A Look Inside
If you meet an employee of an Agora Company on the street and ask him what he likes about his work, you’re likely in for a long conversation. The story of how The Agora became what it is today includes some interesting tales and some fascinating people.
More than a dozen of The Agora Companies are based in an historic neighborhood in Baltimore City called Mount Vernon, known for remarkable architecture, and picturesque cobblestoned tree-lined streets. This wasn’t always the case. Initially a small group of writers published newsletters out of a pair of houses in a bad part of town, that they had purchased for $1 each and converted into office space. The business was there from 1983 until 1993, when they ran out of space. Little did they know that their move into a much larger historic 19th century mansion would, over the next 15 years, lead to a campus of 12 buildings filled with more than 800 employees working for 12 companies – all born from their original vision. Nor could they have then imagined the offices in 17 other cities around the globe that later joined the organization.
While there are a handful of conventional office spaces amidst its 40 + companies, more than 20 operate out of historic properties which have been carefully preserved and restored, in the US and abroad. These buildings represent in architecture what our companies try to achieve in publishing; a respectful application of more than 2,000 years of evolved wisdom to current issues and situations.
Earlier in our history, before the World Wide Web, ideas were shared through letters written at a typewriter, printed on paper, folded, inserted into envelopes, placed in the mail, and then delivered to a subscriber. Later, when the internet was adopted by the mainstream media, there was unrivaled excitement in the industry. Companies rushed to create websites and join the dot.com frenzy.
But we’ve never been a part of the mainstream media. There was no rush nor panic among us. Founder Bill Bonner, simply set up an email address and started to do what he’d always done – he wrote about what he saw going on around him. Bill was “learning to use email,” which was later credited as being one of the world’s first blogs. And he’s still at it.
Bill keeps an office on the Mount Vernon campus. Just off the first landing to the right of a South American blonde mahogany staircase is a large room with gold leaf, ornate crown molding, and a collection of antique furnishings and paintings. At the core of nearly every one of his ventures lies a sincere desire to preserve the best of the past – especially the best ideas of the past.
To the left of a large bay window overlooking a small park, is a desk covered in books and papers – and a pair of feet crossed casually at the top. When in Baltimore, Bill sits there and writes. He looks up to acknowledge employees making their way to floors 3 through 5 with a nod or a “good morning,” but otherwise he just writes.
From time to time, colleagues stop in to talk. The conversation is not always about business. Oftentimes it may start out about business, but quickly takes a different shape. What the guest may not always realize is that their conversation could very well become the subject matter for Bill’s next letter. It has always been this way. As is the case with visitors to his office, almost nothing is off limits when it comes to his conversations with his readers.
“We are here to honor the written word,” he says, gravely.