Speech: Andy Polansky, 2014 Agency Honoree

SARA GAVIN: So Andy, it’s memorable to introduce you. It may be more memorable to follow Harold Burson, so I’ll just put that out there right away. I’m Sarah Gavin and I’m President of Weber Shandwick North America and probably more salient to tonight, I’ve had the privilege of working with Andy, our next honoree, for about 15 years.

And if you’ve had a chance to read the bio in the program, you’ll know that Andy is a great leader in our business. He’s a champion for our profession. He leads, he mentors, he does a lot of terrific things for us and for our company and for our clients.

He runs a great business, his acumen is remarkable, he has enormous integrity in our office. What would Andy do is not a slogan and is not a bracelet, it’s a compass. He’s laser-focused on our clients and on our talent and his command of our discipline is impressive every single day.

He’s got a great enthusiasm for innovation, he’s got the ability to inspire, but that’s leads. And I think being a mentor is subtly different than that. It may be, and it is about all those things of course, but it’s also about pushing and guiding and believing in, which I think is a huge part of it, and showing by doing. It’s not about the ego of the mentor, I think that’s why Andy is such a great mentor because it’s not about ego.

It’s about putting other people front and center, it’s about other people coming center stage and it’s about helping someone learn to be not only a better professional but a better person.

So, I want to focus for just one minute on what makes Andy one of the best mentors I’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot. I have great parents. I have a wonderful family, great colleagues over here who are amazing mentors in many ways every single day. Cathy, Rona, the entire table of here.

But Andy mentors primarily by modeling what matters. He hardly ever uses voiceover when he mentors, and so I thought I would just share with you five of the touchstones that I call the Andy touchstones. There are more, but these are the ones that I turn to most often.

So, the first touchstone, listen. Listen hard and well, ask focused questions, have an ear for the undertone and even when Andy and I don’t ultimately agree on something, it’s really clear to me that he solicits opinions, he takes them on board, and he grounds them in his decision-making.

The second touchstone, weigh with integrity. Considered decisions against a range of vectors not just emotion or impulse. Is it right for the client? Is it right for our colleagues? Is it right for our firm? Is it right for the industry? Is it right for the community? And oh, by the way simply, is it right? Full stop because how else do you have the courage and conviction to make the sometimes hard decisions without taking in those vectors and really thinking about them?

The next touchstone and this is an art for Andy, connect with people. One of my most vivid early memories of Andy was when he first came to visit the office that I ran at that time.

So, we, of course, are all spit and polish, right? The big boss is coming, it’s the first visit. We went through the whole checklist. Send out a memo to staff, check, tight agenda for today, check. Lots of presentations, probably too many too long to show him our goodness and so on and so forth.

And then, Andy took off on his own which was very much not part of the checklist, right? He walked the halls, he visited virtually every single person in our office. He talked to them one on one. He asked about their work, he asked about their lives, he asked about their experience at our company.

He asked them what our clients were asking them. And he learned more about the goodness of that operation than any PowerPoint could tell you by that. And I knew that that was genuine, I could sense that, but over the years I’ve come to know that there’s nothing posing about that when Andy does it.

It’s incredibly genuine, it’s the actions of a person who’s innately kind who’s very other-directed. Who draws his own energy from the work that we do and our people’s pride in it. And who knows that at the end of the day ours is a business of talent and people and judgment and skill.

And he lets his colleagues know that they’re important, and it’s magnetic.

Second, to the last touchstone collaborate with clients and each other. Collegiality is good, but not good enough for Andy. He’s a champion for that alchemy that comes when you bring the right people together, but with different kinds of skills and different kinds of wisdom, and they respect each other.

He expects us to have each other’s back. He expects us to share credit. He expects us to celebrate the achievements of the whole. And he expects us to push each other to be better. And the last piece that I’ll, the last touchstone that I’ll talk about is don’t put on airs.

Except for his vision for our firm which is fiercely competitive and ambitious in many ways, and which is very provocative and very inventive. Andy’s a humble guy, far more, it belies the kind of fan base that he has, I think. And I’m thinking that right now he’s pretty much wanting me to stop this introduction speaking of humility, so I will.

But up close with personal thanks, Andy. Last year Gallup did a poll and they’ve polled Americans about who likes their work. And I’m among that modest percentage that loves their work and it’s in large part Andy due to you, huge imprint on that. And this is a well-deserved recognition, congratulations.


ANDY POLANSKY: Thanks, Sarah, that was terrific and I really appreciate the kind words. We’ve had quite a week together. Just back from Miami where we picked up the Holmes Global Agency of the year. That was another dinner. I think we’ve had a lot of dinners this week for sure.

But tonight, to be honored this way, at this prestigious event, it really means a lot to me. Pat, if it makes you feel any better, Al Golin suggested that I’m also too young for this award. So that was reassuring I guess. But as I’ve come to understand Betsy Plank’s legacy and the compelling video just punctuated that point that we saw there tonight.

The way she was such an inspiration to so many people. Students, clients, academics, educators, all throughout her career. That’s something that all of us can certainly aspire to. And as share Pat’s line, I mean I just really humbled to be honored on the same stage as colleagues tonight, that I have a lot of respect and admiration for.

I was teasing Pat earlier today though, I am not one of the 35,000 people that work for Burson-Marsteller. In 1987 I interviewed at Burson-Marsteller and for the students out there who may, I doubt it based on the quality of students I met today, might not land that first job, press on.


Because I found a considerable degree of motivation in all that. So, I thought, just as I didn’t call back for two weeks, I was on my honeymoon, okay? So, but I tell you, this honor really prompted me to think about where did the lightbulb first go off about the value of mentoring.

And to be honest, it brought back a painful memory for me, and back in my college days, and probably as far back as I can remember, I had a passion for being a journalist, and I was on my grade school newspaper, which was called the Peewee Post. I was on the town paper.

I was editor of my high school paper. I was editor of my college paper. I worked as a stringer nearly full time for two papers, while I was going to school, and I wanted to do it on my own. I really felt strongly, I felt like I was on a good path.

But my mom encouraged me to call a cousin because there was a cousin in our family that would have a very prominent role in the journalism world. And I was pretty nervous about it, I was pretty, pretty reluctant to do it, but I went ahead and did it and it turned out to be a really disheartening experience because he was clearly uninterested, detached and frankly seemed sort of put out that I reached out and I never forgot that feeling, even though I was, what, 21 at the time, it really had a big impact on me in just how I thought about things. I certainly didn’t want to feel that way again, and I didn’t want anybody that I ever would work with or been around to feel that way.

But another more positive experience stuck with me as well. One of my early assignments, for those of you who know me well, I started in the business working on the Ingersoll Rand account. And my first assignment, I think I showed up at a construction site with a three-piece suit, so it was a rough beginning for me.

But one of the things that really, I remember vividly was I traveled to a factory in Upstate New York with someone that is still a dear friend of mine and certainly has mentored me over the years. He was then the director of Corporate Communications, Dick Johnson. And Ingersoll Rand just acquired a company, and one of its factory’s fate was certainly in question.

It was contentious union negotiations. There was a prospect of moving production overseas. When we arrived as you would expect, people we pretty anxious about what was going to happen with their careers with the plant closed. And it was really striking to me how Dick spent so much time, extra time really, and extra care listening to everybody in that facility we came across.

From the receptionist to the plant manager. Really everybody that we came across. It was clear he wanted to understand their concerns. And most of all wanted to help them navigate what was a very stressful situation. And that was really a great life lesson for me, and he certainly shared many other life lessons over the years, and it’s something that I’ve always, always carried with me.

What Dick showed me then is how emotional intelligence is really the difference maker in so many situations. And it’s really what can be, what makes business success especially in the kind of business that we’re in. And he inspired me to go out of my way and mentor others and support and advise people around me all through my career.

There are so many people who whether you’re starting out, the students we met today, it’s just terrific. Or people that have been in the business for a while. They’re just looking for opportunity, blue sky, whether it’s inside my firm or outside my firm, it’s something that I really enjoy spending time with folks in that way.

I think mentorship across Weber Shandwick really, people often ask me why have we had success? And I think it’s really about our culture. There’s so many people, great people in this business across so many different firms, but our killer app is really our culture. And a mentorship is the foundation for that and it happens all throughout our organization.

And many people, when I talk about this success, I think many people certainly have contributed to that success, to my success. So, I just want to just mention a couple of them if I may. Over the years there’s my long-term business partners, who some of you know, Harris Diamond, Jack Leslie, Gail Hyman, have been with me for many years.

I want to acknowledge my wonderful team over there from our Chicago office who’s just tremendous. In particular, Kathy Calhoun is someone that I valued so much over the years. She’s chief client officer — is one of the smartest and best people in our business and someone I’ve learned quite a bit from over the years.

I really have to also just quickly thank a few people who aren’t here. One of which is my assistant. If any of you have ever called my office you would that I have an assistant, Carla Messina, who’s been with me for I think 22 or 23 years, and she’s sort of that character in MASH, well some of you won’t. But there was a character in the tv show MASH, Radar O’Reilly, and he would know every single thing the colonel was about to say. Not to suggest I’m the colonel or anything, but that’s the way she is. She’s such a great ambassador for our firm and connects so well with people and our clients.

And just I get so much support from folks at Interpublic, people like Michael Roth and Frank Mergenthaler. And finally, I think it’s hard for me to even I don’t get the opportunity to publicly acknowledge how much my family means to me, but as passionate as I’ve always been about Webber Shandwick, my family is what’s most important in my life and in particular I want to give a shout out to my beautiful wife Maria over there.

We’ve married for 27 wonderful years and had just so much fun and so many great times together. And then I love this live broadcast thing because I have my two boys, Jason and Steven. Steven is a senior at Lafayette and Jason is working in the sports marketing business and hopefully, they’re sitting at their computers right now.

Because I wanted to just acknowledge how much I love them as well and I just really appreciate this honor. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I appreciate The Plank Center Board of Advisors thinking I was worthy of such an honor. And just want to thank you all again very much, thanks.


More from Andy Polansky: