Eighteen years ago this month, former colleague Ed Lapham and I interviewed a young, eager candidate for our marketing beat. He wasn't exactly what we were looking for. He was a sports reporter, after all, and this was Automotive News.
But there were some intangibles that prompted a closer look.
His clip file included an impressive story on the business of college sports. And there was the fact that he asked his boss at the time if he could write a weekly car-review column — in addition to his sports beat coverage. He also drove from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis every Sunday to do a radio show on cars. He did that for free, hoping to catch a wave from central Indiana into broadcast journalism.
We hired him, and he joined us that fall. Within three years he would be publisher of Automotive News Europe and within six he'd be back in the U.S. as editor of Automotive News. Yes, a 30-something leading a team of editors and reporters and data gurus who collectively had hundreds of years of experience covering the auto industry.
If you follow Automotive News, you probably know him. Maybe you've seen his commanding presence on stage at one of our events. Or at one of our dinners, where he can toast and roast guests with the flair of a Las Vegas entertainer. Or as the fill-in anchor on one of our Automotive News TV newscasts. Or as the rich voice behind one of the hundreds of "Daily Drive" podcasts — which he created when the pandemic clipped the wings of his heavy travel schedule. Similarly grounded industry execs were more than willing to have their voices heard on Jason's show.
For the past 18 months, we have chronicled how the pandemic has altered so many in this industry. Most significantly, lives and loved ones that have been lost.
But for many others, it has opened the door to unexpected twists of fate and new opportunities.
In Jason's case, "Daily Drive" led to a pilot on SiriusXM radio. That pilot turned into an offer for a long-term contract for a new show, "Cars & Culture with Jason Stein."
He accepted. The kid who once did that 250-mile round-trip trek to Indianapolis every Sunday hoping to break into broadcasting is leaving us Sept. 15 with the promise of a big, national stage and a new beginning with his own brand.
His departure will take a lot of wind from our own sails. But we'll get through. In four years, in August 2025, Automotive News will turn 100. This little tale will give you a sense of the kind of place it is.
Years ago, back when Keith Crain's column filled this space, I typically edited his work. On one particular day, I more than disagreed with his point. I thought it would damage the company he was writing about — and us.
Now Keith in those days was an imposing guy — not just physically, but as a voice of authority on all matters automotive. Still, I had no qualms about heading upstairs, knocking on his door and telling him what I thought.
OK, he said. I'll write another column.
And that was that. Jason has been that kind of leader. He has sought counsel and he has listened. He has set direction. He has inspired with his passion and his work ethic. He has been generous with his praise and appreciation. And when the underlings have screwed up, it has always been "our" problem to own, not just the problem of the perpetrator.
On the finest of mornings, he would even step into the office and distribute cups from a cardboard tray of brewed-in-Canada Tim Horton's coffee, brought over the border from his hometown of Windsor, Ontario. It's hard not to appreciate a boss like that.