Press Lord 2.0

Can a self-made adman with big ideas and a Walter Annenberg fascination save the Inquirer and Daily News? Maybe. But when Brian Tierney’s finished, the newspaper business may never be the same

Or maybe Tierney was just starting to realize he couldn’t keep shitting in the pool — not if he wanted respect as a civic leader. One of Tierney’s old employees, Hugh Braithwaite, remembers a stunt Tierney pulled that was like Dale Carnegie by way of Ayn Rand: When Tierney was in his 30s, he invited the likes of Ed Rendell, David Girard-diCarlo and Shanin Specter to a private dinner at his home. The night of the dinner, a snowstorm hit, blanketing the roads. Tierney chartered limos and SUVs with snow tires and chains to pick up the guests. “I think he wanted to be a peer of them, even before it would normally be allowed,” says Braithwaite.

Tierney never wanted to be a mere hireling for the CEO class, so he started looking for ways to brand himself as a co-equal, having given up on running for office himself. (“I always thought he wanted to be governor,” says former Inside Story host Marc Howard.) After the 2003 Katz campaign, he left the big firm he’d founded to launch a start-up called T2; the idea was to serve fewer clients more intimately. In 2004, T2 was bought by one of those clients, Advanta. Tierney’s friends thought that Advanta’s leader, the imperious tennis fan Dennis Alter, might be grooming Tierney as his successor, but it wasn’t to be. According to the Daily News, Tierney ticked off Alter by asking “why tennis great [Billie Jean] King was being paid $300,000 a year as a consultant for mostly just playing tennis with Alter.” Tierney lasted just nine months at Advanta; he won’t talk about what happened but denies saying anything like that.

He took some time off. He went to Hawaii. He spent some time down the Shore, where at one point he’d owned a dozen or so condos: “Built, tore down things, redeveloped, built something new, did the back-and-forth.” Semi-retirement didn’t take, and pretty soon he’d started an Internet cigar company and invested in an Internet fitness company, among other ventures. None of it was “what you would call a Brian Tierney thing,” says Alison Grove, who worked for him then. “There seemed to be a quest for that big thing.”

He thought he’d found it in 2005, when the owners of Fast Company and Inc. magazines put them up for sale. Tierney immediately reached out to his friend and fellow board member at Episcopal Academy, real estate developer Brian O’Neill. “Typical Brian Tierney,” says O’Neill. “Phone call on a Friday afternoon: ‘How’d you like to go into the magazine business?’ Just like that.” Says Grove, “We all learned the magazine business in two weeks.”