Swift Communications President Bob Brown set to retire with sale of newspaper company
Longtime company executive is a former Summit Daily News publisher
EAGLE — Bob Brown probably will never hit 100 ski days in a season, but he might hit 50 again sometime soon. He’ll have the time.
Brown is the former publisher of the Summit Daily News and Vail Daily and the current president and chief operating officer of Swift Communications. That changes Jan. 1.
After helping lead the sale of Swift Communications’ print publications to Ogden Newspapers, Brown is retiring. Until then, he’s on the move from one meeting to the next, then to the next.
Brown arrived in the High Country on Oct. 1, 1993. Swift Newspapers had just purchased the Summit Daily and Vail Daily. Brown was working for Swift and said then-CEO Dick Larson presented him with a couple of opportunities: Start a new paper in Brown’s native Fort Collins or come to Vail to run the daily papers in Eagle and Summit counties.
With his family just a short drive away, Brown and his wife, Lori, decided on the mountain life and have been here ever since.
‘What a dream’
“Having the ability to do something you love and be in Eagle County — what a dream,” he said.
Coming to Vail meant Brown had a chance to get reacquainted with the resort and the community. Growing up in Fort Collins, the Browns often came to Vail on family ski weekends.
Swift Newspapers started in 1975 with newspapers in Nevada and Oregon. The company bought the Greeley Tribune in 1977, the firm’s first purchase in Colorado.
Those years, the 1970s into the 1990s, were a kind of heyday for newspapers, Brown said. The group’s business success provided the capital for new ventures and acquisitions. Swift soon owned newspapers in Vail, Aspen, Summit County, Grand County and Garfield County. Future expansion came with the purchase of the Park Record in Park City, Utah.
Other weekly and specialized publications were brought into the company over the years.
Locally, Brown shepherded the construction of the Vail Daily building in EagleVail and, in 2001, the completion of what was then a state-of-the-art printing and prepress facility in Gypsum.
When that facility opened, industry people from across Colorado came to the ribbon-cutting. One executive noted at the time, “You don’t see facilities like this open very often.”
Free daily papers?
But there was plenty of skepticism about Swift’s big move into the business of free newspapers.
“People thought we were crazy,” Brown said. But he added that it was Vail Daily founder Jim Pavelich and Dave Danforth’s Aspen Daily News that showed the way for the free-distribution model.
Brown said Pavelich laid a “really good foundation” for the paper’s future success.
Pavelich said Brown took that foundation and did a lot with it.
“He’s a builder,” Pavelich said, pointing to the EagleVail office and Gypsum printing plant.
“He always seemed to be the point man,” for Swift initiatives, Pavelich said.
Brown was given more company responsibilities over the years, but home base was always in Eagle County. With three kids in local schools and a host of friends, the valley kept him rooted.
Then there was Lori. Having grown up in the newspaper business, she’d spent her youth moving from place to place.
Talking one day, Lori said to her husband, “It’s the first time in my life I feel like I have put down roots in a community.”
The feeling was mutual, so the Browns stuck around, to the company’s and community’s benefit. Brown was one of the early board members for the Youth Foundation, which has become YouthPower365, and has been involved in supporting local Rotary Club chapters, and starting new ones, including a Hispanic chapter in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’s been involved in a number of other community projects, many of which involve the valley’s kids.
“Those types of efforts are very rewarding,” Brown said.
Running hard — for now
Even in the short weeks following the sale of the Swift’s papers to Ogden, Brown is setting his usual rapid pace. And he’s proud of what the company has accomplished under his leadership. In Vail, that includes encouraging a philosophy that the paper has not one but three audiences: locals, visitors and second-home owners.
That’s paid off in readership. Brown noted that the Summit Daily, Vail Daily, Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Aspen Times all have readership levels of between 80% and 93% in their markets.
“That’s our community voting that they appreciate the work we do,” he said.
Brown called his retirement — about two years sooner than he’d long planned — “bittersweet.”
“We leave with one of the best reputations in the industry,” he said. And he’s happy that the papers have been purchased by Ogden, another family-run company.
Still, he’s looking forward to life slowing down a bit. Brown has set up the framework of a consulting business and Questor, the commercial real estate venture that Swift Communications set up in the wake of the sale of the publications to Ogden. And there are those grandkids for him and Lori to cherish.
There may also be a bit more time on the mountain, the reason he and Lori came.
When the Vail Daily was in the old Crossroads building in Vail, Brown said he could get up on the mountain 50 or 60 days each season.
“Wouldn’t it be great to get to 50 days again?” he said.
This story is from VailDaily.com.
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