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From The Boardroom to The Barnyard

(Update to my earlier article written for BlogCritics)

A short story of a long career in Marketing”. An Asset-Based Thinker’s look back at life lessons learned and some inspirational foresight fueled by the benefit of hindsight.

Tough economic times and downsizing have adversely affected just about every generational cohort. From young people graduating college having much slimmer prospects of employment, to Gen X’ers being furloughed and rethinking their careers, to Baby Boomers having to postpone retirement and to retirees dealing with having to go back to work. Here’s my story.

What a trip! My journey to and through the corporate Boardrooms took 38 years. I’ve been in the Barnyard at The Concept Farm about 5. In these 5, I have been blessed with more meaningful work, productivity, personal fulfillment, determination, confidence and humility than I could ever have imagined. Here’s how that happened and how it can help you.

The Journey:

I worked all my life because I thought I “had to”. Starting at age 12 for spending money, during high school to help with tuition, at college to pay off student loans, graduated college, got married and started a job in advertising in the same week. Then, a family shortly thereafter, worked a second job in a rock band to pay for a night school MBA, after the MBA there was a “night job” as adjunct professor of Marketing at Pace University and kept that up for 30 years in whatever city my day job took me to. Some great jobs at that… VP at 26, President at 34, a few other CEO gigs, even an early “partial” retirement at 49. I just kept on going, never looking back and always seeing my career as a means to some specific ends….to provide a great life for my family, as validation that I was good at what I did and a vehicle to accumulate the means to retire comfortably. I was fortunate to work for some top companies, always had the support of a great family, and an abundance of advice from friends and mentors along the way. I managed to only be fired once at age 39 (boy was I pissed off), weathered a few storms, rode some pretty good waves and then “lucky” to be asked to retire gracefully. Career was always about “what was next” …. career path. In retrospect, the wrong way to see it.

LESSON 1. Career should be about what is Now! Success, a measure of what you have left to learn. The more the better. Pursue ‘want to” work rather than “have to” jobs and you will be amazed at how many paths will unfold….no matter what stage of life you are in!

The Exit to The End?

In 2003, at age 60, I was Vice Chairman of the world’s largest marketing communications company…. McCann-Erickson. I was at the top of my game with lots of experience and wisdom under my belt, fire in my belly and still ready to rock “n” roll with the best of them. Then, sooner than I would have liked, I was told it was time to move on and make room for the “next generation”. Hell, all my life I was the next generation…. what happened? Make room for who? I knew had more savvy, experience, energy and vision than “they” did so why put me out to pasture! After getting over being pissed off and dusting off my ego, one would think I would pack up and get on with what I thought I had worked for all my life. A comfortable retirement…. fix my golf game, do a little volunteer work and “take it easy”. That was always the plan. Fortunately, circumstance, luck and the earlier vision of a different “next generation” provided the portal for an unexpectedly fulfilling different path.

LESSON 2. Every career decision that is made by you or for you will cause a ripple effect in your life and those around you. You alone have the power to make sure they are positive, passionate and persistent ripples of growth.

Or, The Entrance to A Beginning!

In 1999, four years prior to my McCann swansong my son, Gregg, and three of his friends (Will Morrison, Griffin Stenger and John Gellos) came to me with their plan to start a new breed of marketing communications company for the emerging digital era. The Concept Farm, built on big organic creative ideas, fueled by the power of the internet and new media…. the credo - “Fresh Ideas Harvested Daily.” I believed in them and their vision and provided the seed money (no pun intended) to pursue their dreams never realizing that their brilliantly simple vision of a Farm would grow into my new source of inspiration and nourishment. The Concept Farm became the portal that turned my “exit” from a “had to” career into the “entrance” to the “want to” work that I had longed for.

LESSON 3. No matter how long you’ve been at it…you always need inspiration and mentors. It can come from anywhere, anyone at anytime. Keep your vision turned on and tuned in so you don’t miss it.

Life and liberation in The Barnyard:

When I took up residence, TCF was in its fourth year, growing and ready for its next stage of development. The Farm was their gig, the Farmers were on a roll and the last thing they needed was for me to be a “disruption in the force”. I was almost twice their age, so we had to find the right balance. They had to run the business, service the clients and generate an amazing depth and breadth of effective creative work day in and day out. We identified two distinctly different things I could offer…experience (been there, done that lessons, advice and “gravitas” when they needed it) and vision fueled by my passion and energy to try new things, take risks and help make a difference. The perfect “yin” to their collectively brilliant “yang”. Ironic, that attributes considered of little value at a big company trying to be “young”, would be valued highly at a young, smaller company on the cutting edge of marketing communications. Go figure.

LESSON 4. You always have something of value to add. Always. Identify your assets, never doubt them, put them out there for the right people to see and watch what happens.

Bumper Crops:

Here’s just a few of the things that happened at the Farm in five years. TCF is working with an expanded “A” list client roster, tripled in size, expanded its capabilities and resources dramatically and won bushels of creative awards. It happened because we made the most of our collective assets by identifying where each other’s passions could positively intersect with the Farm’s aspirations. Here’s what’s happened to me: I’m lucky to be around bright creative talent that challenges and motivates me spearheading the Farm’s efforts in developing “Content of Consequence” – Communications and content that inform, entertain, enrich and makes a difference. Out of this initiative has come an inspired alliance between TCF and The Cramer Institute and a best-selling series of books based on Asset-Based Thinking. A 14-time Emmy nominated and five-time Emmy award winning weekly television series on NYCTV (Cool in Your Code”. Three personal Emmy awards for best host/presenter for segments I host on the show. (It’s never too late to break into show biz)

LESSON5. The positive ripples always come back to you when you least expect it and in ways that you could never imagine. They are your rewards. Enjoy them.

Would I do it all over again? I am!

PS: In 2010 I was appointed as an Adjunct Professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business and for the last 8 years I’ve had the privilege of teaching the next generation of marketing professionals. What a life.

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