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B.C. Forbes: Media Dynasty Founder

Bertie Charles (B.C.) Forbes was born on May 14, 1880, in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, to Agnes (Moir) and Robert Forbes, a storekeeper and tailor. According to family tradition, Forbes was descended from the Lords of Pitsligo, whose titles and property were stripped due to Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, being cavalry commander for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.

 

As the sixth of ten children in a working-class family, Bertie learned the value of hard work early.  At nine years old, he herded cattle and shined shoes. By the age of 13 he had taught himself shorthand and at 14 he became an apprentice for the Dundee Courier. B.C. attended night classes at the University College of Dundee, which was incorporated into the University of St. Andrews in 1897.


In 1901, at the age of 21, he went to South Africa to cover the Boer War and in 1902 landed a job at the Natal Mercury. That year, he started the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg with the relatively novel additions of illustrations, cartoons, and entertainment features. B.C. ventured to New York City in 1904 to work for the Journal of Commerce and rose quickly. Due to B.C.'s increasing access to the rich and powerful, W. R. Hearst hired him in 1911 as a business and financial columnist and editor for the New York American. In 1915, B.C. married Adelaide Stevenson, with whom he had five boys: Bruce, Malcolm, Duncan (died at 16 in a car driven by brother Bruce), Gordon, and Wallace.

In 1917, B.C. became an American citizen and published first book Men Who are Making America. Based on the success of this book, he and his partner Walter Drey, the general manager of the Magazine of Wall Street, started a bimonthly magazine originally planned to be called “Doers and Doings” but eventually called simply Forbes. B.C. provided the money and Drey provided the publishing expertise. Drey became vice-president of the B.C. Forbes Publishing Company, while B.C. became editor-in-chief, a post he held until his death in 1954. B.C. Forbes was assisted in his later years by his two eldest sons, Bruce Charles Forbes (1916–1964) and Malcolm Stevenson Forbes (1917–1990).

B.C.’s approach to financial reporting was unique at the time by featuring the people behind the businesses. He stated that “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.”

 

B.C. remained editor-in-chief until his death of a heart attack in New York City in 1954. He was originally buried with his wife in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Tenafly, New Jersey, but he was disinterred and reinterred in the New Deer Churchyard in Aberdeenshire, with his maternal grandparents. The main grave inscription reads: “In memory of JAMES MOIR, Blacksmith, Federate, Born 2 Feb 1817, died 6th Feb 1890; and of his wife AGNES DUNCAN who died at The Firs, Ellon on 28th March 1899 in her 82nd year.” The front of the base includes the inscription: “Also their grandson BERTIE CHARLES FORBES, founder of the Forbes Magazine, Born Whitehill 14th May 1880, Died New York 6th May 1954.”

After B.C. died, his son Bruce took over the business. On Bruce’s death in 1964, his son Malcolm became President and Chief executive of Forbes and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes magazine. Malcolm died in 1990 and his son Malcolm Stevenson "Steve" Forbes Jr. became the Editor-in-Chief. After two major purchase of the business in 2009 and 2014, Steve Forbes and other members of the Forbes family still have about a 5% stake in the company, which is reputed to be worth about $400 million.