I broke into the agency business young…crazy young. Fallon (at the time Fallon McElligott) took a flyer on me without an internship (unheard of back then) and basically let me grow at my own speed. I was a young and getting enormous opportunities that were well above my experience level and pay grade. While I was succeeding at those opportunities, I still had much to learn about the business, our clients, our heritage and how to be successful long term.
To say that I was getting a little full of myself might have been an understatement. Well you can imagine the size of my head when my boss (Paul Schield) invited me to lunch with our CMO (Mark Goldstein), our CFO (Irv Fish) and CEO (Pat Fallon). If the grinch’s heart grew 3 sizes, my head grew 10 sizes. We went to an old school steak house called Murray’s. This was literally your classic 3 martini place that I had read about when studying the history of agencies. Most of that studying was done on my own, since most business schools just don’t offer you any real education on how to succeed at an agency. The lunch was tasty, the drinks stiff and the conversation light-hearted. I couldn’t believe the situation I was in…20 years old, riding a rocket to the top and having lunch with the senior leaders.
When the check came, I completely expected Irv to grab it. After all, he was the finance guy, right? Imagine my surprise when the check was passed from Pat, to Paul to ME. My brow started to sweat, my hands got clammy and a nervous sensation overtook my entire body. I had one credit card to my name…and it was in MY name. It wasn’t a corporate card and I certainly didn’t have an expense account. With trepidation I opened up the folio holding the check and gulped when I saw a nearly $350.00 bill. That was basically 3/4 of my rent…and we ate it. But, then a great wave of calm overtook me. It dawned on me that I could just expense this lunch as a business expense. Paul would sign off on it and I’d get reimbursed. Sweet!
While all of this was going on in my head, the other 3 simply carried on their conversation as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I placed my credit card into the folio and signaled for the waiter to come over. A few minutes later he was back. I added the tip, signed the check and then said, “shall we.” I thought I was with it. Oyve. On the short walk back from Murray’s to the office I was starting to doubt myself. Would Paul really sign my expense report? Should I have ordered the Filet Mignon? Side note, since this experience, I have NEVER ordered a Filet Mignon at a restaurant. As I was in deep thought, Mark Goldstein pulled me aside and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “you know, you can’t expense this lunch.” My worst fear had been realized. That sinking feeling swept back into my gut. Ugh.
We walked a few more steps and then Pat gave me a lesson that to this day I hold near and dear to my heart. He said to me, “You realize, all you bought was lunch. You didn’t buy our friendship, our respect or our trust. You bought us a meal. This business, as is life, is built upon relationships. Relationships require an investment in time, effort, listening, learning and discovery. Real relationships last. You can’t manage relationships through a credit card. Too many people in our industry think they can build a relationship with clients through buying fancy dinners or taking them to amazing events. Those relationships are hollow and will never stand the test of time.”
I put quotes around Pat’s advice, because that’s how I remember it. I’m sure a few words are incorrect.