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"I let the editors at each publication do what was important. I had good editors with Bill Thomas and Garry Gilbert," Shepherd said. "I let them do what they do best, and didn't interfere with what they did in the editorial process. I think they did a good job. I spent most of my time bringing in other papers and working on sales.
"The heart of a paper is editorial, and the life is the revenue, so I spent most of my time shoveling money in the front door."
When Shepherd purchased The Oakland Press in 1997, he said the paper was making about $10 million a year. By the time he sold it in 2004, he said he increased profits to about $18 million. The Lapeer paper was making about $4 million a year in profits.
"When I bought The Oakland Press, they only covered about half the county," he said about the paper's sales and circulation. "My first quote when I was interviewed was, 'I didn't buy half the county. We are going to expand into the whole county.' And I did that to get (sales) away from the Free Press and News.
"We were extremely successful in covering newspaper racks. Then we went after some of their editorial space and went after major accounts."
Shepherd said he increased profits by centralizing operations and sharing services among the papers. Printing became centralized in Lapeer, and two months after the purchase, he formed The Greater Detroit Newspaper Network. Operating as a separate business, the company focused on bringing in major national and regional advertising accounts, which brought in about $45 million in revenues each year in national accounts. Of that, he said about 70 percent of the revenue came from preprint ads, or inserts.
"The Oakland Press was the maraschino cherry on the sundae that drew the major accounts. It was the fifth largest daily in the state, and that got us in the door. Once we got in the door, we opened up our coat and there were all these other publications that would sell at a very low rate," he said. "That was our trick. It wasn't brain surgery."
While Shepherd said he hadn't considered selling 21st Century before 2003, Thomas said he believes his enthusiasm for owning the papers began to wane prior to then.
"He announced he was going to sell, and that took the wind out of everyone's sails. Then he came back and said he wasn't going to sell, so the staff that was excited got disenchanted," Thomas said. "Then, in fact, he did sell. So, the initial enthusiasm Frank (Shepherd) brought to it, in terms of staff, waned pretty quickly."...continued on page 12