By Tom Kirvan
She began her newspaper career on April Fools’ Day, circa 1992, a little more than a quarter-century ago.
The April 1 date, which annually is celebrated by pranksters worldwide, would not be the precursor to a misspent career move by Suzanne Favale, a Detroit native who honed her business skills at two corporate titans, General Electric and Xerox.
Instead, the date would serve as the launch pad for continued career success, most recently framed within the pages of The Detroit Legal News Publishing network, a 10-paper chain that she has guided as publisher since 2006.
Later this month, Favale will enter the world of retirement, capping a publishing career that has been marked by the company’s unparalleled growth and then unexpected challenges that have beset the newspaper industry as a whole. In short, it has been a “wonderful journey” that she could not have anticipated when she accepted a job offer to become the new director of sales and marketing for The Legal Advertiser, a Detroit-based publishing company operated by the late John Parks.
Parks, a product of Eastern Michigan University, had a reputation as an astute businessman and knew the importance of surrounding himself with talent in his various business ventures. He also was known for his salty language and choice sayings, including his favorite introduction of himself as a “Ballroom Dancer, Bingo King, and Friend to the Working Girl.”
Back in the early ‘90s, Favale was a rising star at Xerox and was in line for a significant sales promotion when she was put in touch with Parks by a mutual friend. Parks, as the story goes, was looking for a key associate who could help his business grow, and was so intrigued by Favale that he gave her an unexpected call on a Sunday morning to discuss the job possibilities.
A short while later, he would stop by her place with a handful of his newspapers, doing his best to explain the intricacies of the legal publishing business to an up-and-coming executive who may have wondered if she was emerging from the fog of a bad dream.
“I had no idea what he was talking about. It was as if he was speaking Greek to me,” said Favale, whose Italian heritage was about to become well known to Parks.
After politely listening and perhaps even feigning interest, Favale asked if they could go another route in the newspaper publishing lesson.
“Since I clearly wasn’t getting what he was explaining, I suggested that I job shadow him for a day, which would give me a better idea of what the job entailed,” Favale recalled.
The suggestion worked, piquing Favale’s interest in a new career with the potential for an ownership stake in the company.
But before that kind of path could be paved, there would be a detour to be encountered, according to Favale.
“Before John hired me, he made Plante Moran conduct a ‘personality’ test,” Favale related. “I told John to trust me, I do have a personality, but he wouldn’t listen.
“This test was grueling and went on for eight hours,” she noted, adding that the test proctor regularly ramped up the pressure by asking “Are you finished?” yet.
“Because of the pressure, I went out that night with a friend and had too much to drink. We went out for breakfast after our night of drinking and who do I run into but John. Luckily, he’d had more to drink than I,” she said with a laugh.
“I said, ‘John, that was the worst thing I’ve every been through,’ but he hired me anyway.”
It was a smart move that eventually led to the merger of The Legal Advertiser and its chief rival, The Detroit Legal News. With Favale as its new publisher, the merged entity began charting its growth across the state, buying several legal newspapers and starting others. The network currently includes three daily papers in the tri-county region of Metro Detroit and seven out-state publications in the Ann Arbor, Lansing, Jackson, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Muskegon areas.
Brad Thompson, president and CEO of the company, credits Favale for a job exceptionally well done.
“She was at her finest when negotiating with a supplier, advocating for a client, or fighting for a better deal,” said Thompson of his retiring publisher.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how well she’s managed the operation.”
A graduate of Cody High School in Detroit, Favale earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn before embarking on a sales role with General Electric, which led to an opportunity with Xerox Corp.
In announcing her retirement, Favale said the decision was reached with a “heavy heart” as she contemplated the “many wonderful friendships and relationships I’ve enjoyed” over the course of her publishing career.
“It’s been a pleasure dealing with all of you and I appreciate our working relationship and friendship,” Favale wrote in an e-mail last month to employees at The Legal News.
A longtime resident of Birmingham, Favale and her husband, Tom Poff, a retired police detective and private investigator, will make their new home in Harbor Springs, where they have enjoyed vacationing in recent years.
Effective May 1, the new publisher of The Legal News will be Ban Ibrahim, a 16-year veteran of the company who has served as Favale’s chief assistant for the past 6 years, handling various administrative and circulation responsibilities.
“I’m leaving you in great hands,” Favale told employees in announcing Ibrahim’s appointment.
Ibrahim, in turn, expressed her gratitude to “my beloved friend,” Suzanne.
“These last six years of your exemplary mentorship have been truly exceptional and priceless,” Ibrahim wrote in a farewell letter to Favale. “Your knowledge, sophistication, willingness, and precedence have inspired me to do paramount things for this company. Your leadership and personality are what drives me everyday to be the best version of myself that I can be.
“The Legal News will forever miss your endearing presence and delightfulness. The years I have interacted with you have inspired me to understand the ups and downs of this business. Our relationship has grown beyond ‘just business,’ but to a treasured friendship. I am going to miss our daily conversations, laughs, and of course, ‘What’s for lunch?’
“Last and foremost, Suzanne, congratulations on this new chapter in your life. You will be dearly missed. Enjoy life to the fullest!”