Looking back over a career that is now in its third decade, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint a single mentor that propelled me forward. Rather, a mosaic of people have knitted together to provide me with insight and opportunities, both big and small, that have enabled me to learn, grow, take risks and earn rewards. Each of these mentors also gave me the initial building blocks of my career.
A Career Foundation
When I made the career-changing decision to move from being a reporter for a daily newspaper over to the “dark side” of public relations, I had no reference point. Then Lee McGrath, Larry Power and Terri Foos hired me to help open the agency’s West Coast office. With Lee and Larry in New York, I worked closely with Terri out West. She helped shape my PR industry foundation in a supportive and collaborative way that ultimately developed my skill set to the point of receiving a partnership in the agency in my early 20s. Terri allowed me to be myself, say what I had to say and ultimately replace her at the agency. While we had often spirited discussions, her mentorship provided me with one of the best foundations for my career that anybody could ask for. Terri left us too early, but she is always present within our agency culture.
Part of the mentorship I received from Terri included allowing me to run solo on several client programs early in my career. One of those was an early tech client called Falco Data Products where I met some great people who saw my unyielding drive for results, dedication to their program and enthusiasm. Falco’s VP of Marketing, Don Naples and Regional Manager Steve Garrido supported me extensively on my efforts. They gave me fuel to grow, take measured risks and provide the company a voice through my efforts. This early positive reinforcement from a client meant the world to me back in the day. And, the good work we did for Falco led us to a new client and another person who impacted my career.
When things changed at Falco, our work was noticed by a competitor in the form of Ampex Corporation where I met a director of marketing not appreciably older than me. John Murphy wasn’t a corporate guy. Rather, he was a guy in a corporation who didn’t fit the buttoned down business mold common in the Valley’s early days. John was the first person I heard utter the words “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission,” and he showed me that you could indeed have fun doing communications even in a conservative organization like Ampex by taking measured risks and showing management new ways to obtain results. We worked closely to establish this television industry equipment provider in the enterprise hardware space. We took chances, sometimes got reprimanded by those above us and, in the end, always were complimented for the end result. That continued for years past Ampex as John hired us at several other organizations.
During the early years of my career, I always considered myself competitive, but I didn’t realize I didn’t know how to actually compete until a sales guy turned entrepreneur named Brad Rowe showed me in no uncertain terms. I led the new business pitch to Brad for his startup Puma Technologies (renamed Intellisync), an innovator of sync software that we would ultimately take from pre-revenue through IPO during a nine-year relationship. I have never been more challenged, more poked at and more abused in a new business meeting than in that pitch. After we got hired, I watched how this former college athlete savagely competed in business and that further hardened my own drive to succeed.
A Big Break
Each of those people’s investment in me led to another important development in my career – the big break that helped elevate my work and the agency’s brand to a new level. We had worked with Ed MacBeth at a couple of companies prior to him taking a new job and promptly bringing us on board as his agency. His new company was a well-funded start up called TeleWorld. Eventually, Ed led the company to a branding change with the still-to-be-launched organization rechristened TiVo. We were there to watch the beginnings of this company that created a sea change in the television consumption habits of consumers and the consumer electronics industry. It was an often wild ride, taking place at the height of the dot-com era with many cooks in the kitchen. It culminated in our taking the brand from darkness to light, from unknown to a verb. The opportunity to be involved in something that big for the first time and create the brand was a seminal happening and an opportunity I will always be grateful for.
Being Happy and Enjoying Life
The competitiveness, the enthusiasm and the opportunities that came to me via all of these mentors fueled my desire to excel. It also turned me into a person almost singularly focused on producing results for our clients and career advancement for me. That was all good unless you actually desired a life. Working out was basically the only non-work activity I undertook during this period and despite that six-day-per-week routine, I was having trouble losing some weight so I made an appointment with the registered dietician at my club thinking diet could be the issue. Not only did I get great advice from that meeting, I also got a wife and a best friend whose unyielding positive spirit showed me how to lighten up, be happier than I ever was and enjoy life on a new level. Toni Ferrang Bloom was and remains the best thing to ever happen to me. Her impact extended beyond my home life as the happiness there fueled a new and improved version of me at work.
It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. I also believe that my village of mentors helped shape my initial approach and guided my long-term career path. I couldn’t be more appreciative.
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