By JACK WEATHERLY
Ed Meek admits to being a bit of a “tambourine shaker” who has found a way to parlay his journalistic skills into the creation of successful markets over a long career.
It started with magazines – 14 at last count – and trade shows, whether it be nightclubs and restaurants, satellite dishes or furniture – and most recently the National Graphene Association that will champion a mysterious material scientists confirm as the strongest in the world.
“I’ve always been a serial entrepreneur, I’m afraid,” Meek, 76, said in an interview.
He founded and nurtured his magazine empire while while teaching journalism at the University of Mississippi.
“I found niches where need was not being met,” he said.
Like any natural entrepreneur, Meek is always on the outlook for veins to mine.
One day a friend invited him over to watch TV. Meek was surprised to see broadcasts from Canada – something unheard of in those days.
His friend had built a satellite dish and placed it in his back yard.
Meek was intrigued.
Eventually, he met Charlie Ergen, who would become a pioneer in the satellite communications field.
“Charlie wanted to build the dishes and I wanted to publish a magazine about them,” Meek said.
“Today he’s worth $18 billion,” Meek said. “I was making money hand over fist” till the cable industry found a way to scramble television signals from satellites and offered to sell de-scramblers so viewers could watch the signals.
The FCC eventually ruled that “stealing” signals was illegal, according to Meek.
But in the meantime, Meek had found another niche that was much more down to earth.
“I found out that there were all these furniture manufacturers in north Mississippi and Alabama and southern Tennessee.
“It was costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars to go exhibit twice a year in High Point, N.C. So I said, ‘Why don’t we bring the people to Tupelo?’”
There were problems. Tupelo was short of lodging and means of transportation to get exhibitors to come to northeast Mississippi.
He hit the hustings in the mid-’80s and found 160 companies within 90 miles of Tupelo. “I started with the big boys. They almost threw me out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’”
“I went to the little guys’’– 31 small manufacturers who were not members of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. “They said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
“So we started the Tupelo Furniture Market, which is now 2.5 million square feet, the third-largest exhibition in the United States.”
Later he started other trade shows, including the Nightclub and Bar and Hotel Restaurant Trade Show.
Eventually, he sold the trade shows and other assets, and made a lot of money.
But he and his wife, Becky, donated their estate of $5.3 million to the University of Mississippi to establish the long-sought status as having a journalism school rather than just a journalism department.
“I’m a tambourine shaker, but I’m a journalist at heart,” Meek said.
Meek established the New Media Lab LLC to support journalism at Ole Miss in perpetuity.
The National Graphene Association, which he founded and made its existence known last week in a press release, is the latest under the New Media umbrella.
Dr. Will Norton, dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, said that since the journalism school was accredited, the number of those declaring journalism as a major has tripled, from 450 to 1,550 this year.
The discipline called Integrated Marketing Communications, which Meek took a shine to, applies basic journalism to new media, has been the catalyst, Norton said.
On the other side of the ledger, Norton credited Meek with finding “a new way to to fund publication education, a not-for-profit company that produces an endowment so you’re just living on the interest that it produces, but every year it produces income that adds to the endowment.”
Meek expects one revenue stream to flow from a mysterious material.