As publisher of...
the Midlands Business Journal, the regional weekly business newspaper he founded in 1975, Robert Gregg "Bob" Hoig has become a well-known figure in the community who’s been lauded repeatedly for his professional and civic accomplishments. In the last five years alone, Hoig was inducted into the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Business Hall of Fame, selected as the Omahan of the Year by the Suburban Rotary Club of Omaha, and doubly honored by the Omaha Press Club as part of the first father-daughter "Faces on the Barroom Floor" (with Andee Hoig, publisher of metroQuarterly) and by being inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
As he approaches his 85th birthday in September, Hoig can reflect on a remarkable life. But what’s most remarkable now for him is life. After a heart attack, several strokes and a bout with pneumonia earlier this year, his prognosis was grim. His heartbroken family was making hospice arrangements and preparing themselves for the painful task of planning memorial services in the midst of their grief.
But Hoig surprised everyone. Instead of mourning the end of his life, the family is delighted to be supporting him as he makes an incredible and unexpected recovery.
"To me, he’s come back to life," Andee Hoig said. "That he’s still here and doing great is amazing."
It’s not the first time Hoig has amazed the people around him. It’s not even the first time he’s beaten the odds medically. When Hoig was two years old and critically ill, his grandparents—who were raising him at the time—were told "flat-out that my chances were one in a thousand," he said.
But "It was a bit of luck having the grandparents I had," Hoig said. "Granddad worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad." What sounds like a minor biographical fact was actually an extremely fortunate situation: Hoig’s grandfather’s employment meant his grandson could be admitted to a particular hospital that just happened to have a physician on staff with the rare expertise needed to treat him. In short, Hoig lost a kidney instead of his life. And he hasn’t slowed down since.
Active at any age
In fact, his current state of recuperation is a testament to the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle. Hoig said he’s glad he quit smoking cold turkey and gave up alcohol—once hallmarks of a newsman—decades ago. He ignored standard retirement age almost two decades ago. He took his first flying lesson when he was 70 years old and bought a Cessna 182 two years later. He took up skiing in his 60s and continued well into his 70s. Hoig swam daily throughout the 1960s and 1970s as he approached middle age, and even taught himself to play the saxophone in his 40s.
"Saxophone playing and swimming had a lot in common for me from the standpoint of getting out of yourself and losing yourself in the moment," he said.
Hoig also loved playing tennis, a sport he began at age 11 and continued into his early 80s. He played competitively for years, winning in several local championships as well the Senior Olympics in the 1980s. Some of his local tennis opponents included esteemed physician Dr. John Sage, television personality Dave Webber and former U.S. Senator Dave Karnes.
His enthusiasm for tennis took him to the U.S. Open on more than one occasion. And whenever Hoig traveled, he took his tennis racquet along in hopes of finding a friendly game of tennis in cities like Munich and London—which he always found, Hoig recalled, although he admitted that many of his opponents wearied of playing against a man "who traveled with his racquet."
Hoig’s wanderlust began as a young twentysomething in the early 1950s when he and a friend hitchhiked across the country on Route 66. In 1983 he headed over to Europe and visited every country. The following year he returned with son Noel to attend the winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He visited Europe 21 more times with current wife Martha in the late 90s and into the 2000s.
"It never occurred to me to place some kind of age restriction on what I could do if I was really interested," he said. "In fact, it was more like a powerful current, where once I got in the current I was just rafted along."
Plenty of derring-do
Being pulled into a current is an apt metaphor for the start of his journalism career, too. Hoig was only 24 in 1957, hoping to make his way in New York City. On his way to a promising job interview with a major airline, something caught his eye.
"I was walking in the 200 block of East 42nd Street. There was this building, this beautiful building with a big globe in the lobby I caught in my peripheral vision," he recalled.
It was the New York Daily News. Hoig had a little college under his belt but no journalism background or even any previous aspirations to be a reporter. At the time, he actually fancied himself to be more of a poet, despite criticism received at age 18 that he recalls to this day: "Your work strikes me as a strange mixture of banking and alchemy."
Something else struck the hiring manager. "I had plenty of derring-do about me, chutzpah. I’d try anything," Hoig said. He managed to get himself hired as a copy boy, and soon worked his way into a promotion.
"It was a very fortuitous way to get started in that business, with that newspaper, because in those days, you had to work your way up internally. So I landed on my feet with that," he said. "Landing such an important newspaper job at that age was wonderful. Other papers in town, they wouldn’t even talk to you."
Over the next two decades, Hoig also wrote for the Miami News, wire service United Press International, the Lincoln Journal and the Omaha World-Herald. He also served as managing editor of Omaha Sun and the Douglas County Gazette.
During much of his tenure as a writer, Hoig served as a crime and corruption reporter. An early highlight was covering a Sheldon, Iowa, banking scandal for UPI that was picked up all over the country. In 1965, Hoig authored a surrender plea carried by UPI that induced 22-year-old bank robber/murderer Duane Earl Pope, a Kansan whose crime was committed in Big Springs, Nebraska, to turn himself in after a nationwide manhunt. In 1971, Hoig was nominated for a Pulitzer for an Omaha World-Herald series about loose security procedures for sexual psychopaths at what was then the Nebraska State Hospital; it led to changes in state law. He also interviewed a host of legendary figures from World War I-era pilot and later Eastern Airlines Chairman Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Everest climber Sir Edmund Hillary to former presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
The gregarious Hoig became acquainted with some interesting everyday people as well.
"Some people, you meet and they seem really screwy. But you get to know them for a while and you listen to their ideas and they become more familiar. And eventually–you discard the ones who are really screwy, and some, they grow on you," he said.
Hoig’s colleagues ranged from brilliant to barely competent. "You get around enough of these kind of people and you just think, ‘I don’t want to let them call the shots for my life.’" By the mid-’70s, "I finally, frankly, just became tired of working for other people."
As a reporter, Hoig had to be independent and self-driven, qualities that suited a latent entrepreneur.
"I always thought I would be sort of a Warren Buffett figure, somebody who would amass different businesses and run them all brilliantly," he said. "It happened that I didn’t have the proper credentials for that kind of thinking. I was much too anxious to not make mistakes, which is not a good habit for an entrepreneur. I soon got rid of that habit, but then just losing that habit doesn’t guarantee you’re going to find a good one."
So although he didn’t aspire to be a mogul, he did see an opportune niche in Omaha media. In 1975, Hoig launched the Midlands Business Journal. The fledgling publication had some serious detractors.
"‘No chance.’ ‘It’s foolish.’" he recalled. A colleague told him, "Within a week you’ll be begging for your job back at the Herald."
"My response was, ‘Just find a way to help me get some advertising and I won’t be back begging for a job from anybody; I’ll be on my own and successful.’"
Even the optimists were hesitant to commit.
"People very quickly offer their support but you find that there can be quite a time lapse between when it’s supposedly going to come and when it actually does," Hoig said. "Anybody who’s ever started their own paper can sympathize with that."
The Midlands Business Journal slowly gained steam and a name for itself.
"I did have the good wishes of a guy who billed himself as a ‘futurist.’ He saw a copy of one of the papers we’d set around the lobby of different hotels and one of them was where he was staying," Hoig said. "And he said, ‘I saw your paper, and to me, that’s the thing of the future.’ It caught the eye of somebody who stood out in his area, and that further spurred me on."
With increasing success, Hoig learned to take risks.
"It’s one of the hallmarks of my definition of an entrepreneur, if you’re willing to try things that hold promise and then abandon them quickly without a lot of tears," he said.
His many successful ventures include adding the Lincoln Business Journal in 1996 and the annual "40 Under 40" awards started in 2002 to honor young businesspeople. Hoig said innovation isn’t always about coming up with something new.
"It’s more a question of being willing to steal something," he said. "You know, I was far from the first ‘40 Under 40’ program in the country."
The early days of MBJ
Kim Davis worked for Hoig as a new college graduate when the Midlands Business Journal was still a relatively young venture.
"I look back fondly on those years," she said. "Bob is remarkable."
Davis recalled her two and a half years at the paper, her very first job before leaving to pursue a master’s degree, as a great learning experience.
"It was hard work, but it was good work, and he set an example for a young person just starting out," she said. "He was supremely ethical in everything, and it taught me the value of hard work. We had to do 10 stories a week, two a day—and those weren’t short stories. And we also had to work on Saturday mornings…You learned a valuable work ethic when you worked for him, and he was right there next to you. It wasn’t as though he was out golfing or something.
"He was very proud of his paper, you could tell he was he had very high expectations for it. Once he began to trust you he didn’t micromanage. But he did review every story."
Davis said Hoig had a distinctive brand of criticism and a "tell it like it is" approach to writing evident when he returned the first draft she submitted to him.
"It was covered in red ink. I made the changes, and after looking at what I had written and what the suggestions had been, it was a way better article when he made the changes to it," she said. "He sat me down and said he didn’t want me to be disappointed; he was very nurturing even then. And he said, ‘Here’s the thing, Kim. A lot of people who read the magazine, they know what the word ameliorate means, but they don’t want to have to think that hard.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I get it. You’re spending a lot of time making it pretty and that’s not what anyone wants.’"
Davis still works in the field of communications today as the vice president of development for the Nebraska Humane Society. Her time at the Midlands Business Journal was in the era of manual typewriters, pre-Internet and email, but she said many of the skills she learned there she still uses today. "I learned to act like a professional."
Champion of small business
Linda Lovgren, president and CEO of Lovgren Marketing Group, has also known Hoig since the early days of the Midlands Business Journal and said she sees his legacy as even larger than being a publisher: local champion of small businesses.
"Bob, through his publication—and personally as well because he’s such an advocate—has given small businesses visibility they might not otherwise have had, and a way to build their brand," she said. "The success of a business is the sum of all the people who have influenced the life of a business, and he certainly has been one of those individuals."
Lovgren isn’t alone in characterizing Hoig as an important catalyst for business development. Cella Quinn, president of Cella Quinn Investment Services, said, "Bob helped small businesses grow by telling us about each other. We didn’t have to leave our businesses to network, we could read the Midlands Business Journal and find other compatible companies with which to exchange ideas and do business."
Quinn also acknowledged that Hoig has been a good newsman above all.
"A good reporter holds a mirror up to society so we can all objectively see ourselves and make changes we deem merited. Whether it was business news or the legal notices in the middle of MBJ, Bob managed to do that," she said. "He did this in a special way because he believed in the adage attributed to an anonymous Texas newspaper editor, ‘A news story should be like a miniskirt on a pretty woman: long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting.’"
Greater Omaha President and CEO David Brown, whose organization has a mission to ensure a thriving business community, praised Hoig for his genuine enthusiasm and unflagging support.
"Bob has a real passion for small business, and I think that was reflected in the path that the MBJ took. There are a lot of different markets it could have covered, but I think he has such a keen interest in seeing small businesses being supported and recognized for the impact that they have on the community, that he decided that the Journal should be focused on that type of topic," he said. "I think Bob’s passion shows up in how the MBJ is written every week."
That passion is even more evident in person, Brown added, like at the annual "40 Under 40" awards.
"He seems to always be in his element at those events because he is surrounded by small-business people. And he loves being around folks that have the same passion for small business that he does," he said. "So whenever I think of Bob, I think of this those moments I saw him at those awards breakfasts, smiling from ear to ear because he’s surrounded by people he respected a lot."
Commitment to community
Hal Daub, another notable Omahan who’s "had the pleasure of knowing Bob and his wife and family before they started their journalistic enterprise," remarked on Hoig’s extraordinary commitment to the business community.
"I’ve known him because I’ve active in local affairs, not just political affairs but community affairs as well as business here. I got to know him and I can tell you that—through my experiences with him before I went to Congress, while I was privileged to be in the House of Representatives, and while I was privileged to be mayor and now as a member of the Board of Regents, and as a practicing lawyer for 50 plus years here in Omaha—Bob Hoig has been the steadfast champion of Omaha and her small business interests," he said. "The family have been great citizens of the community. They’ve been charitable and philanthropic and they spend lots of time encouraging people to get together and do good for our community. They’re not only great citizens of Omaha and our state, but they’re very patriotic and really believe in America and free enterprise, and I think that’s what Bob teaches, mostly, that free enterprise is the cure for all the ills of life."
Daub also said Hoig has made the Midlands Business Journal is a blend of edifying and interesting.
"If you stop to think about it, every small business is affected or afflicted by city, county, state and federal government and the bureaucracy of regulations and licensing. So when you can pick up the Midlands Business Journal, you get stories of small business, you get all new corporate filings going on in Douglas County, and you get some flavor of the philosophical/political things that are going on," he said. "You’ve got a perfect half an hour to an hour of wonderful learning experience every time the Midlands Business Journal hits your in box."
Businessman, visionary, friend
Like Daub, John Bothof (president of Northwest Bank) said he considers Hoig a friend as much as someone to be admired.
"Bob is a historian and passionate about his country and his business. Bob is a friend, a visionary, a risk-taker and a great businessman. Businesses of Omaha and all of Nebraska have a great asset in the MBJ and most importantly, Bob Hoig," he said. "Bob has had a huge impact on small business with the introduction of the Midlands Business Journal. Bob stepped out and, like other small businesses and entrepreneurs, risked his professional reputation and personal finances for what would become the Friday business paper that we all wait to be delivered. If you want to know what is happening in Omaha in business, business expansion, new technology or who is doing what, you read the Midlands Business Journal."
Bothof said his company’s relationship with the Midlands Business Journal has been beneficial.
"The MBJ provides a medium to tell your businesses story. Many businesses subscribe to the MBJ and it has been a good method for Northwest Bank to open doors to new opportunities," he explained. "Several years ago, we decided to join with Bob for the introduction of the "40 Under 40" event. This event recognizes 40 people under 40 years of age on their business or professional success. We thought it was an excellent opportunity for a new start-up bank to invest in recognizing the future leaders of our community. The "40 Under 40" event moved our brand to new heights."
He also noted Hoig’s boldness. "If the stories of businesses in the MBJ doesn’t take all of your idle time, you have to read Bob’s editorials and get a common-sense approach to issues facing business, our country, and the political environment, to name a few."
Hoig has made friends everywhere he goes. Restauranteur Leo Fascianella of Pasta Amore said Hoig has been a patron since 1986.
"I’ve known Bob since day one when I opened the restaurant. He’s always been an inspiration to me and encouraged me about the business and told me how wonderful I was doing," Fascianella said. "He’s a beautiful person to talk to and such a nice man. I feel like I’m part of his life, I’ve known him for so long. He’s very encouraging, very supportive of small business in Omaha. He’s such a great person."
Flying, family and future
Fascianella also mentioned Hoig’s love for flying small aircraft, a pastime he’s had to regretfully step away from.
"That’s the most devastating thing about this…when you have to give up something you just so truly love," Hoig said. "It took me such a small amount of time to build a thousand hours. Flying gets in your system. It gives you a certain push to your life to just know you’ve got the keys in your pocket to simply at any time go to Eppley, cart off the plane and you’re off into the wild blue."
Stepping out of the cockpit is just one hard adjustment forced by age, and as Hoig recovers, his plans for the future are still in flux. But he said he’s developed a renewed sense of gratitude for his loved ones.
"The joys of family, and the understanding of how family can rally around you and it really means something, not just a cliché. That’s probably the most significant truth of my life right now," he said.
Taking stock of his family, Hoig said he’s glad to have a friendly relationship with ex-wife Mary Lou, the mother of his children. He’s happy in his current marriage to Martha. And he’s especially proud of who his three adult children (Oliver, Andee and Noel) have become.
"That’s one of the real satisfactions of life, once you’ve seen the path that you chose is the one that is right, and they’re all in their own separate careers—with some small help from you in choosing the right thing at the right time for them," he said.
And looking back at his 85 years, Hoig said he doesn’t want people to know him as just a publisher.
"Good father in an odd way. Pilot in a good way. Skiier in an unusual way," he said.
A remarkable life. Still aiming higher.
"The joys of family, and the understanding of how family can rally around you and it really means something, not just a cliché. That’s probably the most significant truth of my life right now."
~ BOB HOIG
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