As the FM moves out of its semi-centennial year, it faces a number of challenges. One is that it is subject to the perception of age. Not that it is old: 50 years, in media terms, can be a blink.
Even Time magazine is a stripling at more than 90 years. On its first cover it featured Warren G Harding, the 29th president of the US, who is generally regarded as the worst occupant of that high office.
The British magazine, The Spectator, has been running since 1828 and actually reached its maximum circulation (though not influence) under its recent editor, Boris Johnson.
The FM first appeared as a form of answer and challenge to growing interest in the Stock Exchange and other financial and economic markets. Its birth was presided over by the legendary editor and liberal Laurence Gandar. Modelled on the British journals the Investors Chronicle and The Economist, it was launched by SA Associated Newspapers (Saan).
Its first editor, John Marvin (1959-1962) was a London veteran of financial journalism.
This was important to the new owners. Financial writing was not new, but had never been attempted on such a scale in SA. It had to be invented by the key players. And despite the FM's rise to unprecedented influence over this sector - and, inexorably, political analysis - it remained, in a sense, foreign for many years before ultimately spurring lookalike competitors.
The economy was politicised; the increasing isolation of the apartheid government lent emphasis.
Saan gave the FM a secure promise of editorial independence, and the journal initially set about deconstructing the financial sector with limited forays into the wider society. This was to change profoundly.
Marvin was John the Baptist to the Jesus of his successor, George Palmer. This is not to nullify his formative influence. Palmer repeatedly insisted that Marvin "taught me to write", a brutal experience, as he told it. But the second editor gave it a form and a fashion that has endured, through many reflective changes.
Saan was strongly linked to Anglo American, always sensitive to the charge that its major economic stake in the economy could lead it to meddle. Craftily, the FM constructed its image as a fiercely independent voice: a formidable tradition.
That this shift began during Palmer's reign was not a process that made him entirely comfortable. He savoured the dispassionate image he allowed the world to construct for him. He saw the magazine's primary function as always leading back to the market: there was a time, particularly in the 1970s, when he would twit writers for being "too political".
Yet writing on labour and the economic dimension could be pioneered with Saan's remit. This enabled Palmer not to cast loose the anchor of financial focus, but to co-opt writers who made these fields essential to public awareness. The list is long and John Kane-Berman is one example. Another vigorous spirit was John Stewart, in many ways my mentor.
The Soweto upheavals of 1976 horrified Palmer, as they did many investors, including foreign ones. Palmer emigrated to America in 1977 - another turbulent year of repression and torture - long before the penultimate years of apartheid, but soon enough for him to see what was coming.
Those years were immensely violent, growing more so as the 1980s sagged on. After a brief interregnum by Graham Hatton, Steven Mulholland was appointed to carry Palmer's torch, until first moving "upstairs" to resurrect Saan (by then called Times Media) and then to Australia to head Fairfax Newspapers.
It was Palmer's apparent omniscience - adopted in a modified form by Mulholland - which became a tradition. Grown men would flinch at Palmer's criticism; he appeared to know everything. When he struck, the market quailed.
Significantly, when the FM did involve itself in the political sphere - over such matters as the Durban labour unrest in the early 1970s and Soweto 1976 - it carried great weight. This was a consequence of its "conservative" axis within the markets. It spoke, or appeared to speak, with supreme authority.
I joined the staff in 1974, and laboured mainly in the socioeconomic field for the final Palmer years. I had wrongly considered myself (though young) a seasoned writer; but, initially Palmer did not see it that way. In an early interview, he probed me as to whether I was "a Marxist". I was not, but I suspect he did not believe me, for he said: "Perhaps the book [as he termed it] could use a Marxist."
He did not on that occasion hire me. I hovered, then was taken on. It changed my working life and also my off-centre career as an author.
This experience of being, without warning, submerged in a culture of enterprise, precision and deep understanding, was an enormous gift to journalism in SA. Perhaps this was not at first seen; but it became common cause as we moved into the era of revolutionary children and economic prolapse.
Since the latter played a significant role in the collapse of apartheid, it can be seen in retrospect that the FM was more influential than its early editors realised. It was in an enviable position to reflect these changes. This was given material form by its consecutive editors: Marvin, Palmer, Hatton, Mulholland, Nigel Bruce, Peter Bruce (no relation), Caroline Southey and Barney Mthombothi. Each has been uncannily representative of their wider readership.
Circulation had an initial tendency to rise and fall with the fortunes of the stock exchange. But the FM broke free of this template through a widening base: the surveys programme, requisite alterations in style, and a genius for appointments. Even the first Bruce - whose elevation to succeed Mulholland was initially resisted by the politicised staff - represented such an appointment.
Nigel Bruce - a conservative with a capital "C" - echoed prevailing sentiments at the time. It might be recalled that in the tense period leading up to the unbanning of the ANC and the Communist Party, and the release of black leaders, the business fraternity girded its loins for flight or acceptance. It - and Bruce - were understandably cautious. No-one knew exactly what kind of state might emerge if everything, down to the corner barber-shop, was nationalised.
Hatton had left for Britain as soon as events made possible after resigning as editor, having triggered the launch of Finance Week by three disaffected senior FM writers. It is a tribute to the tenacity of those who adhered to the FM ethos - facts first, opinion optional - that it is usually a fair-minded institution, open to contrarians. Of course, many did leave: reluctantly, Kane-Berman, who pioneered the FM's labour coverage, and Steven Friedman, who may be said to have brought it to maturity.
Summary sackings were frequent. Editors considered them essential to the overall wellbeing of the magazine. Some used the process to consolidate their hold. I was sacked at least twice by one editor who soon undid his terrible action.
Another profound lesson was that ethical standards were not cast in stone. I recall one editor remarking that insider trading could be considered beneficial since it signalled changes of direction in the market.
Peter Bruce continued the old traditions, first at the FM and then on Business Day, Mulholland's brainchild. He reinforced the FM's aura. He presided over a faltering attempt to restructure the overall chain of editorial command, holding to a British sense of excellence, though a bred-in-the-bone South African.
And so, at bedrock, an even flow was attempted. Committed to encouraging the acquisition and safeguarding of wealth, the magazine was enabled to steer a course that helped ensure that this was so - and that it was rooted.
Southey succeeded Bruce. Throughout her tenure, until she stepped down in 2004 citing personal and professional pressures, she was subjected to pseudo-intellectual attacks from all sides.
All these backrow cynics really understood was the obvious: that she was a woman. In terms of FM traditions, this was revolutionary. One surmises all FM editors have been outsiders, a viewpoint pivotal to their appointment and succession.
Mthombothi is now editor. His appointment reflected the FM's known desire for another authoritative helmsman.
So the FM stands, yet also evolves. Mthombothi will continue to redefine the issues that confront the journal in the post-post SA transitional phase. No-one is more aware of these than he.
- Wilhelm is an author and journalist who has been associated with the magazine for more than two-thirds of its existence and has dealt with seven of the FM's eight editors
Nigel Bruce Understood the market
Stephen Mulholland Formidable
Peter Bruce Old traditions
Barney Mthombothi Authoritative
Caroline Southey Brave appointment