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Dave Olson, Published December 27 2013

Lasting legacy: Retiring Forum executive instrumental in growth of company

FARGO - Lloyd Case was chief financial officer at Northern Waterworks in Fargo in 1982 when he opened The Forum’s classified ad section one day and noticed that the newspaper was looking for a controller.

He applied for the job and got it.

Thirty-one years later, Case still has an office at The Forum.

But his deep connection to what in 1982 was the Forum Publishing Co. and today is Forum Communications Co. is changing.

Case retires Tuesday from his dual role as president and CEO of Forum Communications, though he will keep a seat on the board of directors and handle special projects for the company.

As president and CEO, Case has been responsible for nine daily and more than 20 community newspapers across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

He also oversees:

A radio station and a TV station in Fargo and TV stations in Bismarck, Minot and Grand Forks; commercial printing operations in Fargo and Duluth, Red Wing and Detroit Lakes, Minn.; and Forum Communication’s Interactive Digital Media Division in Fargo.

Career highs

The walls of Case’s office showcase photographs of the properties Forum Communications owns.

The images are not so much trophies as they are reminders of the good things the acquisitions did for the company and its employees, said Case, who views his involvement in the acquisition process as a highlight of his career.

Case said the company’s expansion began in earnest in 1985, shortly after the family of Bill Marcil Sr. and his wife, Jane, bought out other shareholders in the family-owned Forum Publishing Co., which became Forum Communications Co. in 1992.

Early deals involved newspapers in Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids in Minnesota.

The buying continued through the 1990s and early 2000s, a period Case describes as a golden era for newspapers.

“The return on the investment was great,” said Case, adding that while the companies purchases were profitable, that profitability usually meant the properties could command a healthy price.

Still, times were good, and Case said a kind of momentum began building once the buying started.

“When we started purchasing newspapers, we always had to borrow money,” Case said, adding that as properties were acquired, cash flow went up, making additional borrowing easier.

“That inevitably took us forward,” Case said.

Then came 2008 and the global recession.

Case said the period was marked by some dark days, as the company instituted layoffs and other austerity measures to deal with economic realities.

As bad as that time was, Case said the conservative approach the company and the Marcil family consistently employed when doing business allowed Forum Communications to weather the storm.

“When we purchased newspapers and we borrowed money, we always knew the ratios we wanted to stay within,” Case said.

He said that wasn’t the situation with some newspapers in the country, which took on heavy debt to fund acquisition efforts.

“They expanded too rapidly and when the recession hit, they could not pay it (the debt) back,” Case said. “I don’t blame the industry. I blame the management of those operations.’’

‘A public trust’

Over the course of his career, Case has been involved in various professional and nonprofit organizations on the national and regional level.

Those activities include a stint as president of the Inland Press Association, and Case now serves as chairman of the group’s board of directors.

“I get to visit with a lot of newspaper groups, and the Marcil family and Forum Communications is respected as much as any in the country and looked at as a leader,” said Case, who added that he’s proud to be part of a company that plays an important civic role in the communities it serves.

“Bill Marcil (Sr.) taught me early on that these newspapers were a public trust,” Case said. “Never mind the fact that they were profitable. That was good. That meant you could take care of your newspapers properly and have the right people involved.

“But I don’t think we ever forgot that it was the community’s newspaper,” Case said. “All media serves a role, there’s no question about that, but the newspaper business has always been the leader in the community.”

Bill Marcil Sr., who hired Case in 1982, said he’s proud of the professional and personal relationship the two have developed over three decades.

“We were a great team,” said Marcil, chairman of Forum Communications Co. and former publisher of The Forum.

Describing Case as an important part of Forum Communications for more than 30 years, Marcil said he played a vital role in the growth of the company and his steady management style created a professional relationship with the management team.

“His positive attitude has been an important key to our success,” Marcil added.

Bill Marcil Jr., who now takes over as president of Forum Communications Co. and remains publisher of The Forum, said Case’s contribution to the company cannot be overstated.

“Lloyd Case’s impact on FCC goes beyond the 30-some properties that were purchased under his tenure. It goes beyond the newspapers, TV, radio, digital and printing,” Marcil said.

“It goes beyond the buildings, presses and transmitters,” Marcil added, noting that Case’s contribution to the company can be measured by the thousands of people he helped employ, and by the thousands of car payments, college tuition payments and millions of dollars in payroll that were met as a result of Case’s years with Forum Communications.

“His legacy will last for generations,” Marcil said.

Steady navigator

Barbara Henry, who joined the board of directors of Forum Communications Co. about four years ago, said her first impressions of Case were positive and her respect for him only grew as she got to know him.

She said she met Case during The Forum’s annual employee appreciation lunch.

“Lloyd was out there with an apron on, flipping hamburgers,” Henry recalled.

“I thought, ‘That’s my idea of a good president of a company. He’s flipping burgers for employees,’’’ said Henry, describing Case as a smart, down-to-earth executive.

She said those qualities served Case and the company well during the economic downturn.

“There wasn’t any panic. There wasn’t any hand-wringing,” Henry said.

“It was, ‘OK, here are the circumstances. What do we need to do to grow our Internet revenue and really attack this digital opportunity?’

“Instead of looking at it (the recession) as a disruption, it was looked at as an opportunity. And the success this company had was phenomenal,” Henry said.

Paul Amundson, FCC vice president for digital, and Mari Ossenfort, general manager of WDAY and FCC director of broadcasting, echoed Henry’s sentiments.

“The media business is constantly evolving,” Amundson said, adding: “Lloyd’s commitment to innovation and strategic business decisions put Forum Communications at the forefront in all media platforms.”

Ossenfort agreed.

“Some people just know how to make things happen and how to bring out the best in others,” she said. “Lloyd has done just that in his career.”

Maintaining ties

Case, 68, said the company has strong leadership and he has confidence Bill Marcil Jr. will do an excellent job guiding Forum Communications into the future.

“When I sit in meetings, I see a lot of good people in a lot of roles. I think the work ethic of our employees is so strong that this company will just continue to move forward,” Case said.

He said when people ask him what retirement will be like for him, he tells them he honestly doesn’t know.

But one thing the native of Goodrich, N.D., is sure of is that North Dakota will always be a part of his life, though he and his wife, Ellen, plan to spend some of their time at a winter home they own in Palm Desert, Calif.

“We’ve been going there on vacations over the years and spend time there in the cold months. But, Fargo, N.D., will always be our home,” said Case, who made a point of expressing his gratitude for the opportunities he found working for Forum Communications and the Marcil family.

“There are a lot of chains and a lot of big, publicly held corporations that would be difficult to work for,” Case said. “I’ve enjoyed working for a family. They have to trust you and you have to trust them to have a relationship for that many years, and that’s happened with myself and the Marcil family.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555