- Whether he was conducting one of his famous international balloons-and-bikes Friendship Trips in China, Japan, Europe, Sturgis or just attending a weekend poker run with friends, Forbes attracted the media and delivered a motorcyclist’s message.
- Although Forbes started riding motorcycles late in life at the age of 48, by 1971 he had a collection of 13 motorcycles which grew to over 70 (mostly Harley Davidsons) by 1985.
This week, as I was going through my collection of more than 200 back issues of motorcycle magazines, I came across Malcolm Forbes who inspired my passion for motorcycling and was voted Motorcyclist of the Year in the December 1987 issue of Motorcyclist magazine. Writing about him, the magazine said “There hasn’t been another motorcyclist who has had such a positive impact on the sport in the time that Motorcyclist has been naming Motorcyclist of the Year. The 68-year-old billionaire, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine seems to be conducting a one-man campaign to promote motorcycling.”
Whether he was conducting one of his famous international balloons-and-bikes Friendship Trips in China, Japan, Europe, Sturgis or just attending a weekend poker run with friends, Forbes attracted the media and delivered a motorcyclist’s message.
Although Forbes started riding motorcycles late in life at the age of 48, by 1971 he had a collection of 13 motorcycles which grew to over 70 (mostly Harley Davidsons) by 1985. He would invite friends and wealthy businessmen for long rides on his large selection of motorcycles. Forbes was a passionate motorcyclist who thrived on an open road, a powerful motorcycle, and a group of friends to share the experience. “I still say the most beautiful sight, the most spectacular scenery, is a road with no cars in front of you,” he remarked after a ride through Yellowstone Park.
But there was more to Malcolm Forbes than just motorcycling. He was a publisher, entrepreneur and businessperson who lived a lavish lifestyle which was part of his business strategy.
Born on August 19, 1919, as the third child of wealthy Scottish immigrants who owned Forbes magazine, Malcolm graduated from Princeton University in 1941 with a degree in political science.
From his early years, Malcolm had a lot of interest in journalism, founding his first publication when he was eight years old. At the age of 13, he had started his own printing line. He used it to print magazines for the family and schools. Most of his holidays were spent at his father’s office. Soon after his graduation, he inherited a weekly newspaper, Fairfield Times, from his father becoming the owner and publisher.
At the age of 22, he was drafted into the US army and fought in World War II in France, Germany, Belgium, and Holland.
After the war, Malcolm joined the family business, which was then being managed by his elder brother, Bruce.
Barely surviving the Depression, the magazine had limped along during the 1930s and the war years, overshadowed by its competitors. Content was mostly made up of traditional freelance material of uneven quality, fitting into the mould that had been established over the years.
Following his father’s death in 1954, Malcolm became editor-in-chief. It was only after his brother’s death from cancer in 1964 that Malcolm took full control as president.
He understood that in order for the magazine to survive, he had to steer out of the traditional mould and introduce new ideas. Under his leadership, the magazine publication grew steadily, and its circulation increased from 100,000 to 720,000 within a short time.
Malcolm knew that the first task of successful branding was to create a distinct, first-rate product and he immediately embarked on upgrading the magazine’s editorial content to address their target market. He would have been right at home in the modern era of social media where the internet commoditises everything and unless you have a distinct product or service, your company will wither.
James Michael was hired as the editor-in-chief and he developed a well-earned reputation for hard-hitting stories that evaluated companies the way perceptive critics reviewed stage plays. What made these pieces ring true was the growing sophistication in digging into corporate balance sheets in a way no other publication could. Malcolm gave James free reign in running the show while he concentrated on promoting the brand.
The publishing billionaire lived a lavish lifestyle dabbling in adventure, sport, and art collections. He had a mansion in London, a chateau in Normandy, France, an island in Fiji called Lauthala, one of the biggest and most valuable collections of Faberge eggs, a Boeing 727 trijet, a monstrous luxury yacht, Highlander, a massive art collection, custom-made air balloons, and a stable full of motorcycles. It was during his last birthday party in 1989 that he flew his 800 celebrity guests to his palace in Tangiers, Morocco where it is said he spent more than $ 2 million.
Malcolm had a cunning sense of business and through his lavish lifestyle, he coerced the rich and famous to support his business thereby edging out his competitors, establishing Forbes magazine as a benchmark international brand.
This week Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have been all the rage in the media following an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey which raised issues of racism at Buckingham Palace.
0The couple left the royal household last year, settling in Canada and more recently in the United States. They broke out of the traditional mould and Buckingham Palace has been forced to issue a statement saying that the claims are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family.
In Kenya, our mould is infused with the undesirable elements of corruption, dishonesty, and indiscipline. Far too many of us are comfortable fitting into that mould and thus perpetuating these undesirable traits. Let us be the change that we desire, even at the risk of standing out as non-conformists.
In the meantime, while I certainly cannot afford the lavish lifestyle of Malcolm Forbes, I will continue to advocate for change and continue riding to exotic destinations in our beautiful country, hopefully until I am way past seventy! My collection of motorcycles stands at four, for now, three of which are 41 years old while the fourth one is only 14 years old.