local human service organizations with an annual news and marketing effort, with 100% the proceeds going to 12 local non-profits, to help families and individuals at risk. Over the years, this fund has raised and dispersed more than $16 million. My wife and I also give privately to several causes.

Books I think every family business leader should read: Those by Peter Drucker. But also, leaders should read fiction because it stretches your mind, and read history because you can learn from it.

I realized I had emerged from the previous generation’s shadow when… I became publisher of our Walla Walla, Wash., newspaper when I was 30 years old.

Future succession plans: My son, Ryan, who’s 40, is associate publisher and director of new product strategies and will most likely move up when I retire. We have six out of 11 in the next generation working in the family business full-time. Aside from those six, two are on the board.

Words I live by: I tell our family members that in jobs like these, you have to look internally for satisfaction. You’re not going to get it externally. If you need your ego stroked, you’re in the wrong business.









Copyright 2013 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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September/October 2013