Alberto Guido Fontevecchia, who died last Saturday at the age of 93, was variously described in his obituaries as a man of action, a man of the world and a man of the street and all three things were true of the founder of Editorial Perfil (even if being streetwise in no way contradicted his profound love of the countryside).
It would be exaggerating to say that he was born into the publishing industry, but only slightly. At his school in the Salesian College of Don Bosco the priests were on the lookout for somebody to meet their needs for scholastic and ecclesiastical printing and they could find no keener or brighter pupil than little Alberto – a true Gutenberg man, he was always fascinated by the sheer technique of printing and to the end of his long life, an echo of the Argentine media industry from mid-century until now, no software innovation could stop him from using printing jargon.
Those skills honed in college were quickly put to entrepreneurial use at the beginning of his adult life – in 1950 he founded Linotipia Fobera, initially dedicated to outsourced printing. Thus while not born into the publishing industry himself, his son Jorge (born in 1956) definitely was.
In 1960, Alberto Fontevecchia graduated from printing to editing with the sports magazine El Ciclón his maiden publication – since San Lorenzo has always been the favourite football club of the Church (with Pope Francis among the fans of the “crows” today), his Salesian connections helped here. But, perhaps anticipating the strict neutrality between political parties always observed by Perfil, Alberto was ecumenical with his football teams, soon also editing Racing and Esto es Boca.
In 1972 he founded Weekend, his favourite magazine and the biggest Argentine publication dedicated to fishing and leisure, which this year marked its golden anniversary. Until the pandemic struck in early 2020, he personally directed Weekend, travelling daily to his Barracas office.
On June 1, 1976, at the age of 47 he founded Editorial Perfil (the name was chosen by Alberto’s wife Nelva López) together with his then-20-year-old son Jorge as a utopian venture into independent journalism. The new publishing company immediately started printing the magazine La Semana (the predecessor of Noticias), slandered and closed repeatedly by the military dictatorship and earning Jorge Fontevecchia a spell of detention in the El Olimpo clandestine concentration camp – then-Buenos Aires Herald editor Robert Cox was highly instrumental in his release.
For a long time, Jorge Fontevecchia believed that the date of the foundation of Perfil had been picked by his father to coincide with his birthday (he was born on June 1, 1929). But one day Alberto confessed to him that in reality the day had been chosen as the saint’s day of San Fortunato to bring the new publication luck – the same day he chose in 1950 to launch Linotipia Fobera.
From the seeds of La Semana, Perfil was to blossom into the current multimedia giant that has launched more than 100 magazines, the newspaper, dozens of websites, a radio station and two television channels, also printing other newspapers and products.
On October 23, 2015 on election eve in the presence of the main presidential candidates – Mauricio Macri, Daniel Scioli and Sergio Massa, together for the first time – the new Barracas offices of South America’s biggest multimedia publishers were opened with Alberto Fontevecchia also there.
Hard-working to the end, he kept going to his first-floor offices, from where he could overlook the incoming and outgoing trucks, until late last month when, a fortnight before his death, he was rushed to the intensive care ward of Favoloro Hospital for an emergency operation from which he never regained consciousness.
Paying tribute to his memory, Perfil CEO Gustavo González wrote: “Those who knew his generosity, his enormous empathy and his sense of humour will remember him forever. Alberto Fontevecchia was an exemplary businessman and man, a maker of his times.”
He once paid tribute to his son Jorge by saying: “There can be no greater satisfaction for a father than proudly proving that the disciple has succeeded in surpassing the master” but González expressed his doubts that “anyone can surpass Alberto Fontevecchia.”
His son Jorge, in turn, recalled in a column this week that both the first and last words of his father were: “Never stop working,” with Alberto constantly asking after Perfil in his last months. The new head of a media dynasty finds some consolation in how fitting it was that the Perfil founder should choose a Saturday morning to pass away in order not to interfere with work as normal during the next week, which would be the best tribute to his memory now.