Don Kummerfeld – Remembering the legend

Chander Rai of Cross Border Media Inc pays a heart-warming tribute to the famous leader of international media

e4m by Chander Rai
Updated: Jul 23, 2012 6:38 PM
Don Kummerfeld – Remembering the legend

Don Kummerfeld

When you are nearing seventy and you have to decide on how to live the rest of your life – either with the continuation of a hectic life or opting for a world of relaxation to retire peacefully in your beach cottage in Cape Cod, what would you choose? It was no surprise that my dear friend, Don Kummerfeld, with his irrepressible energy, his active mind, his undaunted enthusiasm and his flair for public speaking, chose the latter!

I first met Don Kummerfeld at a Harvard Club luncheon in 2001. Soon after, I came to work in New York; he had just taken as President and CEO of FIPP (International Federation of the Periodical Press). While the FIPP headquarters were in London, Don worked from a small office in mid-town Manhattan. He took to this demanding international assignment like a bird to the sky, flying all over the world.

In October 2002, at the annual meeting of MPA (Magazine Publishers of America) held that year at the Biltmore Hotel in Arizona, we really got to know each other. We met at the opening Dinner Reception, sponsored by Advertising Age, and discovered we had so much in common. He was very upbeat on India and I was looking for suitable partnerships for the India Today Group. That year MPA held its first International Day, focused entirely on China. Don and I discussed how almost every major publisher had started looking internationally and many at India, about which they knew so little, particularly about the publishing industry. We agreed that to do something about this.

During the next year, Don and I worked towards taking a FIPP delegation for an exploratory visit to India in Feb 2004. The response was overwhelming, with magazines publishers from Australia to Argentina signing up. The final list included representatives from the top publishing companies in the world including Mondadori, EMAP, BBC Magazines, Marie Claire, Sanoma Magazines, and IDG. We worked on the itinerary for the delegates to visit some key publishing companies in New Delhi, and as a bonus, a tour to Jaipur and Agra, at the newly opened Oberoi Raj Villas seven star properties. Thrown in for good measure was a lunch personally hosted by me at the The Delhi Gymkhana Club. The delegates were also invited to attend the The India Today Conclave, and many took this opportunity. It is noteworthy that every single publisher who came on this trip soon established partnerships in India, either with licensed arrangements or joint ventures!

Don’s growth strategy for FIPP was to help form media organisations in each country so that the periodical press could benefit from having a collective voice and common benefits. The country associations would be supported by FIPP and be Associate Members of FIPP. India’s growing publishing industry was of special interest to Don.

The formation of AIM (Association of Indian Magazines,) can be traced back to a dinner, which I organised for Don to meet Ashish Bagga of India Today. Don asked Ashish to spearhead the forming of the association in India. Don also spoke to other publishers in Delhi, and made a special trip to Mumbai.

Don was always willing to promoting media activities in any new country. So when Ahmed Al Mansoori, DCR & M, (Dubai Consultancy Research & Media) requested him to help organise a Middle East Publishing Conference in Dubai, Don immediately agreed. In view of my long stint in Dubai, Don called me up to assist. The First Middle East Publishing Conference was held in Jan 2005. The following year WAN joined FIPP to collaborate on the conference, which was more successful. Don and I spoke at both the conferences. Now Don wanted to start a magazine association in Dubai, which had a number of vibrant newspaper and magazine publishers. I went with Don to Dubai and we spent five days meeting different publishers. We arranged a get-together of all the magazine and newspaper publishers but unfortunately according to Dubai law, an independent media association was not allowed while the FIPP constitution did not allow local chapters in other countries, unlike IAA.

Don and I met in several countries for several conferences and worked together on many projects. He invited me to speak at the FIPP World Congress in Paris, and again in Beijing, and at the first FIPP Digital Media Conference in Tokyo and of course we also met at the annual AIM conferences in India

Don was a master at the art of collaboration and negotiation. I worked closely with American Business Media in New York as their International Adviser, when they decided to hold a World B2B summit in New York in conjunction with FIPP. Don came over for meeting at the ABM offices and at the end of the day, everything was agreed on. Don firmed up the programme, chose speakers from different parts of the world while I arranged the two from India including Anurag Batra, exchange4media and Pradeep Gupta, Cybermedia.

My fondest memory of Don is the evening when he and Beth invited us for dinner to discuss my retirement and my future plans. By then many members of FIPP and MPA were coming to me for advice on their forays into the Indian and Middle East markets. Don advised me to set up my international strategy company in New York and advised me on the incorporation of Cross Border Media Inc. Don continued to support my efforts. He agreed to come as Keynote Speaker to the first conference I organised in New Delhi, ‘Monetizing Your New Media Platforms’, that year.

Don and I shared a common love for Japan; he, because of his wife Beth who was of Japanese descent and I, because I had spent time in Tokyo as a student at Keio University. In New York, Don, Beth, my wife Lekha and I would meet at least once a month for brunch...Often Don would take us all to the Metropolitan Club, of which he was a member, for a great seafood repast. His daughter, Tia had her wedding reception there. Sometimes we would take them to an Indian restaurant, or Turkish, but most often to Cibo on 41st and Second, half way between our apartments.

We would catch up at these brunches, and talk about our personal and professional challenges and frustrations, our younger days, our lives in India, Don’s growing up on his father’s farm, Beth’s early days in Japan, etc. Don had studied philosophy at Stanford and my wife Lekha had studied philosophy too; sometimes their arguments would be so heated that Beth and I had to intervene.

Don would tell us about his travels, the new associations being formed all over the world – Uzbekistan, Eastern Europe, about his visits to China and the tremendous progress he saw there. We would discuss articles in the New Yorker, which he and Lekha read avidly cover to cover. He told us of how he visited Kummerfeld, a small hamlet in Germany from where his fore fathers had come and some Kummerfelds still live. Don would advise me on my company. He had friends and acquaintances in media all over the world, and would give me introductions in China, South Korea, and Argentina. The brunches became a ritual over the years.

Don visited India several times in the next few years. He attended all the AIM annual meetings. He loved the bar at the Delhi Gymkhana, shopping for gifts at Cottage Industries, walks in the Lodhi Gardens, even coming to our in Delhi for a simple, “idli dosa” breakfast. Don had the great gift of being able to sleep soundly on a flight. He always arrived in a new country fresh, rested and ready to go. Once, he flew back half way across to the world just in time to dance at our daughter’s wedding in New York.

The last time we met, Don had retired from FIPP and had moved to New Jersey. Lekha and I took the train one summer morning to meet them. He was waiting at the station on his bike, looking so much leaner and fitter. He took us to their apartment, where Beth was waiting. We sat, talked and looked through old photographs. Then they took us for a wonderful long lazy Japanese lunch in a restaurant overlooking the ocean. After lunch Don showed us the little town and the community garden where he did volunteer work, before walking us to the train station. What a lovely day!

Unfortunately, soon after that I became unwell and then moved for treatment at MD Anderson in Houston. At the end of last year, I got an email from Don saying he had moved back to his original work in the government and asking when we could meet.

The obituary in the New York Times plays tribute to great work he did as Crisis Budgeter and first Deputy Mayor in the 1970s in saving the economy of New York. The obituary mentioned all his media activities in one line, but for the time I knew him, he was so avidly interested in and so closely involved in international media.

Don was such a warm and caring person, always helpful, with a good word for everyone, and a big smile on his face. He will be missed by his many friends all over the world.

Chander Rai is President and CEO of Cross Border Media Inc

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