Thirty years ago, I was working an entry-level position at a midlevel advertising agency in a high-level market – Los Angeles. Every day, I sat at a drafting table and dreamed up advertising concepts and designs for a company that made lighting fixtures. Not lamps – these were architectural fixtures that utilized new technology, made to exacting specifications.
“As exacting as the client” was the mantra of my boss. With every layout that I submitted, the account exec would feverishly say, “No! No! That’s not gonna work for Him!” With every galley of ad copy that I wrote, he’d read it quickly, shaking his head as if he was reading a writ of his own execution.
I finally came face to face with “Him” when I personally delivered an ad proof.
“Here’s the genius who designs our advertising!” Those were the first words I heard from Him, who is really a guy named Jack Zukerman. He motioned for me to sit and he went over every design that I had, nodding, looking up and smiling. I thought, “This can’t be the same guy.” … And then it happened.
He caught it. A typo! He leaped to his feet and screamed, “Are you kidding me? Is this how you were taught to spell? My granddaughter can spell better than this!”
I was caught totally off guard. The compliment that greeted me when I walked into his office had lulled me into a false sense of complacency. I averted my eyes from his and looked around the office – the photos of his children, grandchildren, friends and celebrities began to blur. I felt my head spin. I faintly remember Jack moving to his office door and slamming it shut. With a knot in my stomach, my attention turned back to him. He was now smiling. He looked down at me and uttered these words:
“How’d you like to work for me?”
I thought for a second and said, “Sure.”
• • •
I joined a group of Jack’s employees who had come to Jack’s company thinking that it was enough to punch in and punch out – not only at work but also in life itself. The word “work ethic” was as foreign as “unemployment.” In those days, when there still was some fortune in Fortune 500, we all had jobs and we believed in the gold watch at retirement.
I would later discover that my new boss, whose greatest influence was his mother, and greatest pride were his four kids, all professionals, would became a mentor to many of us. Having lost his father at an early age, Jack stopped searching for role models and instead became one. I can imagine that most people didn’t live up to the lesson that his mother taught him.
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