Speech: Bob Feldman, 2018 Legacy Honoree

Rob Flaherty: Good evening everyone. How are you tonight? Great to be here with you. Thank you very much, Keith. Thank you, Ron.

I guess “It’s an honor” is kind of a throw-away line, but I can’t tell you how incredibly honored and happy I am to be able to come up here and honor someone who has played such a huge role in my life and the lives of so many people that I know. It’s an honor to speak on behalf of the countless people, who over four decades, have benefited from Bob Feldman’s mentoring and leadership.

Bob’s had a brilliant career, as you probably can see by the bio in your program. Beginning at Burson-Marsteller, then he was a senior partner at Ketchum, then he was president and CEO of GCI, then he was the Head of Communications and Corporate marketing at DreamWorks SKG and of course, for the past decade, he’s been the founder and partner of a very successful digital management consulting firm, PulsePoint Group.

On top of those all-consuming jobs, and you all know, you have jobs like that. They’re 110% straight out. I think one of the big things that we’re honoring tonight, and it is truly in the spirit of Betsy Plank, is that he made time to give back and mentor beyond his own work place. By, among other things, teaching graduate-level courses at USC Annenburg, penning a regular advice column that many of you read in PR Week and serving on the board of a page society for many years, including most recently chairing their very, very successful annual meeting in Washington.

He’s also led the development of the Page Learning Lab, which is an innovative online learning program, that’s already attracted hundreds of people – will eventually reach thousands – about the newest things going on in our profession, and I think ultimately, that will be Bob’s most enduring legacy as a mentor. In all of these roles, he coached, led, mentored and became lifelong friends with many of the most highly successful people in our field. And I’m very pleased many of you are here tonight, including Karen Strauss, Dale Bornstein, who’s being honored tonight, Gary Grates, AnnaMaria DeSalva, Aaron Kwittken, David Kyne, Grant Toupes, and of course, his longtime business partner, Jeff Hunt, and Plank Board Member, Bill Heyman, among many others.

All of those folks know, as I do, that Bob brings out the best in you. I probably benefited from Bob’s talent and generosity as much as anyone, and certainly for more years than anyone. This is a sentence I can’t believe I’m about to say: I first met Bob 41 years ago in 1977 when he was a senior a Utica college in upstate New York and I was a freshman. He was the general manager of the radio station. He was the news director of WPNR FM 90.7 on your dial. I was a reporter and the editorial cartoonist for the college paper.

That December – this stuff always happens when you go to a cold school – the college lost heat for a few days and the student union that housed the radio station was running at about 40 degrees inside, but Bob insisted on keeping the station open and continued broadcasting. In tribute to his fortitude and at the direction of my editor, I drew an editorial cartoon – again, back in 1977 – featuring a young Bob Feldman broadcasting the day’s news. He looked like this … and the bubble was, “We have to take a break right now, if only because my teeth are frozen.” I still have the cartoon.

Way back then, Bob was already as articulate a person as you’re ever going to meet. Already a leader, best in his class, someone we looked up to, someone we tried to emulate. After college, Bob hired me at Burson and then hired me again at Ketchum, and we continue to work together on the Page Board.

I think everyone here knows that this field we have chosen, public relations and communications, is actually pretty intangible. What we deliver, what we sell is kind of hard to get your hands around. Kind of hard to explain to your parents or to anyone else. We ultimately deliver huge value, as you know, but it often takes to the very end of the process for you to be able to see the value and touch it, and be able to show it to someone. Consequently, my view is early on in our careers, we need role models to show us what we’re here to do and how to explain it to other people – people who can teach us the lingua franca of the field that we’re in, this very intangible field.

For many, many people, certainly for me, Bob was that person. He taught us the language. He showed us how to council clients, how to write a strategic program, how to pitch a new piece of business, how to conduct a staff meeting that’s engaging in front of 150 people at Ketchum New York, how to deliver a speech in front of 350 people. “Oh, that’s what it looks like when it’s done really well.” That was Bob for us.

In addition to being a role model, he’s a world class mentor. And I think Bob does three things better than most. First, he expects a lot of you, but in a very certain way. You get the idea when you work with him that Bob thinks you’re a winner, therefore, he treats you accordingly. As in, he expects your performance to be among the very best. I think a good coach is someone who occasionally says. “You could have done that better.” Bob’s a good coach, if you know what I mean.

Having said that, more than any other boss I ever had, I always walked away from a conversation with Bob, feeling better about my ability, more confident that I could do this business, and a compliment from him, never received all that frequently, meant all that much more when it was received.

Second, and related, Bob sets a high standard for you and he sets a high standard for himself, which is why he’s a sought-after counselor by senior management. He’s smart, very smart, and he does his homework and expects you to do your homework. That extends right up until now when we’re in Plank board meetings, where we all know Bob is going to show up and make important contributions, and he’s also going to diplomatically challenge our thinking, especially if there are holes in it.

Third, he brings humor and humanity to everything he does. I’m not sure everyone gets to see this side of Bob, as I do, and I wish they did. Nobody cracks me up as much as Bob. He has a rapier wit, which is defined as a sharp intellect, making points so deadly, they’re like a French rapier sword in fencing duels. There’s nothing I enjoy more. Being able to laugh at situations and laugh at yourself is important, and good humor is part of good mentoring.

And then there’s his humanity. Bob cares about you, as a person, not just as a colleague. I could tell you many, many stories of his kindness, warmth and generosity. The individuals he’s helped, the organizations he’s championed, that he has been a convener of so many communities, small and large. And of course, the pride he shows absolutely beaming, about his wife Susan and her latest entrepreneurial feats or his kids accomplishments or kvelling over his beautiful grandchildren – most recently, Nathaniel Brooklyn Feldman, born on August 30th.

Bob is a one-of-a-kind, class act, who’s improved the lives of all of us fortunate enough to have known him. And I think nobody deserves the Plank Center Legacy Award more than my friend. Please join me in congratulating Bob Feldman.

Bob Feldman: Thank you, Rob. That was really, really touching, and I’m only sorry they limited you to four or five minutes. It also is, perhaps, the first time that somebody used the word kvelling in this room, much less a guy named Flaherty, so thank you.

I’m really, really flattered and honored. First, when I heard this, as you would imagine, I did a little bit of research and I looked at some of the past recipients of this award and people like Bill Neilson, – Bill is here today, who’s been a role model of mine and somebody I’ve admired for many years – Pat Ford, Harold Burson. I started at Burson-Martseller right out of college – I was there for 11 years.

When I was 20-something years old and moved to Westchester, I moved within a few blocks of Harold’s house. The first person to come to my house when I moved there, was actually Harold and Betty. They came with a six pack of Coke and a bottle of champagne. I mean that says a lot – Harold Burson to some account supervisor Burson-Marsteller. So, really some remarkable people who I’m really honored have received this award. And then I’m almost doubly flattered to be able to share the stage tonight with a couple of good friends, Bob Jiminez and Dale Bornstein. I just, again, hold these folks in remarkably high regard. I have deep admiration and affection for both of them, so it’s particularly special to be here with them tonight.

I also kind of want to acknowledge, or kind of give a shout out to Bill Heyman. Bill is not only a good friend, Bill’s been a friend of mine almost as long as Rob has, but Bill is the guy who kind of pushes me, at least, to always be better. And when it comes to mentoring and so forth, to have somebody who’s a good friend but has always kind of encouraged you to bet better and do these kinds of things is inspiring, and it’s fulfilling, and it’s rewarding and it’s great. So, Bill, thank you.

You know, I was thinking about what we all do for a living and, you know, we do whatever – PR or brand strategy, organization design, emanate, whatever it is. To me, the work – I mean I like the work, but honestly it kind of comes and goes, you get a client today, you lose a client tomorrow – but what’s enduring are the relationships and the people you work with. And to me, what’s inspiring about work, and at least how I view my career, is around talent management, because I think at the end of the day, every business – I don’t care if it’s a professional service firm, a manufacturing firm or any other kind of firm – it’s all about talent management.

If you want to have success, if you want to have success at scale, it’s about hiring and developing great people and giving them the little bit of help, but in some respects, as the cliché goes, get out of the way. That’s what it’s all about. That’s where I get a tremendous source of pride. So, to see, for example, Rob come up here as the chairman of Ketchum and to see the remarkable success he had, is really very, very touching.

And I look at some of my friends who are here tonight, AnnaMaria DeSalva, who as one of the most senior communications executives in our field, is also one of the only communications executives in our field who sits on the board of a public company.

Aaron Kwittken – Aaron and I have been friends for, again, a long time. I guess this is what happens when you get old, you just kind of get … But I don’t take the friendship aspect of the years for granted. Aaron and I worked together a long time, then he went off and started his own business and did remarkably well.

Grant Toups – I hired Grant out of USC to come into Pulse Point Group out of the grad program not that long ago, today he runs our company.

The ability to kind of see people like that do so well and succeed, that’s where the kvelling comes in. And it’s not even limited to the professional side – it’s also on the personal side as well. I mean, to see my daughter Jackie’s here tonight. She’s done unbelievably well. She’s in business school right now, getting her MBA. She’s got a great job lined up next year in the investment banking group at Goldman Sachs.

My son couldn’t be here tonight, he’s a lawyer. We’re going to see him in three weeks, Susan and I are going to see him. This is unbelievable – he’s arguing a case in three weeks before the United States Supreme Court.

Yes, give it up for him.

Our daughter, Kimmy is in New York, has a very successful career in marketing. My contribution to all of these folks is pretty limited, but the ability to kind of just watch and see that kind of growth, to me, that’s what a life well lived is all about. The work is work, but to kind of see people do so well and succeed, and to know maybe you just helped a little bit, is really remarkable.

So, for that, I thank the Plank Center for the award and I would just kind of encourage all of us to not only keep doing what we’re doing, but as Bill does for me, we do for everyone else, and that is encourage others to do that as well. So, thank you very much.


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