Success is easier when fueled by great mentors

Most successful people can name at least one influential person who helped shaped who they are. I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had several great mentors in my lifetime – all superstars in their respective fields – and I know for a fact I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if it weren’t for their experience, wisdom and guidance.

Not only did they provide practical words of advice and meaningful opportunities for growth, I was able to learn invaluable lessons simply by observing how they conducted themselves both professionally and socially.

What I gleaned from these industry leaders continues to influence my approach to strategic thinking, branding, marketing and advertising today. By sharing these insights, I hope to inspire others to seek mentors that will help them succeed in business and in life.

The power of strategic thinking

Milton Glaser, Graphic Designer

To many, Milton Glaser is the embodiment of American graphic design. Immensely creative and articulate, he has had the distinction of one-man-shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Georges Pompidou Center, and his impact on the profession internationally is formidable.

I studied with Mr. Glaser at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he taught a class on ‘thinking’. He opened my mind to the fact that not everyone actually ‘thinks’ and what an amazing tool the mind can be when applied. What still amazes me to this day is the fact that I can convince millions of people to purchase something that they have never heard of, and don’t need, in about 30 seconds simply by accessing the memory bank in their brains.

The search for excellence in strategic branding has no finish line

Herb Lubalin, Graphic Designer

Herb Lubalin’s numerous awards, including 7 Gold Medals from the New York Art Directors Club, Art Director of the Year Award from the National Society of Art Directors, a Clio, and two honors from The Cooper Union, are a testament to his unending quest for excellence.

I was privileged to be able to spend time in his studio and observe him at work. He would create hundreds of designs for a single strategic branding project, never stopping until he found the perfect design. What I took away from his mentorship was the passion and resolve to never settle, and to push myself to always find new ways to create solutions that are simpler, stronger and unique.

Always reach for the stars

Alex Kroll, former Creative Director, Young & Rubicam Inc.

During Alex Kroll’s tenure as Creative Director of Young & Rubicam, worldwide billings increased 2½ times, to $8 billion, and its offices more than doubled to 331. Under his leadership, the company also opened the first advertising agencies in Russia and China, built the largest agency network in Central and Eastern Europe, and grew Bravo into America’s largest Hispanic agency.

Alex impacted my thinking in a simple yet profound way. I wanted a movie star to do the voiceover for a TV commercial but was sure the celebrity I had in mind would never do it, so I asked Alex for advice. His response was “always reach for the stars”. And yes, you guessed right, I did get the star I wanted, but more importantly I learned a lesson for life.

Customer service is everything

John A. Chesman, former General Manager, MCL Motor Cars

John Chesman served as General Manager of MCL Motor Cars for 21 years, and is now the Secretary-Treasurer and Board Member for the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia, as well as many other charitable and volunteer organizations. What John taught me was the true meaning of customer service.

A classic example involved a new car launch. We had invited 12 valued clients to go on a first class, one-hour sailing excursion. These VIPs had to have owned at least two luxury vehicles that MCL offers – either a Jaguar, Porsche, Rolls Royce, Bentley Land Rover or Aston Martin. The invitation was a crystal engraved champagne glass. The new car was placed on the deck of rented yacht by helicopter and there was live music and fine food on every deck. Guests received the matching glass and a fine bottle of champagne when they disembarked. The problem? Despite repeated reminders of the strict departure time, only 2 guests arrived in time to enjoy the cruise. The next morning, when I presented John with the $65,000 bill, I commented that this was the worst use of money we had ever spent. John disagreed saying “this was one of the best events we ever hosted because those 2 people believed it was all just for them”.

Another occasion in which John displayed what customer service is all about stands out in my mind. One of the perks in buying an Aston Martin is that you are flown to England to see your car being manufactured. In this particular case, the client chose a bright yellow finish for his car. Upon returning to Vancouver, he drove the car for one day and was dismayed when his friends laughed at the colour. He came in to see John, who immediately called MCL’s accountant and instructed her to fully reimburse the customer, no questions asked. John’s words of wisdom – “If the customer is not happy, you have not gained a customer; all you have done is made one sale.”

Leadership skills

Charles Diamond, former National Director, Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem facilitates academic and research partnerships between Canada and Israel; this includes establishing scholarships, supporting research, and cultivating student and faculty exchanges. During his tenure as National Director of the organization, Charles Diamond created a corporate culture that inspired people to participate and excel.

Charles is one of those individuals who values and respects everyone, and who has the uncanny ability to instantly assess the situation and make the right call or action. He inspires everyone around him by drawing out the very best within each person so that they can excel individually and as part of the team.

I’ve learnt so much from Charles over the past two decades, especially when observing how he handles himself in difficult situations. We were at a luncheon with 12 contributors to the University, and Charles said to one of the men: “You promised me $10,000,000 if you were successful in winning your court case. I understand you won.” The individual’s response: “You had a dinner party and did not invite my wife and I, so she won’t let me give you the money.”

Everyone waited all through lunch, dessert, coffee, and goodbye handshakes for Charles’ next words, but he never said a thing. Days later it dawned on me. Charles was wise enough to know if the wife said no, there was nothing further to say.

We welcome your comments.

For tried-and-true winning tactics on how your organization can rise above challenges, take advantage of opportunities, and win business, contact
Ken Etheridge, President & Creative Director

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