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Editors Notebook: It’s time to spread holiday cheer, spiced up with a bit of job insecurity

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Peter Osborne
Editor

Back around March 1992, as a banking reporter at The News Journal, I was assigned to go interview the head of human resources at DuPont. During the conversation, which was ultimately about impending downsizings, he made a shocking statement that was something along the lines of “DuPont can no longer afford to be paternalistic.”

I know this was shocking as I think about it 25 years later because the editors ““ all of whom were longtime members of the community and that newsroom ““ put the quote in huge, bold headlines atop the front page.

Years later, as the co-head of MBNA’s collegiate credit-card sector, I recall sitting with dozens of my friends waiting for the ax to fall as Bank of America moved forward realizing the “synergies” it promised following its purchase of the bank. I recall telling them the DuPont story as we reminisced about the paternalism of MBNA and how we were treated during our years there. That treatment parenthetically included the arrival of a couple of executives at my father’s funeral in Buffalo, learning that the company had quietly paid many of the expenses, and then finding that my story was not unusual. It was just the way Charlie Cawley did things.

I hadn’t thought about either of those two things for years until the news hit my inbox last week that DuPont’s Nutrition & Biosciences unit was merging with IFF in a $26 billion deal. My first thoughts went to the 650 Delawareans who work here. DuPont has been understandably tight-lipped about what the impact on local jobs will be before and after the deal closes during the first quarter of 2021, beyond saying there will be synergies and a search for the best talent within the two companies. There’s no good time to make an announcement like this, but the holiday season is a particularly tough time to leave someone wondering about job security.

But on the other hand, this does give the team time to think about their next steps. Do they feel safe? Will they dust off their resumes and see what’s out there? I keep thinking back to our Family-Owned Business Awards dinner when Ben duPont told the audience that the company’s legacy may no longer be gunpowder or chemicals but could be the number of new companies that have been formed since the early ’90s when the layoffs first started. Who knows what may come from the new announcement as employees consider whether now is the time to become their own boss and avoid the uncertainty that comes these days with being a part of corporate America? I wish them all less angst than many of us felt.

PEOPLE TO WATCH

A month or two ago, we asked our readers to nominate people for our annual People to Watch section at the end of the year. In previous years, this was a more insular exercise where the staff got together in our conference room and threw out names. But this year ““ as we’ve done with other awards like the Eight Over 80 ““ we added community input because there are just so many good things going on in this state.

I was somewhat surprised that we received more than 100 nominations for what turned out to be 29 profiles and that there were easily 50 or 60 that could have made the list that starts on page 7. For context, I had a similar problem with the Eight Over 80 nominations and made the point at the time that I could have easily done a Fifty Over 80. Wives nominated husbands (and vice versa) and there were a few cases where it was obvious that someone had asked employees to nominate the boss, but for the most part we saw a lot of business leaders introducing us to interesting people.

Lists like these always generate “feedback” from the community, and I expect the same here. You try to build a diverse list and set a few stories aside for future use. But the other part of the decision is trying to find good stories about people you might not know. You’ll see some familiar faces, but we also have a couple of high-school students whose stories are frankly jaw-dropping. As my photographer son Max said as we walked out of the Gene Editing Institute after meeting with 16-year-old Rohan Kanchana: “Thanks, Dad, for making me feel really dumb.” I told him I had had the same thought.

Before I took this job, I felt that some local news outlets had deserted business-news coverage in favor of click bait and negative coverage. The level of hostility toward our statewide daily has frankly made me sad. But I hope you feel that we’re finding interesting news and publishing it with a pro-business tone. We’re growing and we’re looking to be the first place you go for Delaware business news (data, context, resources, and breaking stories) in 2020.

For my PR friends, I welcome your pitches but please consider whether you’d want to read your story ideas if you weren’t being paid to suggest them.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and has a chance to recharge for the exciting year ahead and to think about ways you can drive your business forward.

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