Dan Edelman, founder and chairman of the world’s largest PR firm, died on Tuesday. Many articles have
already been written about Dan’s incredible story and accomplishments. I was
among the lucky ones to have worked with the man called an icon, a legend, and a
It was his son who brought
us together in 1995. Richard sat me down for a talk at one of his favorite
haunts – the Harvard Club in New York City – when I was being recruited to the
firm. (Credit goes to our mutual friend, Jason Rubin, for suggesting that we
get together.) Dan’s entrepreneurial spirit flourished in Richard. He said, “I
don’t have a job description for you. All I know is that we’re growing fast and
I need to get the right people into the boat with me. I’ll give you an
assistant, an office, and the resources to build some business and a team. What
do you say?”
Looking back, it was as if
Richard was reading from Jim Collins’ Good
to Great before the book was written. I accepted the offer, put my shoulder to the wheel, and
soon had major biopharmaceutical clients on both coasts. It was rewarding work and made even more so
by the terrific group of professionals I helped recruit to join the efforts.
The success of the team in New York propelled me onto the radar of other top executives at the firm. After eight months or so, I was asked me to
take over the Chicago-based healthcare practice. With a great team and great clients (and with
young children and a new house), I turned the offer down -- politely. The next month
brought another offer and another refusal. The cycle was repeated for a third
time the following month.
After that last discussion,
though, the phone rang. It was Dan. He said, “I heard you turned us down
“Dan,” I replied, “I’m
really flattered by the offer but things are going really well here. I want to keep at it.”
“Well, this is the next thing you need
to do,” he asserted. “And I’ve set up an appointment for you next week with a Northshore
[suburban Chicago] realtor.”
Of course, I agreed to the
Dan came to New York office before my trip to Chicago. During an elevator ride we shared, he announced that I was moving to Chicago to the random assemblage of employees. No one ever
accused Dan of not knowing what he wanted, or being shy or indirect!
I commuted to Chicago every
week for more than four months so that my children could finish the school year. Bob
Kornecki (the regional president) was a terrific boss; he couldn’t have been more accommodating and
helped to make the transition a tremendously positive experience. Richard gave
me wide latitude to build a team from scratch in New York. Bob provided the
same freedom to rebuild the team and client list in Chicago.
Dan would call me into his 63rd
floor office for updates on a routine basis. In between, I received the
occasional “Dan-o-gram” – a memo with his thoughts, ideas, praise or critique. During one meeting he told me of a potential opportunity that came his way
through a friend of a friend of a friend. Dan asked me to go out to a high-tech medical device facility in the suburbs, meet with the CEO, and determine how the agency can
help him meet his goals.
I left my boots in the
office on that winter’s day, since the car service ride would be door-to-door. I
arrived at the office park and was soon taken on a tour of the facilities by
the CEO. We talked, stopped to inspect some of the medical devices, and spoke
with a few workers. He led me to his office, where we’d drill down into some
specific issues. But before this next phase of the meeting started in earnest,
he excused himself for a few minutes.
Trained as a scientist, I
love to observe and get a good dose of information to help formulate questions
and ideas. Left alone in the office, I swung my chair around to see what the
man surrounded himself with – the books and tchotchkes he chose to display, and
the pictures on the walls.
I drew in a deep breath and my muscles tensed when I
sighted the giant poster of Adolf Hitler. “Next time we’ll get it right,” it
said in big, bold letters.
It was time to leave.
The CEO returned to his
office and I decided not to confront him in that setting. Instead, I told him I
was called back to the office. I wasn’t due to be picked up for an hour, so I
went outside in the snow and slush, and walked around, out of sight, to another building while
dialing for the car service.
Back in Dan’s office – feet
regaining sensation – I reported on the experience. He questioned me, said this
fellow and his business came highly recommended, and asked if I was really sure
about the neo-Nazi materials. I reassured him of the facts, said there was no
way that I would work that man or ask anyone else to get involved, and that I didn’t
want to see the reputation of his firm sullied by such an association.
It was the end of the discussion.
The case was closed. Dan didn’t ask me to reevaluate. He didn’t ask anyone else
to check my story. He didn’t call his friend to investigate. My word was all he
needed. It was trust.
I’ll never forget Dan the
businessman, Dan the PR innovator, or Dan the person. He helped to shape the
profession and the lives of thousands of professionals. I’m grateful to have been in his
orbit and saddened by his passing. I attended yesterday’s memorial service –
full of tears and laughter – and had a brief moment with Richard. I’d like to let them know again that my deepest sympathies are with Ruth, Richard, John, Renee and the
entire Edelman family.