From Tennessee to Manhattan's west 25th street

Updated: 2013-05-24 10:30

(China Daily)

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It all started in Tennessee.

Chris Whittle was born in Etowah in 1947, about 185 miles from the state capital of Nashville.

Years later, after graduating from the University of Tennessee, Whittle, Phillip Moffett and Wilma Jordan published a freshman college guide that became the 13-30 Corp.

The three made national headlines in 1979 when they acquired the struggling Esquire magazine, and eventually turned it around and sold it to Hearst magazines.

What followed was a trove of media products, including Special Reports, magazines for the captive audiences in doctors' waiting rooms, and the launch of Channel One. The company donated televisions and VCRs to school classrooms across the US in exchange for showing a daily 12-minute news show with two of those minutes dedicated to ads, which upset some parents and educators.

From Tennessee to Manhattan's west 25th street

In 1986, 13-30 became Whittle Communications. Two years later it reported it had 900 employees and 40 media products. In 1989, Whittle sold a 50 percent stake to Time Inc for $185 million.

Then a variety of financial problems hit Whittle Communications. In 1994, Special Reports and other ventures ended; Channel One was sold and the Knoxville headquarters with its 250,000-square-foot main building was sold to the federal government, which converted it into a courthouse.

Whittle then moved to New York, where in 1991 he started his involvement in education by announcing the Edison Project, a for-profit school management effort that sought to privatize public schools to improve them.

The company went public but had mixed success and its stock fell to 14 cents a share from $32, and it was sold to the Florida state pension fund in 2003.

Whittle's ascendancy and descendancy have been covered in a slew of newspaper and magazine articles over the years and in the 1995 book, AN EMPIRE UNDONE The Wild Rise and Fall of Chris Whittle by Vance H. Trimble. Now, with his launch of the Avenues private-school project, the man known for his signature bow tie and bold ideas is back in the media spotlight.

"Has Avenues Mastermind Chris Whittle Learned His Lesson?" read the headline for a June 13, 2012, story in the weekly New York Observer newspaper.

"While it remains to be seen whether Avenues will be a more lasting enterprise than Whittle Communications and the Edison Project, the endeavor has some of the hallmarks of its mastermind's earlier efforts: a bold, game-changing vision, an all-star team and a certain messianic flavor," the story read. "The difference, it seems, is that Avenues is eminently doable."

(China Daily USA 05/24/2013 page19)