Bob Brown looks ahead to a slower pace
Longtime company executive and former Vail Daily publisher gets ready to retire
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 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, though, 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 Vail Daily and Summit Daily News. Brown was working for Swift, and said then-CEO Dick Larson presented him with a couple of opportunities: Either starting a new paper in Brown’s native Fort Collins, or coming 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, 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.
He still gets calls
Through it all, Brown has been known to many as the person to call about the Vail Daily, even after he was no longer involved in the paper’s day-to-day operations. He’ll probably get those calls for some time.
Having held a number of jobs in his younger days, Brown said there’s a big difference between helping one customer and helping an entire community.
Asked about his favorite off-hours accomplishment, the answer comes quickly: his family. Daughter Britney and her husband now own the Novus Auto Glass franchise, and are parents to two daughters, with a third child due in 2022.
Bob and Lori get to see the grandkids every day.
Son Cameron is in Denver, and youngest son Cody is working in the valley.
Brown leaves a solid legacy at the Vail Daily, with both his personal and professional style.
Former Vail Daily Editor and Publisher Don Rogers quickly developed a close relationship with Brown.
“The first time I met Bob in person, I waited in the lobby at the Vail Daily, in my new suit and tie,” Rogers wrote in an email. “He walked out in blue jeans and cowboy boots, and looked me over. ‘Might want to do something about that,’ he said, looking at my tie. The diner where we were headed for breakfast, the old Route 6, was known at the time for cutting those.”
Rogers recalls Brown as a “great partner” when Rogers was the editor, and then a “patient mentor” when Rogers was elevated to the publisher’s role.
Rogers wrote that he “loved” working for and with Brown.
“He always, always asked great questions, sometimes to learn how much I knew or didn’t know about something,” Rogers wrote. “He was ready and willing to learn as much as he was willing to teach.”
Brown and Rogers talked often about life, sports, their families along with solving the paper’s business challenges.
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 News, Vail Daily, Glenwood 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.
Pavelich, Brown’s predecessor at the Daily, remains an avid skier. Brown noted that Pavelich didn’t get quite to 100 days last season due to an injury. He skinned up the hill a couple more times to get his ski days into triple digits.
Brown doubts he’ll see that heady number of ski days. But, he said, “Wouldn’t it be great to get to 50 days again?”