Symphony's data play clouds future for McGraw-Hill mags

Symphony's data play clouds future for McGraw-Hill mags


by ROB McMANAMY, McGraw-Hill alum*

"Magazines are for sale; not for reading!"

Huh? I had to hear that line twice before I realized I was the target of the newsstand owner's raised voice. Unable to find the story I'd been seeking, I re-shelved the magazine I was leafing through and dashed off to catch my train. After a few steps, though, the irony of those words caught up to me.

"Magazines are for sale; not for reading!"

Yes, to some, I suppose that may be true. What immediately came to mind, though, was the ongoing sale of our industry's two oldest and most respected magazines, Engineering News-Record (ENR) and Architectural Record. Both are part of a $320-million deal that McGraw-Hill Financial just finalized this week to sell McGraw-Hill Construction to Symphony Technology Group (STG), a strategic private equity firm in Palo Alto CA. Announced Sept. 22, the earth-rattling transaction became official on Nov. 3. Within hours, McGraw-Hill Construction then unveiled its new name: 'Dodge Data & Analytics'. 

Aside from ENR and Arch Record, the properties sold include GreenSource magazine, Dodge, Dodge MarketShare™, Dodge BuildShare®, Dodge SpecShare®, and Sweets, the online product resource directory. 

"I want to thank the employees of McGraw-Hill Construction for their contributions to the company over many years and wish them every success in the future," said Doug Peterson, president and CEO of McGraw-Hill Financial, New York City. 

*In the interest of full disclosure, I should note here that I worked for McGraw-Hill from 1987 to 2002, specifically at ENR and Design-Build magazines. So, to me, Mr. Peterson's farewell doesn't do justice to the role the magazines played in shaping the very identity of the corporation. After all, ENR can trace its publishing roots all the way back to 1874 here in Chicago, and Arch Record is almost as old, dating back to 1891. In fact, the pair even appears to be partly responsible for bringing James H. McGraw and John A. Hill together in the first place, over a century ago.

So, the fact that McGraw-Hill 'has left the building' (industry) completely now is something of a shock. But then again, the corporation in recent years already had shed its signature education publishing division, as well as other market-leading publications like Chemical Week, Aviation Week and one-time circulation king BusinessWeek. Today, McGraw-Hill Financial primarily is defined by Standard & Poors, the Wall Street credit-rating agency it first acquired in 1966. Ironically, S&P's questionable performance in the 2008-2009 national financial crisis hurt the parent company's bottom line and likely fed its decision to sell off most other business units to help cover the losses.

Still, some see the transfer of ownership to Symphony as a long-overdue reboot. 

"This will be enormously positive for Dodge and Sweets,” a former McGraw-Hill executive told me after news of the deal was first made public. “Frankly, Mother McGraw had not been investing enough in them for years.”

Still, when I asked what the acquisition might mean for the future of ENR and Arch Record, two cornerstones of construction trade journalism, the fellow alum just said, "Well, that's a good question. (Symphony) did this for the data, not the magazines." 

That seems obvious.


Six weeks after the deal was first revealed, there is still no official mention of it on Symphony’s website (, save for two retweets from outside sources. Even so, neither makes any reference to the magazines. To date, all that the new owner has said is this statement issued in September from Symphony Managing Director William Chisholm: “We are very excited for this opportunity to acquire the recognized leader in pre-bid and bid-stage construction data and analytics. We look forward to helping the business achieve the next level of success by continuing to deliver mission critical data and industry news while enhancing analytics and tools to better serve construction professionals.”

Founded in 2002, Symphony today boasts a portfolio of 23 companies, $2.7 billion in combined revenues, and more than 17,000 employees. According to its website, the firm “focuses on acquiring high-performance companies that are leaders in growth markets” and "transforming (them) into highly profitable global businesses." 

With zero track record in publishing or journalism, the new West Coast owner's commitment to the East Coast magazines seems, well, suspect. I did attempt to reach Symphony this week, but could not find anyone who could comment on the future of the publications.

"I've noodled this six ways to Sunday and it still makes no sense," says another former McGraw-Hill colleague who preferred not to be named. Other potential buyers, perhaps an industry association or even a large contractor or manufacturer, may yet emerge to buy one or more of the magazines. But if not, well, there is no guarantee they will survive. "Every publication has a life span," laments my fellow alum.

For others, though, even amid the current uncertainty, there is still cause for hope.

"I'll stick with my belief that if ENR went out of business today, somebody would reinvent it tomorrow," says Art Fox, 91, who retired as ENR editor-in-chief in 1988, after 40 years with McGraw-Hill. "Good ideas need never die if they are properly nurtured, renewed," he adds. 

Well said. We like to think that we have a good idea going here at 'BW', too. With the proper 'nurturing', we hope to be around a century from now, as well. 

For more from Art Fox on what ENR was like before the technology revolution, go to:






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