The Loomis era

A note on the retirement of a business-press legend

Carol Loomis’ extraordinary career is being celebrated around the media world on word of her retirement after 60 (that’s six-oh) years at Fortune. As many, including the magazine’s managing editor, Andrew Serwer, have noted, people just don’t work at the same place for that long, or even a sixth that long, very much anymore.

Her career, starting in 1954 as a reporter researcher (then a women’s role; Fortune writers and editors at the time were virtually all men) and ending in 2014, spans almost the entirety of the postwar heyday of industrial-era journalism.

But Loomis’ place in journalism history is assured much less for her longevity than for her acuity, her fluency in translating business complexity for a mass audience, the obvious sense of decency and fair play that comes through in her work, and for her well-known tough-mindedness. She made into something of a specialty the art of calling powerful CEOs on the carpet, with, as I noted in my business-press-financial crisis book, a subspecialty of calling out earnings manipulation and other accounting shenanigans (e.g.: “ITT’s Disaster in Hartford,” May 1975; “Behind the Profits Glow at Aetna, November 1982). Her takedown of Carly Fiorina’s disastrous stewardship of Hewlett-Packard (February 2004) is the stuff of business-press legend.

A fine memoir piece the next year, “My 51 years (and counting) at Fortune,” is a well worth reading today. She recalls, for instance, how American Express chief James Robinson, the archetype of 1980s imperial CEO, once tried to pressure her to soften her findings, insisting she didn’t understand business or finance. The tactic didn’t work. “The problem was that I did understand how American business was being conducted,” she wrote, “and I didn’t like it.”

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.