A Vision Becomes a 150 Year Reality
John Fairfax is a great example of a man whose vision became reality. John Fairfax was my great great grandfather, who started the family media company. The newspaper John Fairfax bought in 1841, the Sydney Morning Herald, was to grow into a media company that had newspapers, television stations, radio stations, magazines and newsprint mills. The company he founded was to stay in family control for close to 150 years and become one of the dominant influential media companies in Australia.
What were the keys to John Fairfax’s vision booming reality? John Fairfax’s vision had its start back in England in 1836 when a local lawyer sued the newspaper, the Leamington Chronicle that John Fairfax had started, for an article the paper had written about the lawyer. Twice the lawyer sued. Each time the court ruled in favor of the paper. But the court costs bankrupted John Fairfax. Out of this crucible experience, John Fairfax decided to leave England and take his family to Australia, a voyage at the time that could last from four to nine months.
John Fairfax’s vision was clear. His paper, which would be the Sydney Morning Herald, "would be without fear to express opinion, it would be without the reproach of self-interest, sworn to no master and free from the narrow channels of sectarianism.” It would not be a partisan newspaper, in an age when many newspapers were partisan. The Sydney Morning Herald’s motto, even before John Fairfax bought it, fit John Fairfax’s philosophy, “In moderation placing all my glory, while Tories call me Whig - and Whigs a Tory.” In modern parlance, this means while Conservatives call me Liberal and Liberals call me Conservative.
"You Will Win and I Will Win"
While John Fairfax’s vision for his newspaper was clear, and seemed to be influenced by his crucible experience, John critically had a strong support team. John’s wife Sarah was a woman of great faith. On their way to Australia, the ship that they were on passed the west coast of Australia, which to John looked like a barren forbidding land. John’s heart sank. He had brought his young family all the way to Australia to this. Somehow Sarah from below deck sensed the despondency in John’s heart and came up on deck. Sarah told him not to worry about her and the children. Sarah told him, “I do not worry about you; I know what you can do, and it is much. I know your strength of purpose, your sound, vigorous brain and your sense of honour. You are well armed, John, for any fray, and you will win and I will win, not only success, but content and great happiness.” What amazing encouragement!
John also had a partner that co-labored with him in the newspaper, Charles Kemp. While John Fairfax handled the business side, Charles Kemp would handle the reporting side, and they would together decide on the newspaper’s editorials. In the years to come, Charles Kemp retired and sold his share to John Fairfax. John had his sons working with him at the newspaper. John Fairfax also had the support of his church, where he was a deacon, the equivalent of an elder in other churches. The elders of his church actually helped raise some money to help buy the Sydney Morning Herald.
Refine, Define, Vision, Reality
John Fairfax faced a number of challenges in making his vision become reality. In a sense John’s vision was borne out of the crucible of losing his paper in England. John knew he was a good newspaperman. He was passionate about the kind of hard charging but impartial newspaper he would create. He had a great support team in his wife and family, as well as with the fellow elders at his church, and he had great co-laborers in Charles Kemp and later in his sons. A combination of great passion for the vision he had for his newspaper, being wired for the role he would play, great family support and capable colleagues, and his strong faith, helped John persevere and make his vision become reality.
How does John Fairfax illustrate someone with a clear vision?
Do you have a support team like John Fairfax?