When you mention the name of journalist David Lawrence in this media-conscious town, most people think of U.S. News & World Report, the weekly news magazine he launched here in the Depression years.
But healso started another peculiarly Washington business which since has become a $62-million-a-year publisher and the largest private employer of information on specialists in the nation's capital.
The firm is Bureau of Nationa Affairs Inc., now celebrating its 50th anniversary and honoring the occasion appropriately with publication of a series of forecasts for the next 50 years in such areas as law, energy, taxes and labormanagement relations.
BNA's history can be traced to 1929 and Lawrence's struggling newspaper, the United States Daily, which attempted to provide a national daily of record. Costs outran profits, and the newspaper venture died with the 1933 Bank Holiday.
But back in 1929, Lawrence was riding to New York one day on the train with Adolphs Ochs, publisher of The New York Times. "You have a good idea there, Dave, but it isn't an advertising medium," Ochs is said to have told Lawrence in discussing the U.S. Daily.
"The number of people who need the kind of in-depth reporting and full-text material you're giving them is pretty limited, but they should be willing to pay a lot more than the price of your newspaper for the information," Ochs stated.
Lawrence recalled later that the conversation with Ochs provided the inspiration for BNA. That year, Lawrence began publishing a quarterly compilation of decisions on patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Next September, BNA is planning as anniversary banquet in connection with publication of volume 200 of U.S. Patents Quarterly, the continuation of the first BNA publication and now just one in a stable of 50 daily, weekly, bimonthly and monthly information services.
But there is more to the story of BNA than just another business capitalizing on the need to know that haunts many persons in Washington. BNA has become a big enterprise with a major impact on the local economy.
A private, for-profit publisher based in the District, BNA is unique in being owned and operated by its employes. And, although stock in BNA is not traded publicly, the company has opened up to the general public its financial records, detailing what would be regarded on Wall Street as a remarkable success story and a growth stock to watch.
Virtually all privately held corporations are extremely secretive about their business, and executives at such firms often resent inquireies by outsiders.But BNA is quite open, as demonstrated last Saturday at an annual meeting of stockholders to which non-owner, were invited. Not even all companies with stock traded publicly can make that statement .
According to the annual report for 1978:
Profits last year soared 36 percent to $3.9 million ($2.11 a share) from $2.9 million ($1.59) the previous year, partially because of significant accounting profits from continuing operations only, income was up more than 17 percent.
Cash dividends were $1.3 million (70 cents a share), up mor than 23 percent fron 58 cents in 1977 and the 10th consecutive year of payout increase.
Total sales were up more than 12 percent to $65 million, including $7.9 million in new subscriptions-a new high for the 18th straight year.
New working capital rose 21 percent to $21 million, and stock-holders' equity jumped 26 1/2 percent to $14.2 million.
BNA President John Stewart noted in his report that record results in 1978 were made possible by holding costs below budget. Income from services was $320,000 below estimates, partly because of a decision to hold price increases to 5 1/2 percent in line with the Carter administration's anti-inflation guidelines.
Stewart, a member of the BNA staff since 1939 and president and editor in chief since 1964, also was candid about the future. Although the long-run outlook is "brighter than ever," the short-run outlook is "something else," he stated. It is likely, but not inevitable, that BNA's profit growth will slow somewhat in its golden anniversary year because of the rapid introduction of new services that almost always lose money in initial years, the decision to hold down prices, and spending to modernize BNA systems.
But "one of the many joys" of heading an employe-owned firm, Stevwart hinted, is that Wall Street isn't always looking over this shoulders and pushing growth at any cost.
He said it thus: " . . Voting stock holders are on hand [all year] to see what's going on and thus in a position to understand why there are years-and 1979 is one of them-in which it is necessary to give up something in the way of immediate profits in the interest of their company's longterm stability and continued growth."
BNA and its various subsidiaries now employ 1,400 person.Stock ownership is open to all workers after one year of full-time work or five years of part-time work. As of last weekend, 67 percent of those eligible owned stock but no one person had more than 5 percent.
One share of stock bought for $10 in 1946 has now become 48 shares worth $600. The majority of BNA workers set aside more than 5 percent of their salaries to buy stock, usually by payroll deduction.
A recent survey showed that the vast majority of BNA employe-owners use the company stock as their primary vehicle for building a "nest egg"-over savings, stock in other compaines or any other form of investment.
Said one worker: "As far as I am concerned, the stock ownership plan is the single most outstanding feature of BNA, since it offers employes a relatively painless way to save money provides a sense of working for oneself."
Good morale. Steady growth. Higher dividends every year. Could it be that in employe ownership BNA has found a better vehicle than Wall Street to the goals of constituencies at any corporation-stockholders, workers, managers, customers, the public at large?