[last updated March 20, 2018]
There’s got to be at least six versions of my biography lying around between Linked.in, the corporate about us page at Acquia.com, old conference speaker agendas, a wikipedia entry, and of course my actual resume which I never can find when I need it. I’ve been blogging here and elsewhere for about 17 years (since 2001). This is my five minute autobiography, more of a longwinded story than a draft of my obit.
Churbuck is a misspelling of Chubbuck. My third great-grandfather, Thomas Swift Chubbuck lived in Wareham, Massachusetts and had a lot of children, most of whom died in childhood. The two sons who survived to a ripe old age had different last names. Thomas Augustus Chubbuck was born a Chubbuck and died a Chubbuck in 1924. His brother Henry Swift Chubbuck was born a Chubbuck but died a Churbuck. This may be why I commit egregious typos when writing this blog, generally omitting words such as “if” “and” “or” “but.”
I’m married to Daphne Fullerton Churbuck, founder of the interior design firm: Graham Eliot Interior Design, and we have three children — Eliot, Alexandra “B” and Fisher. Daphne and I live on Cape Cod in my great-great-grandfather’s house near the center of a small village in the town of Barnstable. I share my middle name with that ancestor, Thomas Chatfield, and his reminiscences can be found on this site under the main menu.
The Handys, Chatfields and Churbucks were whalers, sailors, boat builders and wood workers in Cotuit. I was the first generation to only spend summers there. My maternal grandfather Kenneth “Mac” McKiniry taught high school in Andover, MA and Exeter, NH, and was a great coach who played for the Detroit Lions in the 1930s.
I grew up north of Boston in Georgetown and Andover, spending my childhood summers between my grandparent’s places in Rye Beach, NH and the Cape. Dad passed away in 1980 but mom spends summers in Cotuit along with my siblings, Thomas, Julie and Henry.
I went to public school in Georgetown, private school at the Pike School in Andover, prep school at the Brooks School in North Andover (1976), and college at Yale (1980) where I studied American History and English Lit, and graduated as a Scholar of the House. Over the course of my senior year I wrote an unpublished novel “Parallel Roundings” which deserves to remain unpublished.
In college I led a dissolute existence, but rowed on the Heavyweight Crew team, and paid my tuition by delivering the New York Times, and beer kegs for a local liquor store. I learned how to handset type as the printer’s devil under Dale Roylance of the Sterling Library’s Bibliographic Press.
I arrived in New Haven vaguely wanting to become a surgeon, was quickly disabused of that notion, and graduated in 1980 with no clue of what I wanted to do next other than bury my father and get on with the business of figuring out the future. I worked as an intern for the Cape Cod Times, where I “covered the waterfront” and caught the reporting bug. I am inordinately proud of being listed as a “notable alumni” on the Cape Cod Time’s wikipedia page.
I went to my first Grateful Dead show in 1976, just before arriving at Yale, and am proud to admit I am still a Deadhead and have seen more Dead shows than I can remember including the legendary Barton Hall show at Cornell from May of 1977.
After college I delivered sailboats, then ended up in California where I tended bar in San Francisco at the Balboa Cafe and learned the true craft of the cocktail from Jack Slick. I also, met my wife, fell in love, and proposed to her on bended knee.
Engaged, we returned to New England where I managed to get hired as a cub reporter at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, and for the next few years covered Salem, NH, the New Hampshire presidential primaries in 1984 (meeting my political hero George McGovern on his comeback tour), and eventually wound up on Beacon Hill as the Tribune’s Statehouse Bureau Chief. I loved politics, became a big fan of the late Paul Tsongas and Barney Frank — truly decent politicians, and at night tended bar at Daisy Buchanan’s, the old Back Bay sports bar frequented by the high and mighty of Boston sports.
I am not a sporting fan, but I have a genetic disorder for the Red Sox. When Bill Buckner muffed that blooper against the Mets in the ’86 World Series I screamed at the television and swore I was through forever. For the next 18 years I went cold turkey on the Red Sox — averting my gaze if they were in a headline or on the news. I tried to resist the urge to get sucked back into their sadistic curse until 2004 when my son Eliot caught the plague and pulled me back to cheer them past the Yankees. Today I continue to follow the Sox and even owned season tickets in the bleachers for a while, but my special baseball passion is for the Cotuit Kettleers and lovely Elizabeth Lowell Park where one can watch the major league players of the future play from the stands with bare feet and a scorecard while the ospreys fly over the diamond and the village turns out to cheer the boys.
In 1984 I left political reporting and daily journalism to join PC Week, a weekly trade newspaper covering the IBM personal computer market. For four years I had a front row seat at the birth of that amazing “revolution”, hung out with true legends, and realized I had an affinity for writing about technology.
The Forbes years
I wrote my one and only book (under my own name, I’ve ghost-written others), The Book of Rowing, which was published by Overlook Press in 1988. That same year I saw Forbes Magazine was launching a special section devoted to computers and communications, so I wrote a letter, was asked to write a “try-out” story, and was hired as an associate editor and the magazine’s New England Bureau chief. I won a few big awards of my work — thanks to the brilliant editing of Bill Baldwin and Jim Michaels — and still get fan mail for my cover story on how I forged my paycheck with simple desktop publishing tools, a story that introduced me to Frank Abegnale of Catch Me If You Can fame.
In 1994 I wrote a big story about the coming commercialization of the Federally funded Internet and saw the future of the media when Lotus founder Mitch Kapor showed me his new connection to that world in his Cambridge office. So I sat down, wrote a letter to the Forbes family, told them I had seen the future and it’s name was “HTML” — and then in a burst of naive passion, learned that HTML and wrote the first prototype of Forbes.com
I ran Forbes.com from 1995 to 2000 and had the time of my life. When I was 40 we broke the Stephen Glass plagiarism scandal that went on to be the inspiration for the film “Shattered Glass.” I was omitted from that story for ….let’s say “political reasons” but it was a great piece of journalism I’m proud of. We invented a lot of things at Forbes.com, were constantly trying stuff that usually didn’t work, but sometimes did. It was clear by 2000, when the first wave of dot.com mania was at its peak and about to burst, that I needed to move on. Thirteen years at Forbes could have turned into 30, and something inside me told me I had just unleashed a monster that was going to eventually eat its parent. When Stewart Pinkerton wrote his account of Forbes The Fall of the House of Forbes I was flattered and saddened to be featured in a chapter entitled “The Death Star.” Yes, Stewart described me as a “tall, ruggedly handsome man” (a flattery and conceit I take great glee in sharing with my skeptical wife), but I also realize that being the founder of that thing also unleashed a monster that gave the world the “slideshow” of the world’s top nude beaches and degenerated into a “thought leadership” platform for any content marketer who covets the tag “Forbes Contributor” on their resume.
And no, don’t ask me about the Cue Cat.
McKinsey and Switzerland
After Forbes I entered my Wilderness Years. First stop: McKinsey & Company and an ill-fated dot.com mania venture called TomorrowLab which was shuttered three months after I arrived, only to be reassigned to a project in the firm’s New York office rebuilding its knowledge management system. I watched the World Trade Center collapse from my office at McKinsey, and four sad months later took a job in Zurich with a startup called 21i.net which was a sort-of social network, online private banking platform founded by a fascinating man from Lichtenstein.
That led to a continuation of a long-distance commuting lifestyle that began in 1994 when I lived in New York during the week and flew home to Cotuit on the weekends. Zurich was a good experience, gave me a taste for international work, but 21i.net fell victim to the hyperbole of the dot.com era and in 2004 I was on the beach freelancing and thinking of getting back into media.
I took a gig at IDG — the publisher of Computerworld and CIO Magazine that was run by the legendary Pat McGovern — and led their transition from online to print for eight brief months before the McKinsey mafia found me and recommended me to the chief marketing officer of a new computer company — Lenovo — formed by the acquisition of IBM’s PC business by the Chinese tech powerhouse Legend.
Lenovo and marketing
I knew zero about marketing, but that CMO, Deepak Advani wanted me and so I began commuting to Raleigh and Beijing, building Lenovo’s digital marketing operation in support of its ecommerce efforts on Lenovo.com. The high points of that detour in a weird career was being given the responsibility to support Lenovo’s sponsorship of the 2008 Olympic Games with a totally amazing athlete blogging program that actually worked against all naysaying predictions. The recession of 2008 hit Lenovo’s global marketing team hard, but I survived and went on to be part of a team that built a sexy little device called the Skylight which was — for lack of a better word — a Cloud PC and went on to win all kinds of best in show awards at the 2010 CES.
I got the ax eventually from Lenovo when a new CMO came aboard. I was itchy to do something else, tired of a life spent bullshitting about “web analytics” and “social media marketing” and went back to freelancing for a while for McKinsey and some corporate clients.
Art and Entertainment to Commercial Open Source and SaaS
In 2011, after considering a new career in public relations, I joined up with two very smart guys in NYC and started Eastman Advisors out of a townhouse on W. 54th Street behind the Museum of Modern Art. We did some fun projects guiding the digital strategies for Christie’s the art auction house, a big television entertainment legend, a very very famous musician and some other cool names in art, music and luxury goods.
In 2014 I was approached by a Boston-area startup, Acquia, to do some freelance writing about the confluence of content and commerce, and in the summer of 2014 joined them fulltime as the VP of Corporate Marketing — running public relations, content marketing, web operations, social media, brand marketing and all the other “softer” aspects of marketing which I enjoy. I am really into the concept of “developer relations” these days — as developer marketing is a definite oxymoron; and take great satisfaction from being part of a new company that is the well-spring of innovation like some of the legends I had witnessed over the last 30 years, amazing places that at the time I just knew would become huge successes such as Microsoft in 1984, Intel, Broadcom, Google when Sergey and Larry came to Forbes.com and talked to Om Malik and me in 1996.
I’m 59 and staring hard at 60. As old rowers like to say, “The older we get, the faster we were.” I have a sailboat in the harbor. I don’t try to kill myself exercising anymore because I realize now that trying to be fit the way I thought I needed to be by once riding a bicycle on Cape Cod roads or doing Crossfit were sure tickets to the emergency room. I was hit by a car in 2006 and it was a bad one. Concussion beyond belief. My retina detached. Then I got back on my feet and started Crossfit and popped my bicep and ended up having surgery and wearing a Frankenstein brace. Now I wake up very early some mornings and take a leisurely constitutional through the village in the dark, listening to the screech owls hooting in the woods, gazing at the constellations, and freaking out when some animal skulks across the pre-dawn streets in front of me.
I commute 55 miles very morning to Hingham, ride a ferry across Boston Harbor to Rowe’s Wharf, and walk to work in an office near the Old State House. I read like a fiend — everything from biographies of Churchill to Don DeLillo’s latest. I blog when I have cacoethes scribendi, binge-watch art films (favorite auteur is Bela Tarr) think the greatest album of all time is Astral Weeks, the greatest novel is Peter Mathiessen’s Killing Mister Watson (followed by Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge) feel entranced in front of anything by Rothko, prefer Cheez-its to Cheese Nips, and intend, in my dreams, to retire to a saltwater farm, buy a Concordia yawl, an Albion drop press, print limited editions of obscure poetry and make some form of stinky blue cheese from the milk of Devon Milking cows while raising chickens on the side.
That’s about all that you need to know about me. I overshare here on occasion but try not to post pictures of my food.
*Middle name to avoid confusion with the “other” David Churbuck