I thought it would be fun to run a magazine

Ray Washburne's Texas Business is a case study in how not to run a business

John Carroll, who remains as publisher under the new owners, continues to sift through the events of the past year, lamenting Washburne's decision to pull out. "It takes anybody three years to make money on a magazine. The fourth year, if you're lucky, you might break even.

"If Ray would have just given it the time it takes, we could have made it."
Given the tough market and the magazine's content, that contention is open to debate. But it is clear that Washburne's quick decision to pull the plug--to do precisely what he promised he would not--kept Texas Business from having a prayer.

Today, Washburne acts surprised that the start-up was costing as much as it did--as though he had no control over the expense, no burden to determine what launching a magazine costs. He acts even more surprised at the bitterness his pullout produced--as though those he persuaded to leave other jobs with a promise to invest $2 million of his own money had no just cause to feel angry that he didn't.

After agreeing to talk about himself and his magazine, Ray Washburne is sitting on a vinyl bench inside his seventh Mi Cocina restaurant, which he and three partners will open in the West End come mid-February. It's a frigid January day, but the blasts of icy wind are no deterrent to the bustling lunchtime crowds outside.

As he talks, Washburne has his eyes set on the sidewalk out front, tracking the sea of people moving past his unfinished restaurant. You get the sense he sees a line of $100 bills parading past his locked business and into competing restaurants.

A missed opportunity.
"I'm an entrepreneur," he shrugs, when asked why, really, Texas Business tanked. "I go into very high-risk ventures. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't," he says. "If there's one thing I've learned by doing business in Dallas, it's when a window shuts on one opportunity, another window opens."

That's true enough for Washburne, the beneficiary of a trust fund, a business-savvy family, and that unquenchable confidence a Park Cities upbringing helps produce. Washburne, in fact, has already moved on. He is free of the financial trap the magazine had become--its failure to turn a quick profit, to become a grown-up version of The Aardvark.

The central irony of the Texas Business story is lost on him: that the very elements which produced the Texas business failures of journalistic legend--arrogance, ego, blind ambition, naivete--drove his own magazine into the ground.

Ultimately, Texas Business became a case study in how not to run a business.

"Ray grew into a very tall and handsome guy, but he was really kind of a geeky kid," says Reid Slaughter, who grew up in the same University Park neighborhood as the Washburnes. "He's always been a kind of wannabe." Slaughter, former publisher of the breezy Park Cities People, served as general manager of Washburne's media holdings, as well as publisher of Jackpot! and a minority investor in The Met.

The Washburnes trace their roots back to a wealthy 19th-century Chicago banking family. Ray's great-great-grandfather was Elihu B. Washburne, a Republican U.S. congressman from Chicago, powerful Civil War-era political operative, and friend of Abraham Lincoln. While serving as president, Lincoln in early 1863 unsuccessfully campaigned for Washburne's selection as speaker of the House.

Much of the family fortune was lost two generations later in the Great Depression but built back up again in the second half of the century, says Mattie Caldwell, a former Dallas debutante steeped in Washburne family history by way of her four-year marriage to Ray. The two were divorced last May. "The fortune seems to cycle by generation," Caldwell says. "I think Ray sees himself as the next Washburne fortune builder, but his older brothers are doing fine for themselves."

Ray is the fifth of six children born to Mary and Elihu (Hugh) Washburne. His oldest brother, Dick, heads Richards Capital Corp., headquartered in a Preston Center office tower in North Dallas. The company buys receivables at a discount from businesses experiencing cash-flow problems--often manufacturing firms, clothing retailers, and small publishing businesses. Richards recovers a company's money for a tidy fee, and is regarded as one of the more successful of Dallas' numerous such firms.

Dick Washburne, widely described as the avuncular, hardworking power of the family, also manages Ray's family trust, according to Ray's 1995 divorce file, and is known to keep a tight rein on the money. He did not return phone calls for this story.

The depth of Ray Washburne's pockets would become an issue as Texas Business needed more and more cash to cover its losses. Did he not have it, or would he not spend it? Ray will not discuss how much money is in his trust fund or how much, if any, he can get his hands on. "That's a private matter," he says sharply.

Ray keeps his own office in the same suite as his brother. Ray's is sleekly decorated, with Washburne's private collection of paintings from the Dallas Nine, a regional artists' colony which, during the Work Projects Administration era, helped document the Depression. One of Washburne's Dallas Nine paintings, "Magnolia," by Florence E. McClung, is on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art.

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