Speech: Dave Samson, 2015 Corporate Honoree

JOHN ONODA: It’s a great pleasure for me to present the Jack Koten Corporate award to David Samson. I wish I had $1 for every time a communicator has come up to me and said I would really love to work for Dave Samson. I’ve heard this so many times over the years that I take the sentiment for granted.

Well, of course, you want to work for Dave Samson who wouldn’t, I think. Confident that this is the most common-sense conclusion a public relations person could reach. But to prepare for tonight I had to dissect my usual response to figure out just why Dave is so widely admired, why he was recently voted chairman to the Arthur Page Society and why he is receiving tonight’s award.

Here is my conclusion. Some communications executives are superior practitioners. Some are great managers, some are outstanding leaders, some are dynamic role models, some are provocative thought leaders and some are terrific mentors. Each of these roles requires a distinct set of skills and behaviors. Most of us have learned maybe two or three of these to reach the top of our profession.

Dave has mastered them all and he blends them together seamlessly. If you work around or for Dave you are managed, lead, coached, mentored and intellectually provoked all at the same time. Someone who worked for Dave shared this experience with me. Quote, Dave has taught me the value of trusting the people that work for you, letting them do their job, and giving them the credit for the work.

While other managers may insert themselves as an intermediary between you and the top executive, Dave doesn’t do that. I once asked him if he wanted me to write a status update for him to send to his boss related to a project I was working. Dave said, you’re doing the work, you should get the credit.

Telling me to communicate directly with the executive on the project and copy him. I have adopted this same approach with my own direct reports, giving them the freedom to do their jobs without imposing myself in their work and ensuring that their efforts are recognized. What this employee also conveyed to me is Dave makes artwork intellectually exciting.

Dave understands that communication delivers the greatest value at the cutting edge of change. So he thinks continually about global trends. The challenges and opportunities created by emerging technologies, new kinds of threats to the enterprise, and new ways of communicating. In his time at Chevron, he has developed world-class models, of issues management, litigation support, the application of data analytics and communications.

And the notion of companies as publishers. In all these areas and more, he is leading his team into unexplored territory. By working with him, listening to him, watching the way he gains permission to operate, and seeing how he makes sure his team gets recognized for their successes, they are learning and growing as professionals.

I could go on and on, but my three minutes are up. When this dinner is over, I won’t be surprised at all if some of you come up to me and say, I would really love to work for Dave Samson.


DAVE SAMSON: Thank you. Wow, thank you, John, for those very kind words.

They mean a tremendous amount to me. For those of you who don’t know, I actually stood here three years ago introducing John into The Plank Center. He’s been my friend and mentor for more than 25 years. And I can say without hesitation that I wouldn’t be standing here this evening if it wasn’t for the investment that John made in me.

And for that John, I am extremely grateful. I want to extend my congratulations to the evening’s other honorees, as well. To stand in your company as well as the company of past recipients is truly a career highlight for me. I also want to express my deep appreciation to The Plank Center for this recognition.

There’s no work more critical to our profession’s future than all you are doing to develop and recognize outstanding leaders. It’s a mission I think everybody in this room stands behind. Well, tonight’s honor is extremely gratifying, it would be wrong to suggest that I’m standing here solely by my own doing.

First and foremost, I’m here because of my lovely wife Josephine who’s at table ten. It’s because of her that I’ve been able to manage I like that a few rounds of applause. It’s because of her that I’ve been able to manage the demands of my career which are often significant.

And if you ever got a chance to meet Josephine even only for a brief moment, you’ll quickly conclude that I exceeded my potential. Yeah, it’s true. I also stand here tonight because of the many terrific colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the course of my career, this honor is a reflection of what we achieved together.

Likewise, I stand here because I’ve had the good fortune to work alongside some of the most remarkable leaders in our profession. Many of them are in this room this evening, including the gentleman that introduced me to this platform. These are the people I greatly admire because they exemplify the very best qualities of what our profession has to offer.

These are leaders who believe that integrity must underpin all we do. For them, there is no compromise. It’s foundational to who they are. These are leaders who never define their careers by the size of the teams they led, or the scale the projects they oversaw. Instead, their careers have been defined by their professional lives that they touched and the unselfish commitment they made to advancing the careers of so many.

Let me leave you with one final thought about these extraordinary leaders. None has ever been satisfied with the status quo. They have never sat still. They have continually reinvented themselves. And I believe that it is this trait that has kept them at the forefront of our dynamic profession.

I also believe it’s the underlying trait of all Plank Center honorees, both past and present. Thanks again for this terrific honor.


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