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Family reasserts control at Rodale
Maria Rodale stood at a podium before 1,000 employees of Rodale Inc. and did the unthinkable.
She changed the Rodale mission.
In that March 5 speech at a rented hall at Lehigh University, she was toying with 60 years of tradition, hallowed in the eyes of many Rodale employees. Her grandfather J.I., founder of the organic food movement, started the tradition; her father, Robert, fostered it by growing one of America's leading health publishing empires.
The mission was about helping people help themselves stay well, through healthful eating, vitamin regimens and fitness. It was fulfilled in books and magazines such as Prevention and Men's Health.
But Maria's new mission includes publishing information on healing, for people who are already sick. It's perhaps a subtle shift to many observers, but a sacrilege to others because it dared to stray from the original Rodale vision.
''Healing is the next step in our natural and obvious evolution,'' Maria read from her speech scrolling on a TelePrompTer.
Maria, vice chairwoman of the company, counts that moment as the pinnacle of her career at the closely held family business, now making a transition to a third generation of Rodales.
It wasn't only about adding the healing element. It also marked the end of several years of upheaval that came with Maria Rodale's remaking of the Emmaus company.
With that behind her, Maria thought the ''Rodale'' was finally back in Rodale Inc. and the company had a cohesive direction again. It felt like all the wrenching changes the executive firings, the mass layoffs, the cancerous employee morale problem, the task of ripping apart Rodale and reassembling it served a purpose.
''It's like it was all worth it, and now we're on the right track,'' she said.
Maria Rodale, 40, is quick with a smile, even a youthful giggle. But make no mistake: Her ''healing'' vision is non-negotiable.
Also closed to debate is her vision to take the $450 million Rodale publishing business to mainstream America and bring ''New York cool'' to Rodale. That might be difficult, given that for some people Rodale conjures images of tofu, tie-dye and garden compost. And it means butting heads with megalith media companies that dominate the publishing haven of New York City.
Tinkering with the Rodale mission doesn't faze Maria.
''It's OK as a company to not just have the one Rodale voice, like it's the voice of God,'' she said during an interview in her small corner office.
The changes at Rodale are coming at a time when the company has lost millions of dollars.
Rodale's book business, once ranked 15th- to 20th-largest in the country, has shrunk dramatically. It's trying different ways to stay afloat now that its bread and butter selling books directly through the mail isn't working well anymore. Though it has a few New York Times Bestsellers among its titles, its books on such subjects as losing weight, spirituality and cooking healthier meals are struggling. Industrywide, mail-order book sales dropped 18 percent last year. Time-Life Books, Reader's Digest and others closed or made drastic changes to their direct-mail book operations recently.
Rodale's magazine business, about the 12th-largest in the country, has hemorrhaged talented people at many of its titles. It, along with the rest of the industry, has suffered from declining advertising revenue. Advertising dropped a combined 11 percent last year at Rodale's major magazines. Still, Rodale publications reach 30 million people each month.
The former top three veteran Rodale executives can vouch for Maria Rodale's resolve for change. Each was well-respected in the publishing industry and watched Maria grow up. But they were reluctant to let her take control. In the end, they were seen as obstacles to her rise to power and to Rodale's prosperity.
All were fired or left the company in 2000, along with many of their lieutenants.
The first two editors of Maria's new magazine, Organic Style, know her resolve.
She fired them before the first issue hit newsstands last year.
That's not to say she's ruthless. But fiercely stubborn? Even she'll tell you, absolutely.
Maybe Maria was born into her stubbornness when her parents named her after the strong-willed singing nanny in the ''The Sound of Music.''
Called a wild pony by her mother, Maria was a mischievous child, who shocked her parents when they learned she was smoking cigarettes. That might not have been unusual for other American teens, but in a Rodale household it was blasphemy.
That's because Rodale is synonymous in this country and abroad with healthful living. In the 1960s, the company was one of the first in America to ban smoking at work, and to this day its magazines won't accept tobacco advertisements.
Drastic changes at Rodale in recent years in large part can be traced to Maria how she grew into the role of a leader at Rodale, how she wrenched control from longtime managers who helped make Rodale successful, and how she is reshaping the company today.
J.I. Rodale had created the concept, Robert Rodale made it a business, and now Maria Rodale plans to bring it to Main Street America.
Rodale's early years
Rodale began as Rodale Manufacturing Co., an electronics company that Jerome Irving Rodale (he always went by J.I.) started with his brother. J.I., who changed his name from the Jewish one Cohen because he thought it was a handicap, with his brother moved the business from New York City to Emmaus in 1930 to reduce costs. Later J.I. became fascinated with magazine publishing and the then-radical idea of organics, growing food without chemicals.
Sixty years ago those interests culminated in what became Organic Gardening magazine, or OG as it's known today.
J.I. Rodale died in New York in 1971, when, as a guest on the Dick Cavett TV show, he suffered a heart attack.
Maria's father, Robert, then became chairman and chief executive officer. Robert, known mostly as Bob, grew the publishing business that includes OG and such successful magazine titles as Prevention, Men's Health and Runner's World. He bought Bicycling magazine in 1977 because he was an avid cyclist. (He was responsible for the Lehigh Valley Velodrome, a world-class bicycling racetrack in Trexlertown.) Locally he preserved land, and nationally he competed in the 1968 Olympics as America's No. 1 skeet shooter.
Bob Rodale's goals were as lofty as they get: to literally feed the world by advocating organic farming worldwide, especially in depressed nations. His publishing business had an equally noble goal: to help people help themselves, or ''inspire and enable people to improve their lives and the world around them,'' as the Rodale mission statement goes.
His visions fostered a patriarchal work culture in which employees were treated well, with good health insurance and other fringe benefits seldom found in corporate America. Workers were encouraged to exercise during work hours; the company even maintained an employee meditation room. Soda machines and salt shakers were banned from Rodale cafeterias as gestures to healthful living.
Employees responded with an attitude like they worked in Camelot and were helping their King Arthur Bob Rodale in his quest for the Holy Grail of healthful living.
''We all had headhunters calling monthly, weekly, trying to pull us out of the company and wanting to pay us a lot more money,'' said Mike Lafavore, a 20-year veteran and former editor of Men's Health magazine.
''The reason we stayed was because of the culture. You can have a friendly, upbeat culture and still make a hell of a lot of money, which is what we did.''
Maria takes another job
It was Bob Rodale who in 1985, with tears in his eyes, asked Maria not to go.
Maria was graduating from nearby Muhlenberg College with a bachelor's degree in communications theory and art. Instead of entering the family business, she was set on taking a job at a public relations company in Washington, D.C.
Maria and the Rodale family were going through a lot then. The unmarried Maria had a 3-year-old daughter to care for. Brother David, 30, died of AIDS the day Maria took her last final exam at college.
But Maria felt like she had to get away, so she left for Washington.
Meanwhile, the company was modernizing, installing computers to replace typewriters. Rodale was also sprucing up its overalls-and-pitchfork image by branching out from such traditional subjects as gardening and vitamins. Prevention loosened its strict guidelines on the types of ads it would accept and tried to appeal to yuppies, young urban professionals. It even offered books by humorist Dave Barry.
After a year in the public relations business, Maria gave in to her father's pleadings. She returned to Rodale to work closely with him and went on to work in the circulation departments for Prevention and Backpacker magazines.
Each time she changed jobs at Rodale the reaction was the same.
''You walk into any new department and it's like, 'Pfff, boss' daughter. She's got to be an idiot. She doesn't know what she's doing.'
''First, you have to overcome that,'' Maria said.
The business guy
Throughout the 1980s, Rodale's business was growing. Bob Rodale was the visionary and idea man. But to implement his ideas, he relied on Bob Teufel, the business guy. Teufel, named president in 1978, was becoming well-connected in the publishing industry.
Once asked by a consultant to draw an organizational chart of the company, Bob Rodale took a marker and drew two circles that overlapped, saying one circle was him taking care of the editorial part of the company and the other was Teufel taking care of the business side.
The overlap, he said, was the area they spent a lot of time talking about.
By 1990 Bob Rodale had largely handed off daily operations of the business to his managers and was focusing on his passion, teaching the world to feed itself with sustainable farming techniques. In September of that year, he traveled to Russia to pursue a pact with the Soviet government to teach farmers there his concept of regenerative agriculture and to help publish magazines and books on the subject.
Teufel took off for Alaska to do some fishing.
In some companies it would be unusual for the top two executives to be gone at the same time, but Teufel knew it was the best time to get away. That's because once Bob Rodale got back, Teufel was going to be busy.
Upon returning from a trip, Bob Rodale would hand Teufel pieces of paper with all the ideas he thought of while he was away.
''He always wanted to talk to me instantly, that day. So I had to be there when he got back,'' Teufel said.
One morning during an Alaskan storm, wind howling and sleet falling, Teufel got a phone call from John Griffin, newly named president of Rodale's magazine division.
''Bob, I have bad news for you,'' Griffin said. ''It's about Bob Rodale.''
''Yes?'' Teufel replied.
''Bob was killed in an automobile crash.''
''Are you sure?''
''Yes, I am sure. You should probably get back here as soon as you can.''
Teufel was back in Emmaus the next day, and Rodale was changed forever.
Changes after Bob's death
After the van Bob Rodale rode in was hit by a city bus in Moscow, the company faced one of its biggest challenges.
How would the Rodale vision live on when the man who embodied it was gone?
In part, the challenge fell to Bob's widow, Ardath, who became chairwoman of the company.
Ardath Rodale, 73, has been the matriarch of Rodale for decades.
Known as Ardie, she has always been well-liked among employees. She personally signs birthday cards for each of them.
Most of her service at Rodale involves interior design work for the dozen Rodale buildings in Emmaus.
She's responsible for one building that features a several-story, American Indian prayer atrium, or kiva. It's the type of thing employees might snicker at, but at the same time they treasure the quirkiness of it.
She was a spiritual person even before dealing with losing a son at age 30 to AIDS and husband at age 60 to an accident. She has survived multiple bouts with breast cancer.
Her specialty is inspirational writing, including a regular column in Prevention and several books.
While Ardie was involved with the Rodale company, she never had a firm hand in the business side of things.
Even as chairwoman, she mostly left that up to Teufel, book division President Pat Corpora and Griffin, all of whom sat on the Rodale board of directors. For example, Teufel set the agenda for board meetings.
For a while the Rodale family was content to let the professional managers run the business.
After all, Rodale publishing was doing well in the early 1990s, flying high on the wings of the ''Doctors Book of Home Remedies,'' a huge success. Men's Health circulation was soaring. Some in the industry call it the most successful U.S. magazine launch in the mid-1980s and early '90s.
''We sold an obscene amount of books, and we made a lot of money during that time,'' Maria said. ''That made everyone feel very safe and happy for a long time, a good four or five years.''
And in the wake of Bob Rodale's death, it also meant an easier time for her mother, who didn't have to deal with business failings.
His death marked another turning point: His will stipulated that Maria, the fourth of five children, should succeed Ardie as chairwoman.
''I would just say that connection was there, the alignment of ideals,'' she said of her relationship with her father. ''And I think he thought I was strong enough to handle it, because it's a lot of pressure.''
'Trouble in paradise'
During the mid-1990s Maria was Rodale's creative director, which, contrary to its name, involved working with budgets and production schedules, she said. That job, which she describes as being ''in the belly of the beast,'' gave her perspective on Rodale's business.
''It was just really clear to me, from that vantage point,'' she said, '' that there was trouble in paradise.''
Maria said the company had begun bleeding money. She hired consultants who told her the same thing.
''It was a mess, and in the process of cleaning it up we realized it was actually a lot worse than we thought it was.
''We had a number of consultants come in and tell us we were headed for trouble, and there was a general sense of denial about that.''
The denial came from Teufel and Rodale's other top managers, who said there simply was no financial emergency. In fact, Rodale's own numbers released publicly at the time show revenues probably at least doubled during the 1990s.
The contradiction is impossible to resolve because Rodale officials won't release financial figures sales or profits for the decade.
But the conflict was about more than corporate finances.
The managers, who were strong-willed and felt a sense of ownership in the company, resisted letting Maria Rodale take a leadership role. These were the same men who remembered her as the impetuous girl they had watched grow up. They said she wasn't ready for such great responsibility, citing her lack of formal business training no undergraduate degree in business, no MBA, no significant decision-making experience at another company.
Old guard resistance
Encountering such resistance from Rodale executives and not enjoying her job, Maria decided it was time to take a sabbatical.
''I just hit this personal wall. I was like, what do I want to be doing with my life? This isn't it.''
So she left the company in March 1996. For 18 months she did three main things. She wrote a book, the 368-page ''Maria Rodale's Organic Gardening.'' Married to Lou Cinquino, she gave birth to her second daughter. And she contemplated how she should re-enter Rodale as a leader, even hiring a business consultant to help with those preparations.
It was then she decided Rodale's divisions were operating too independently and that the cohesive vision and identity her father fostered had dissipated after his death.
Maria rejoined the company in September 1997 and announced to executives that she had created a new job for herself, director of strategy.
''Each of our products and divisions have done well on their own, but I think we can do even better if we connect everything and look at it all together and find some synchronicity and synergy,'' she told them in a speech Sept. 22, 1997.
But it wasn't long before conflict with the managers reappeared. They still resisted Maria and the rest of the Rodales, she said. And she got a cool response to an idea that Rodale should publish information for people who are sick, information about healing.
''There was real philosophical gridlock in terms of where the company should go, how it should grow and who should be in charge,'' Maria said.
''There was no agreement and no decision-making, and we were just stuck.''
Maria's desire for Rodale to embrace healing as a topic was an example, she said.
''I kept getting a lot of reasons why we couldn't do it and why it's not 'the Rodale voice,''' Maria said. ''I kept saying, 'Wait a minute. I mean, I'm Rodale. I've got the Rodale voice.'''
Other Rodale family shareholders, who by all accounts plow most profits back into the company, also wanted to be heard.
''There was a lack of accountability to the shareholders in general,'' Maria said. ''There was a general sense we didn't have to be listened to. That goes for me. That goes for Ardie. That goes for all of them.
''That can maybe be justified when the financial results of the company are great, but when they're not, it can no longer be justified.''
Other Rodales who hold voting shares in the company are Maria's siblings: Heather Stoneback, 50, vice president of leadership development in Rodale's human resources department; Heidi, 48, who works on special projects and was the founder of unsuccessful Rodale publication Fitness Swimmer; and Anthony, 37, chairman of the Rodale Institute, the 333-acre nonprofit organic research farm off Route 222 in Maxatawny Township, near Kutztown.
Heidi Rodale said the group of managers ''felt it was their company, and they ran it that way.''
Griffin, echoing sentiments of other managers, doesn't exactly deny that characterization. ''I don't think we saw ourselves as actively resistant, but I believe that's what they felt. There were certainly arguments about strategies and tactics, but that would happen in any organization,'' he said.
''The change was solely driven, as far as I can see, by the family feeling maybe the professional managers had too much control.''
The Rodale family shareholders met in 1998 and unanimously decided what must happen, Maria said.
''What we found is that we had to change the management,'' she said. ''It wasn't just the attitudinal change we were looking for, but we were starting to see the results in the numbers. Profits were nonexistent at times.
''There didn't seem to be any sense of urgency or sense of solution about how to fix it.''
The management purge was not what Maria had originally planned, she said.
''I had full faith that we could all work together and work it out. And that didn't happen.
''It was very sad and disappointing to everybody. I mean, these were people I cared a great deal about.
''It was a very emotional, hard time for everybody.
''And still is.''
Griffin concedes he's no fan of Maria.
''Maria can do what she likes,'' he said. ''I think that she was, for some reason, unsatisfied or wanted a bigger role herself. I never really understood what her goals were. And I'm not sure she did.
''But she clearly wanted to take power. And she did.
''I think that's the simple story.''
The big changes began in September 1999, when Rodale announced it was searching for a new company president. The family was forcing Teufel to retire earlier than he had planned.
Although in many ways Teufel was like an uncle to Maria, he was seen as an impediment to her taking over. Teufel also got the blame for the miserable failure of New Woman magazine, which Rodale bought for about $16 million from Primedia in 1997. Just two years later it had lost $40 million and was closed.
Experts say Teufel's early retirement was a loss in industry stature for Rodale. Teufel, who still lives in Emmaus, was highly regarded in the publishing world. During his 22 years as president, Rodale sales rose from $72 million to more than $500 million. He was awarded the magazine industry's highest lifetime achievement award in 1998 and in the same year was inducted into the Direct Marketing Association's Hall of Fame.
Griffin was the odds-on favorite among employees and managers to succeed Teufel. A 19-year veteran who ran the magazine division during the 1990s, Griffin was well-liked and respected.
But as he interviewed for the top job, which now would report to Maria instead of Ardie, he realized he couldn't work with Maria.
In January 2000 Griffin quit.
In hindsight, Griffin said, it was unlikely Maria would have given him the job.
Like many former Rodalers, he went on to a high-profile job elsewhere. Today he's president of National Geographic's magazine group.
Enter Steven Murphy
The search was on to find someone who could lead daily operations. It ended with Steven Murphy, who started in April 2000.
Murphy lived in New York City and his background was decidedly corporate: three years at Walt Disney book and magazine publishing, eight years as president of EMI music, seven years at Simon & Schuster books, and stints at other book publishers.
Bringing a more corporate discipline to Rodale is exactly what the company needed, Maria said. She was the force behind hiring Murphy, and counts his hiring as a vital turning point in the company's history.
Murphy made the final step to rid Rodale of its top three managers. In June 2000 he fired books President Pat Corpora, who ran that division since 1984.
Corpora, a hard-driving, no-nonsense manager, was described by some as brilliant at direct marketing of books. He landed at AOL Time Warner as a top marketing executive at the online division of the huge conglomerate.
(Teufel, Corpora and many other former executives and employees signed severance contracts that prohibit them from talking publicly about Rodale. Some Rodale executive severance packages are worth between $200,000 and $300,000 a year, sources said.)
So the old guard was out. The Rodale family had wrested control of the company from its own managers.
Some longtime employees, loyal to the ousted managers, were shocked at the changes. Employee morale tanked, with Murphy being the lightning rod for their ire.
''Rodale has lost its soul,'' said one employee.
Murphy is the most controversial personality at Rodale today. It probably doesn't help that he is so different from Bob Rodale, who had an earthy style bolo ties, hiking boots and bicycling to work.
Disgruntled Rodale workers talk less about Murphy's business decisions and more about his perceived big-city slickness his stylish business suits and his chauffeured rides into Emmaus from Manhattan.
''One of the casual jokes is Steve flies to London first-class on company money to buy his shoes and suits. I know that's not true, but it is the image of who Steve Murphy is,'' says one former executive.
Murphy seems at a loss to explain the personal assaults.
''I am who I am, and I'm not that perception,'' said the 48-year-old, who splits his time between Rodale's New York and Emmaus offices. He has homes in Manhattan and Bucks County. ''I don't know what it means to be from New York versus from Emmaus. I think that's a self-esteem issue.''
Murphy is described as charming by friends and foes. But there is little agreement on whether he is the right person to remake Rodale.
Some take his impressive resume at face value, while others claim he hasn't stuck around a company long enough to build anything or develop a reputation in the publishing industry.
But at Rodale, it didn't take long for Murphy to make his mark.
In September of 2000, just six months after he started, Murphy announced a major restructuring that dissolved the magazines and books divisions and instead grouped publications by content, such as women's health, men's health and organic living.
Maybe more significant to employees, Murphy started bringing in his own people, a chief financial officer from CBS-Westinghouse, and executives from former employers Disney and Simon & Schuster.
The vice president ranks churned. Some employees were promoted from within Rodale, but most were brought in from outside.
Mark Remy noticed.
He started working at Rodale in 1996 as a 26-year-old.
''I had fantasized about working there since high school,'' said Remy, who as a teenager in Ohio subscribed to Rodale's Bicycling and Backpacker. ''I wrote gushy letters to Rodale's HR department the way other young guys might write to Hollywood starlets.''
Remy became an editor at Runner's World.
''Everybody was running and biking at lunchtime and recycling everything. It was all very corny, but everybody believed in everything they were doing, including me. It was such a thrill,'' he said.
But when the feel-good vibe eroded, Remy quit in November 2000 to work for a men's magazine called Stuff, a competitor of Men's Health.
''It was depressing, and to this day I feel sad,'' Remy said. ''I wanted it to last forever, but maybe it was too good to last.''
Company officials say some criticism about Rodale morale is unfair.
Yes, there was a lot of change, but it was necessary to save the company, they said. The years 1998 through 2000 should have been boom years, as they were for most of corporate America. But they were dismal years for Rodale, company officials contend.
Officials are tactful and polite about worker reaction to the turmoil, but the message is clear: They wish employees would just get over it and realize Rodale is still a special place to work, with employment perks and a sense of mission you just don't find elsewhere in corporate America.
Although Rodale chipped away at some benefits such as performance bonuses, other things rare in the industry continued. An extra week's pay as a Christmas bonus for rank and file workers regardless of how well the company is doing continues today. And there's the free health club, the company-owned day care center, the subsidized cafeteria and the grants for college tuition for employees' children.
Maria Rodale said the ill feelings stem from an entitlement culture that grew at the company.
''We've been very fair, and we're still very generous with all of our employees,'' Maria Rodale said.
Murphy said he understands that employees were loyal to some managers who are gone. But the best way for people to feel good again is to contribute to a successful company, and that's how he views his job, he said.
''I think we need to celebrate the past, rather than drive by looking in the rearview mirror,'' Murphy said.
Confides one longtime employee, who hated the changes at first and is now just wary: ''If we look at the changes, while some of them are hard and undesirable, I think most of them are rational business decisions.''
But there's a cost, the worker said.
''Most employees would say Rodale is not as true to its values as it once was.''
While employee morale suffered during Murphy's early tenure, he remained a hit with the Rodale family.
He met with Maria and Ardie every Monday in Emmaus.
''I had found a company that had not, to its detriment, aligned itself closely enough with the family,'' Murphy said.
Murphy lists communicating with the Rodale family among his top mandates as CEO.
''Let's not forget what the family wants. They own the company. Anybody who doesn't ask Ardie what she thinks, or Maria what she thinks, is really missing the boat.
''I have a thick skin, but I do get my Irish up when someone's being negative and they start throwing Bob Rodale quotes at what we're doing now.
''Just look at Ardie and Maria. Who knows him better?''
Oct. 17 solidified Murphy as the bad guy in the minds of many employees.
They got two memos that day, one from the Rodale family and one from Murphy.
First, the family letter outlined how the company had fallen on difficult times financially, mostly in its book division.
''The world around us has changed dramatically in the past decade,'' the memo said. ''As a business, we must also change or risk becoming obsolete.
''In order to succeed in the future, we have to let go of how we did things in the past and anticipate how they must be done to succeed in the future.''
More cost-cutting was on the way, and some people would lose their jobs, the memo said.
Later that day, a letter from Murphy told them how many.
Buried near the end of the memo was a bullet-point saying Rodale would cut 148 jobs of the work force of roughly 1,300. They would mostly be in the book division.
Compared with other layoffs going on at the time in the Lehigh Valley region, it was a small number. And Rodale remains one of the region's top employers, with 850 workers in Emmaus. But it was by far the largest layoff in Rodale history. More important, it sent the message that Rodale was not the haven for employees it had always been.
Still, Ardie forbid managers from dismissing a husband and wife who both worked at Rodale.
When the major cost-cutting was done, Murphy had slashed $40 million in Rodale expenses. And while the October layoff was the most notable, smaller job cuts continued.
Oddly, the tumultuous years of 2000 and 2001 were the only years Rodale ever made Fortune magazine's list of best places to work. It ranked No. 99 in 2001, down from No. 67 the year before.
New Rodale way
While Murphy was carrying out Maria Rodale's mandate for change, she was tending to the launch of her magazine Organic Style. It was aimed at a younger female audience than Prevention.
The concept is a person can have a healthful ''organic'' lifestyle with concern for the environment, yet not sacrifice style and elegance. A recent article featured the famous Giorgio Armani line of clothing incorporating organic materials.
It's a dichotomy that's not a conflict neither for Organic Style nor for Rodale Inc., she said.
''It's about encouraging diversity here,'' Maria said. ''It's OK for Organic Style to be hip and cool, and it's OK for a healing issue to be warm and comforting and gentle. It's OK for us to do things that are mainstream, and it's OK for us to do things that are niche.''
Today that diversity can be seen in employees, too.
In June Rodale held its company picnic at its research farm. Parking was in a nearby cornfield. An old beige Volkswagen bus was parked next to a late-model BMW. Some women from Rodale's New York office showed up in heels. Murphy donned a cowboy hat and jeans, attire unusual enough for him that it yielded joking comments from employees.
Will all the changes at Rodale be successful?
Industry watchers are taking a wait-and-see approach. They agree the company is becoming more focused on profits, but necessarily so.
They don't see the company straying too far from its organic roots.
After all, Rodale's motto, ''healthy, active living,'' is also its expertise and the reason it has survived among much bigger publishers of both books and magazines.
''For Rodale, like many of the small to mid-sized media companies out there, it's a terribly challenging environment,'' said Jon Fine, who writes about the magazine industry for Advertising Age in New York.
''If you're a huge company the size of Time Inc., Conde Nast or Hearst, you tend to have a few more levers and a few more ways to cushion the blow a little bit. It just gets tougher if you're a smaller company.''
Since the launch of Organic Style, Maria has been quoted in publications all over the country, from Dallas and Los Angeles to Denver, Fort Lauderdale and Baltimore.
She's been on Oprah Winfrey's TV show and National Public Radio. She gave a speech at the Cincinnati Flower Show.
She's on a personal mission to refute the traditional image of both organic and of Rodale.
''Organic is hip, not hippie,'' she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In her Emmaus office, where passing trains sometimes disrupt conversation, Maria tries to boil down her goal.
''When you look at the mission of our company, how do you know when you've succeeded?'' Maria said.
''The answer is when everybody's doing it.''
Maria's strong will has allowed her to dare create a new Rodale tradition outside the huge shadow cast by her visionary father and grandfather. But it's uncertain whether the changes she's made will lead to long-term prosperity of the publishing company.
What is certain is that she has succeeded, for good or ill, in putting the Rodale back into Rodale Inc.