Advice to my 36-year old self

1155483968We are all far wiser with the wisdom of age and experience. In that spirit, there are several things I would have liked to have told to my 36-year-old self in 1989 when I became President of a Philadelphia ad agency, Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro, Earle Palmer Brown’s local office. We moved down to down to Southern New Jersey (from northern New Jersey), and I had previously been a Senior VP/Management Rep at BBDO/New York. BBDO was one of the world‘s largest ad agencies and I was managing large multinational accounts like Campbell Soup, Pillsbury, Polaroid and others.

So in early 1989 at the age of 36, I began my role as an new ad agency President in Philadelphia, a new market for me. I was “hot stuff” (so I thought) with a well-developed ego, business and marketing skills, a passion for the business, and strong drive to lead the new agency. I did have strong marketing skills, but my managerial skills weren’t as strong. Part of this was merely age (or lack) and part was hubris. So, I made mistakes. Here are things six I wish I had handled better:

1. I didn’t learn all employees’ names quickly enough–this was key. I tried but often forgot. No one likes being called the wrong name. And it was important use an employees’ name as I addressed them. I fell short here too.

2. I didn’t get to know the key clients fast enough and way underestimated the importance of some.

3. I didn’t look people in the eye as I walked the halls. Often, I was just deep in thought, but lack of eye contact was a bad trait of the new President.

4. I didn’t listen enough and spoke too quickly. I tried to solve every problem in “one note” when in some cases I should have just listened and not tried to solve the problem at all.

5. I wasn’t smart enough to know who was genuine and who was just trying to kiss my butt. I just wanted to know what was going on and it was tough as I was being “managed”

6. I referred too often to my past…..”at BBDO we did this. In New York we did that”. However, I have no regrets on unabashedly letting all know my lifelong passion for the NY Yankees.

In retrospect becoming a President at age 36 of a 100+ employee company in a new market with no knowledge of the people was a big challenge. On the other hand, my lack of familiarity with the people, clients, and market was also a benefit as I had no “agenda” of how things should be or used to be.

Still my 67-year-old self knows many things that my 36-year-old version had yet to learn. Hard knocks are often the best teacher. I am grateful for the experience years ago, though I might do some things differently if I had to do it again.

But then again there are no do-overs in life. We live and learn. I’ve learned, and still am learning. What I do know is that the older I get, the more I need to learn.

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  1. Matthew Murphy says:

    Great advice! What have you got for 53?

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