Local Man in the News: Bob Hillier

As accustomed I am to seeing Princeton residents show up in the news, it still gives me a little jolt when I casually read a Small Business column in the New York Times (Thursday, October 8) and lo! it was about Bob Hillier, aka J. Robert Hillier, the president elect of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, publisher of the online Obit magazine, part owner of Town Topics and Princeton Magazine, part time teacher of architecture at Princeton University.

Frankly I didn’t recognize Hillier in the NYT photo, with him sitting on a curving stair and the photographer, Laura Pedrick, towering above him.
Columnist Brent Bowers used the chance to re-interview Hillier to announce that he will quit writing the column in December. He had Hillier tell about his many projects, so many that one wonders how he does them all, and Bowers doesn’t even include the chamber presidency, which starts in January. (Full disclosure, I am a member of that board.)

In case you can’t get access to that NYT page (too bad, you’ll miss that picture, but he’s on the cover of U.S. 1 Newspaper this week bottom photo, center, taken at the ribbon cutting of the chamber trade fair), here are the money numbers you might be curious about:
Merger of his architecture firm with RMJM was a $30 million deal.
New firm, J. Robert Hillier on Witherspoon Street, landed 12 projects in first six weeks.
Obit has 100,000 hits a month but “winning over advertisers is not easy.”
Town Topics has circulation of 13,000, and he described it as a “gold mine” with a return of 26 percent.
Princeton Magazine has increased ad revenue by 40 percent, and he expects the 34,000 circulation to grow to 50,000 in five years. A “home run” claims Hillier.
I guess architects are really good at multitasking.
But I question Bowers ‘ conclusion that Hillier is prospering, not in spite of, but because of, the recession. The RMJM deal didn’t have anything to do with the recession except give Hillier the chance to add an admirable, but money-losing online project, Obit. The one enterprise affected by the recession would have been the acquisition of Princeton Magazine, no doubt at a fire sale price.

Still, it’s fun to see Bowers to go back to his sources and find out where they are, what they are doing. Usually we business reporters have to pursue new subjects. Talking to sources that we like, then writing about it — it’s not something that we often get to do. And Hillier’s enthusiasm and verve are infectious. “It’s all about having fun,” he said. Yes.

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