So, Tom Yunt, what is it you do? I am currently through the end of (March) COO of United Communications Corporation. Up until recently, UCC owned newspapers and television stations in Wisconsin.
When I first took the job, we also had newspapers in South Dakota and Massachusetts, and TV stations in New York and Minnesota. This was my first experience in television. I already had had experience in radio, newspapers and magazines, and agencies. It was a really fun experience.
So what’s next for Tom Yunt? My future plans? My future plan is I am retiring April 1, and concluding an almost 42-year career in newspapers. I plan to spend a lot of time at our river cottage in southwestern Wisconsin. I was an art student in school so I’ll be getting back into that, too. But I’m not going to get too far out the fold. I’ve been approached to sit on the boards of a couple of businesses, and I may do some consulting.
Four decades! Just how did you get into the newspaper business in the first place?
I was an arts student until my junior year at Western Kentucky (University). I was the first in my family to go to college. My father was a letter carrier, and one day when I was home on break he said, and I quote, “What does one do with an art degree?” The following week I was in painting class, and I was looking to my right and my left, and I thought, you know, I’m creative—but am I really good enough to make a living on this? So I changed my major and got a degree in mass communications with an emphasis on advertising.
A professor, Carolyn Stringer, suggested I join the College Heights Herald, which is the campus newspaper. I had a creative background and love talking to people, and thought, this advertising thing is working. That got me an interview with people in Brentwood, Kentucky, then I went on to The Tennessean and Gannett.
You served in top management roles at three of the more prominent family-owned companies, Wick Communications, Woodward Communications and of course UCC. And early in your career you had management positions at the quintessential publicly traded newspaper company, Gannett. What observations about these different ownership models have you made along the way? Most of those 42 years have been with family-owned companies. But with Gannett I learned the value of training, and the value of networking. I got exceptional training at Gannett, and made an exceptional number of networks. Both have served me well for 42 years.
You have a lot more autonomy with family-owned companies, which allows you to make decisions quicker than under a (publicly traded) corporation. At the family companies, I learned to understand what good corporate culture looks like, especially at Woodward. A big influence for me on this was Mal Applegate. I had the privilege of working for him at the Lafayette, Indiana (Journal & Courier), and at The Indianapolis Star and The News when he was the GM. He was an awesome mentor. Not only was he a mentor to me, he showed me how to be a mentor to others.
After your career in newspapers, how do you see their future? You can pretty much just read the headlines. There will be continued and accelerated concentrations, and mergers and acquisitions. Ultimately, you could see two or three very large newspaper companies with a handful of smaller regional players. They will all be trying to maximize the digital opportunities that media have been learning to deal with the disruption of the internet. I think you’ll see fewer dailies, and more newspapers going to weekly or three- to five-day publication cycles. There will remain a place and opportunity for newspapers, in particular for their core competency of focusing on local, local, local.
You’ve taken an active role in Inland to say the least: A board member for years, president of the foundation, association president during the 2017-2018 term, and currently chairman. What is it about Inland that led you to devote so much of your time and talent to it? Mal Applegate (a former association president) really got me involved. I’ve really had a love affair with the Inland organization. First and foremost, it’s a wonderful networking organization, a very friendly organization. Some of my best friendships, whether socially or in business, started in Inland. I mentioned the importance of training. I did a lot of training for Inland over the last 25 years, and that gave me an opportunity to give back. Inland is almost like a family. Anytime I have to call someone with a problem, a challenge or an idea, the network was always there for me.
It was a real pleasure to go through the board and be president and now chairman. Inland has been as big a part of my (career). I’ve gotten more from Inland than I could have ever given Inland.