Friday, October 2, 2009

Men with big hands

When I was in the advertising business, my favorite clients were the folks that had started and grown a business from nothing.

They had put their lives into it. They had passion for the business. They had their money and their reputations at stake.

And, they knew more about the product than anyone else.

Ben Hogan.

Arnold Palmer.

(More to be written about both of them at a later date.)

Carl Paul who founded Golfsmith.

The Haggar family.

Ben Love who made Texas Commerce Bank a great bank by sheer force of will.

When I moved to Dallas to work for Tracy Locke, my first client was Borden Dairy.

Tracy Locke and Borden had made Elsie the Cow as well known and respected a brand icon as ever there was. And she's still going. She's at the Texas State Fair right now.

When I met my clients, I noticed these were men with big hands.

They had worked their way up the ranks. They knew of cows. And milking. And pasteurizing. And how to make butter. And cottage cheese. And all those other wonderful things that come from cow's milk.

The president of Borden during my watch was a man named Richard.

He wasn't more than 5'9", but he was a powerful presence. A man with passion for milk. And milk consumption. And Elsie.

And he had those giant mitts.

Richard absolutely made two of my favorite meetings in my little business history.

We had a meeting at the agency in Dallas. Richard was there with the marketing team.

A corporate sort of guy had made his way to EVP of Marketing. He didn't have big hands.

Richard was explaining to the entire group that milk consumption was under attack by the health nuts. He wanted all to understand this was a dire situation and that something had to be done.

The marketing guy had the temerity to say, "Well, Richard, I have alot of balls in the air. We'll see what we can do."

Richard's priceless response was, "Bill, I have alot of balls in the air. And two of them are mine."

A few months later, Richard called a summit meeting in Columbus, Ohio where Borden was headquartered.

He invited us agency types, his marketing team, his legal team, and his food chemists.

There was no agenda published before the meeting.

Once we were all assembled around the huge conference table, Richard closed and locked the door to the room.

"Folks, here's why you are all here. Borden stands for milk. The health people don't like the fat in milk.

So, we are going to find a way to introduce fat free milk.

That's it. Meeting's over."

The legal beagles and the chemists immediately went into spastic attack.

"Richard, the federal labeling guidelines say there is no such thing as fat free milk."

"Richard, it can't be done. Milk has fat in it."

Richard unlocked the door.

"I've said it. Now go do it."

The legals and the chemists continued to whine and pontificate and roll their eyes at the only man in the room with big hands.

Richard literally threw them out.

He physically pushed them out the door, with the following admonition.

"I don't want to hear why not. I just want to hear how."

He slammed the door behind them with only the marketing team and the agency boys in the room.

"Goddamnit. Trying to get those guys to do something new is like trying to get hogs off a trailer. They just hump up on you."

That's a visual and a metaphor I shall never forget.

Richard was fired within a year by a man with small hands.

But if you go to your dairy case today, there sits Borden Fat Free Milk.

We need more men with big hands.

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