Milton Gralla, a legendary publishing executive in our business and whom many have known through his lifetime commitment to philanthropy, has passed away at age 84.
Though National Jeweler was founded in 1906, it was when Milt and his brother Larry bought it in the 1970s as a property for their burgeoning trade publishing empire that it truly entered its golden and modern age, taking shape in the form we've known it for these past decades.
Milt and Larry were real creators, guys who built their highly successful business from the ground up. They began by shepherding together trade journalists in what may have been the first real national network of business-to-business "stringers"--talented reporters who could write on topics across a large span of disciplines. Milt and Larry quickly became known for their honesty and extreme level of trustworthiness among all who worked with and for them, a quality Milt told me several times laid the foundation for their success.
As they grew, a next logical step became the acquisition of magazines. And the Grallas conceived of and developed a readily embraced business model. They would buy properties that were widely recognized in their fields but not living up to their potential. Among an eventually large stable of such titles was National Jeweler, which was being published in Chicago as a monthly, digest-sized magazine.
The Grallas blew it up to its famous tabloid size and positioned it as the news provider to fine jewelry retailers. As such, it served as an essential provider of market news and analysis to generations of North American jewelers.
Milt had a special place in his heart for the jewelry business, and he quickly embarked on a lifetime of service within industry organizations. Especially near to his heart were Jewish philanthropic causes. And even before he had achieved the enormous success he and Larry would go on to enjoy, he established himself as a large donor and participant in a vast number of such efforts.
Milt tried to instill that ethic into those who worked with him, and many of us owe him immense gratitude for steering us along those paths that he pioneered for us.
Milt was a hands-on executive, who never placed himself above those who worked for him. He was reverered for rolling up his sleeves and digging in as a regular guy. He was the type of leader executives and gurus today seem to pay endless lip service to. But he was the real deal.
He did things not just for personal profit. The term today might be "old-school." He did the right things because he believed in doing the right things. He created because he was enormously talented. He shared because he had the heart of a lion.
Milt was a mensch.
Even after he and Larry sold the business they created, they continued to attend company meetings to ensure that those they had left behind were being treated fairly. He continued in his philanthropic ways and expanded to take on teaching journalism courses to young, eager students at a number of institutions, never forgetting the head start given to him by his education in journalism at the City College of New York. Milt loved mentoring young professionals entering the craft and endeavored to give them a leg up as they started out.
I have spent the vast majority of my professional career and nearly half my life trying to follow the example set by this man. In my 23 years at National Jeweler, I have never once forgotten or lost sight of the fact that this magazine was created by an extraordinary individual. And extraordinary individuals are few in life.
Thank you Milton Gralla, and may God grant you that very special place in heaven reserved for people like you.