Former CFO of The Detroit Legal News - aka 'The Answer Man' - is remembered for his smarts, dedication, financial acumen

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

As the longtime CFO of The Detroit Legal News and its sister company Inland Press, Steve Fowler was a numbers’ man first and foremost, due largely to earning an accounting degree from Hillsdale College, followed by his CPA license and Master in Finance degree from Walsh College.

Yet, for colleagues who knew him well and admired his financial brilliance, Fowler became known by a more endearing moniker.

The Answer Man.

It was a fitting label for Fowler, who possessed as much institutional knowledge of the companies as perhaps anyone in their collective history, a feat built over the course of his 35-year career with the Detroit-based publishing and printing operation. 

That distinguished career came to an unexpected end last fall when Fowler retired after being diagnosed with brain cancer, a disease he battled valiantly for nearly six months before succumbing to it on April 12 at the age of 62.

A memorial service in his honor will be held this Saturday, May 14 at 11 a.m. at Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons Funeral Home in Shelby Township, 54880 Van Dyke. A visitation also is scheduled at the funeral home on Friday, May 13 from 3-9 p.m.

Those gatherings will serve as opportunities to remember a “life well lived,” according to Brad Thompson, president and CEO of The Detroit Legal News Company that includes nine newspapers around the state and operates Inland Press, the largest commercial printing business in Detroit.

“Steve’s amazing, dry sense of humor and nearly photographic memory are what I’ll so miss,” said Thompson, who is the fifth generation of his family to lead the publicly traded company. “I could walk into his office and ask him virtually anything about a shareholder, retired employee or competitor and he would immediately give me chapter and verse about that individual. Usually with a very funny story to go with it. 

“Not a day goes by that I wish I could ask him the answer to one of my many questions,” said Thompson, who like scores of others at The Legal News is still reeling from Fowler’s death. “The Fowler name will be revered by all of us with so many fond memories.”

Fowler began his career with The Legal News in 1986, joining his father, Donald, at the company. Initially he worked in sales at Inland Press, eventually becoming the chief financial officer of both companies.

“We didn’t work too closely at first as he was selling for Inland while I was focused on the newspaper side of the business,” Thompson indicated. 

But before long, Thompson and Fowler rose to prominent roles in the leadership ranks of the companies, each bringing a complementary skillset to the management equation. 

“Steve’s analysis and attention to detail really helped both the Board and me,” said Thompson, a past president of the Michigan Press Association who now serves as president of the MPA Foundation. “I feel strongly that my optimistic and broader view was wonderfully balanced by Steve’s realism and detailed focus on the numbers. We made a great team and the Board certainly recognized this on many occasions. We made it through many tough challenges by bringing our separate talents to the problem at hand.”

A native of Grosse Pointe, Fowler was born on June 27, 1959, the son of Mary Jane and Donald Fowler. He was a 1977 graduate of Romeo High School, where he played basketball, ran cross country, and wrote for the student newspaper. 

He and his wife Betsy met at Hillsdale College during their junior year at the nationally known private school an hour southwest of Ann Arbor. 

“It was in the fall during a Parents’ Weekend and we both had volunteered to help with the registration, etc.,” said Betsy. “I had not known Steve and he came up to me and started talking easily. He had gone to a semester in Washington, D.C. as a Congressional intern and I was going to do the same thing the next semester.  This was a great opportunity to create conversation on his part.  As time went on, we kept talking and then started dating, he even came out to Washington to see me there.  It turns out we both worked as interns for the then Congressman Dan Quayle.  Steve used this as a great excuse to visit old friends in D.C. and to show me the fun places to visit in Georgetown. He just stole my heart and that was it.”

The couple was married on June 25, 1983 in Betsy’s hometown of Lima, Ohio, which Steve affectionately and jokingly called, “Lost in Middle America,” according to his wife. 

Their two children, Jeff and Kimberly, would bring great joy into the couple’s life.

“We welcomed our first grandchild, David Robb Fowler, on June 10, 2021,” said Betsy. “Our sweet Kimberly passed away at the age of 26 (from complications of Sanfilippo syndrome). She was able to complete her educational program through the Macomb Intermediate School District before she passed and that was a happy time for us. A goal we had hoped she would reach.”

Among Fowler’s closest colleagues was Ban Ibrahim, publisher of The Legal News for the past 5 years.

“Every time I would call him, he would answer the call with: ‘Answer Man is here.’ He would normally start our conversation with a funny quote and end with another,” said Ibrahim in fondly recalling Fowler’s quick wit. 

“I worked with Steve for 10 years, but we closely started working together the last 5 years,” she said. “He welcomed me to The Detroit Legal News with open arms. Steve was more to me than just a colleague, but a great friend. I thank him for shaping my career and my future with the company. He trusted and believed in me and that meant the world to me.

“Words can’t describe what a magnificent, exceptional man he was,” Ibrahim said of Fowler. “I highly respected his work ethic, wisdom, dedication, and kindness. Steve’s hard work and endless dedication to the company was priceless . . . I mostly admired his love for his beautiful family and strong faith. I’m blessed and honored he was part of my life.”

Steve Cordon, vice president of sales for Inland Press, echoed Ibrahim’s comments, recalling the important role that Fowler played in his career trajectory.

“Because of Steve, I have been working at Inland Press for over 30 years,” said Cordon, whose first few years with the company were shaky at best.

“After my first three years of trying to build my clientele as a printing salesman and as a young parent with our second child on the way and moving into a new house, I was struggling with sales and not making much money,” Cordon related. “So, I decided to quit Inland Press and hire on with a different printing company, hoping I could increase my sales.”

When he told Fowler of his intentions, Cordon was cautioned against making such a move.

“And to my surprise, he thought I was making a mistake,” Cordon recalled. “He didn’t think it was a good fit for me. He was really concerned with me and my family’s welfare. Thankfully, I listened to his advice and decided to stay at Inland Press. It was the smartest work decision I have ever made. From that moment on, sales started to come in and I was able to have a long career selling printing for Inland Press. He was totally right! It would have been a mistake. I thank him to this day for looking out for me and my family!”

In addition to his wife, Fowler is survived his son Jeff (Kristen); a grandson, David; his mother, Mary Jane (Ballard) Fowler; a sister, Barb (Jeff) Harrell; a sister-in-law, Cindy (Steve) Hamblen; a brother-in-law, Dr. Scott (Dr. Nancy Winters) Murray; an uncle, Dr. Richard (Sandy) Ballard and an aunt, Julia (the late Ken) Fowler; and nephews Andrew (Melissa) and Chris (Jordan) Hamblen, and Joshua (Megan), and Brian (Kelsey) Harrell. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Kimberly, and his father, Donald. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the Steve Fowler Memorial Fund in support of a scholarship program for the Romeo High School basketball team or to the Cure Sanfilippo Foundation.



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