“I’m an ambitious bastard. And, you told me I could own a chunk of this ad agency, if I do what I know how to do: make ads.”
As I say those words, I realize I haven’t been anxious since Gregory and I began to talk. From nowhere, a wave of gut-wrenching fear puts a stranglehold on my body, and the image of me hurling into the azalea bushes flashes across the Technicolor screen in my mind. My hands begin to tremble, so I put them inside the pockets of my new Ralph Lauren tuxedo. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that this soiree is black tie.
“We meant every word of it, Will. This is a young person’s business. I’m long in the tooth, and Ian’s antsy to bring on the next generation of leadership.”
“That’s why I’m walking up this driveway with you in this stifling tuxedo, instead of tearing around the San Francisco Bay in my catamaran, overflowing with big breasted, nubile young chicks.”
Truth is, after seven and a half years of working in the Bay area—my entire life since college in Colorado—I was sick of it. The wide range of ethnicities was exhilarating, especially coming from the Deep South, but—I don’t know—the clammy, foggy days and the super hip attitude rampant in the ad world, which was bullshit in my view, had begun to cloy.
Or maybe I just needed to come home and face the dragon.
Maybe it was time to do that. . . .
“Let’s head around to the back yard and see if we can find his Excellency, Mr. McDonald,” Gregory says.
Finding Ian McDonald is easy—you simply must be quiet for a second and listen for the sound of a stentorian voice. And there it is: Ian holding forth in the oversized gazebo in the oversized back yard behind his oversized mansion. Gregory and I walk across the yard filled with meticulously coiffed advertising people, media people, printing sales representatives, PR people, politicians, family members, church people, and god knows who else—everyone looking like they are having one hell of a good time. Hundreds of them. And everywhere the trappings of wealth, status and power: I enter a massive circus tent brimming with food and drink and scores of elegantly liveried waiters, at your beck and call, looking bored but trying gamely not to. I am hungry as a banshee but now is not the time. Have to pay homage to the king, who at this moment is launching into one of the stories that helped him charm clients out of their fertile advertising budgets from New York to Miami.
“So there I was, nose to nose with the chairman of the largest advertising agency in the free world: J. Walter Thompson. Me, a raw-boned kid up from nowheresville in a world of blue bloods from Haaavard and Yaaale—including this old codger who was busting my chops—a Yalie.”
You have to hand it to Ian, he is a sublime storyteller. He has me going from the first words. And even though he isn’t elegant and handsome like Gregory—his features are cartoonish: big ears, a bulbous nose, and a military haircut glistening with Vitalis hair styler (think Karl Malden); his eyes burn right through whomever he is talking with, Svengali-like. (I feel like a deer caught in the headlights). Ian has passion and energy for what he is doing and that outshines 99% of the other people I typically run across who are satisfied to lead their lives as high-paid technicians or bureaucrats sliding down “the slippery slope of brilliant irrelevance” (one of my ad heroes, David Ogilvy, said that to describe a failed advertising concept). No, Ian is not one of those.