Service of Presidents: I’ve Worked for Great Ones

February 18th, 2019

Categories: Boss, Loyalty, Management, President

Photo: maggievalleync.gov

It’s Presidents Day so I wanted to honor two great ones I worked for—both at PR agencies: John Havas and Bob Schwartz.

I’ll try to be brief—I see eyes glazing over as I type–though I could write pages about each.

I wasn’t at Havas’ shop long when he invited me to lunch to tell me that my job was not in jeopardy. He didn’t give details, which was appropriate, but he’d had to fire an account exec and didn’t want me to think I was next—last in first out. Another time he called in from a trip to learn that a supplier was asking about an unpaid bill. He immediately instructed the office manager to cut and mail the check. We got good prices from the suppliers—loyalty went both ways.

Photo: Groupon.com

A freelance person was doing the work I’d been hired to do. There was plenty for both of us. I had one weekend to get my arms around an account and its products and write a press kit full of releases for an impending press conference. That Monday the freelancer, Havas and the AE who seemed unable to do the job, met to review the material before sending it to the client for approval. After witnessing the snarky, nasty approach of the freelancer, who was trying to discredit what I’d written, he got up, said, “You all work this out among yourselves,” and left the room. She wasn’t around for long after that though had she not been so nasty she might well have been.

Havas ran the agency well and took the term profit sharing seriously—and so he shared. Another plus: I like the man.

Photo: linoit.com

Bob Schwartz ran the first agency I worked for which was one of the largest in the U.S. When he entered a room I thought someone had turned up the lights between his smile and presence. The agency made up a title for me when I joined—writer–after the magazine I worked for folded: I had zero PR and little relevant experience.

The agency had a major crisis minutes after I was promoted to AE. They discovered the billing department director had absconded with a large sum of money. My raise was delayed and when my boss told Schwartz she was afraid I’d leave, he had me in his office to assure me that the raise would be retroactive as soon as things settled down. Remember: I was at the bottom of a large totem pole but he wasn’t an arrogant president. He was the kind of boss who would pick up a secretary’s phone if he was walking by and nobody else was around and, in spite of his title, he rolled up his sleeves and collated the entry to the industry’s most prestigious award late into the night before the deadline–along with the others in the group.

Do you currently or have you worked for a great president?

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8 Responses to “Service of Presidents: I’ve Worked for Great Ones”

  1. Anonymous Said:

    I work for a terrific person. Recently we had a breakfast meeting with most of the staff. After we finished eating he gave a speech on a stage. He started out by reminding us that his dad was a waiter for 39 years and that during college his dad helped him get a job at the restaurant where he worked. The son, my boss, had to wait on a bride and groom at a wedding and he was nervous. He dripped gravy on the bride and the whole room went silent except for my boss’ dad. The dad was laughing as if to say to his son: Hey, there Ivy league college kid. You think Princeton is hard work? Waiting tables is hard work. My boss ended this story by asking us to give the people who just fed us a round of applause. We gave them a standing ovation.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    What a great boss you have Anonymous. I love people like him. Bet his team give him all they’ve got and more. He’s an inspiration. Thank you for sharing him with us.

    A different type of story but an example of a great boss who also happened to be president of his division which was part of a big corporation. I represented this manufacturer of curtains that were made in the South. Editors would want a special run of a product about to be introduced so there were none in inventory. A sampling division was put under the gun to fabricate and ship them in minutes. When we visited the plant we saw a bulletin board filled with the editorial placements that they had made possible. The president’s handwritten thanks–his office was in NYC–to the sewers were also on the bulletin board, such a smart thing to bring people into the project who might otherwise feel frustrated by our constant requests for things yesterday with no understanding as to why.

  3. Anonymous Said:

    We are devoted to him. And he does get extra from us because he makes everyone feel important while reminding us that the work we do is not the work of one person. We couldn’t have worked that 14 hour day on an empty stomach.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Amazing how many people pat themselves on the back as though they, alone, have achieved whatever success ignoring the others–even the nanny who doesn’t complain when parents must work late–who help make it possible.

    I wrote about how Bob Schwartz rolled up his sleeves to do the work that needed to be done and so did John Havas. We had a backbreaking chore of pulling together 800 informational packets for an out of town retailer workshop. The materials didn’t come in until the last minute so there was no time to hire the company that handled that work for us. We all had backaches from leaning over a conference table assembling the packets for hours until late the night before the two day event. There was John packing and sorting like the rest of us.

  5. Anonymous Said:

    I happen to know that John had a terrific boss at his first newspaper job. After John was called up for service he wondered if he’d have a job when he returned home after two years away. She made sure there was a place for him. He still speaks highly of her 66 years later. He still speaks highly of you as well (although it hasn’t been 66 years since you worked with him!) I don’t know Bob but he sounds like a class act.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I was very young and unsophisticated in the world of PR when I worked for the company Bob Schwartz headed. I had stars in my eyes and was in awe of much that went on around me–the generous entertainment budget for one. I almost genuflected when speaking of THE CLIENT in those years. By the time I worked for John I was no longer naïve and much harder on bosses so the test he passed was by a more critical and knowledgeable employee. I so respected him and learned from him. We were at a meeting at a New Jersey hotel when I was new on the job. He asked me to check the team’s coats. I was listing under the weight of the coats by the time I got to the counter and the employee looked up and said, “No room for coats. We have laundry hanging here.” And no, there wasn’t another place to store them.

    I thought that was it for me–the whole point was for us to look sharp and the vision of me dragging pounds of winter coats into the meeting room wouldn’t fly. So in a fit of temper I pushed behind the desk into the closet area and tossed all the coats on the floor and said, “That’s fine. Coat check ticket please.” I remember thinking, “Ohhhhh that’s my new winter coat.” When John came downstairs and heard what happened he pulled out a bill, handed it calmly to the coat check man and said, “You’ll take care of the coats, won’t you?” with which the man said, “Yes sir.” That solution never occurred to me.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Yes, and with mixed results…..Mostly positive.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    There wasn’t a boss I didn’t learn from–even if it was how not to treat others or how to crush incentive. Seeing what doesn’t work is as important as observing how to inspire.

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