Speech: Shelly Lazarus, 2013 Executive Honoree

JACK ROONEY: My name is Jack Rooney, and I’m a member of the leadership team of the Ogilvy and Mather office here in Chicago. And I’m going to introduce to you Shelly Lazarus. In thinking about mentor, being a mentor, being a mentee, a few traits come to mind you would want as a mentor to be somebody who can give advice, somebody who can lend a friendly ear, and also somebody who could ideally model the kind of behavior and success to which your mentee could aspire.

But I actually think that there’s a perhaps something that sets a really great mentor apart from a simply good mentor. And that is somebody who can see in a particular moment that something really needs to be said and something really needs to be heard.

So that the mentor can really have a significant influence in that instance on the mentee. So, I’m going to tell you a story about Shelly. And I am a Ogilvy and Mather prodigal son in that I left and have obviously returned and am one of actually many prodigal sons and daughters of our company.

It’s actually, I don’t know if it’s a proud tradition, but it’s certainly a tradition of people who leave and come back and we’re happy about the fact that we leave the front door unlocked for most of our departed partners, and I left Ogilvy for family reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the agency back in 2002 and one of the last people that I spoke with before I left was Shelly.

And she was wonderfully gracious and very understanding of the decision that I’d made and the last thing that she said to me was you’ll be back some day. And I said, well, I’m humbled by that, but obviously when you leave you don’t leave thinking you’re going to come back some day.

So, I became the CEO of Campbell Mithun up in Minneapolis and I was up there very happily minding my own business, things were going well. The agency was doing well and I received a call one day from one of my former partners at Ogilvy, a gentleman by the name of Bill Grey who said, you know, Jack, we want to talk to you about the notion of coming back.

And I said, Bill, you know I, I’m up here in Minneapolis. Things are going well. So, I resisted and he persisted. So, the conversation began and I continued to resist. Again, not for anything having to do with Ogilvy. But for the true sense of commitment that I had to the job that I had with Campbell Mithun.

But Bill could sort of sense that the hook was possibly drifting closer to my mouth as this went on. So, he said to me, listen, Shelley would like to have dinner with you. And I said, come on, Bill, that’s not playing fair. I’ll never get out of there alive.

So, I said, okay, I don’t have anything to lose. So, I went in and I met Shelly, and we had dinner, and as a good mentor would she listened to what I had to say and took in the fact that I was resisting the notion, and then sort of at the moment of truth, she said, Jack, we have more leadership needs than we have leaders and it’s time for you to come home.

Here I am, seven years later, I’m home. A prodigal son of and at a grateful mentee of somebody who knew exactly what to say so that exactly what needed to be heard was heard indeed by me and I’m grateful to her for that. Ladies and gentlemen, Shelly Lazarus.


SHELLY LAZARUS: I’m so glad Jack is home. Thank you, Jack, for the kind words and congratulations to all my fellow honorees. You are clearly amazing. I’m very honored to be standing up here tonight to receive The Plank Center Executive Mentorship Award, but to be honest, I was not familiar with the award until Bill Heyman approached me about it.

But as soon as I heard what it was for, and the person it was named for, named after, I could not say no. Betsy, I wish I had known you. I feel I know you from tonight. And now for a little more honesty. I have to tell you that I have never thought of myself as a mentor ever.

Not at least in the formal sense of the word. If I am a mentor it is just the byproduct of the way I work and lead teams. I’ve had a fascinating career, I’ve had a fabulous career. One of the primary reasons Is that I’ve had the chance to learn from so many great leaders.

I mean, don’t you feel that, all of you, is that the business that we work in, we work with so many amazing people. Clients, colleagues, to me they have all been, in some sense, my mentors. I’ve always been a keen observer and eager learner. I’ve always asked a lot of questions and people say too many questions and gotten some wonderful answers from these same clients and colleague along the way.

I’ve learned from all of them in a sense, I’ve had hundreds of mentors. But if I had to single out one person who has had a lasting influence on me, it would be the founder of the agency where I have stayed for over 40 years, David Ogilvy himself.

When I was about to become the Global CEO of Ogilvy, I went to spend some time with David at his chateau in France. He has this fabulous chateau near Poitiers. He was retired at the time, but still very close to the agency. I wanted all the advice that David could give me.

And I remember it was March. It was cold, it was windy, it was nasty, and all that we really could do was talk. We sat by the fire and talked. We walked by the river and talked. We walked up into the trees and talked. He said many wise and wonderful things.

He made me laugh a lot and he made me a little less terrified of the responsibility and a little more sure that I could carry forth his legacy, because his message was simple. Of all the things we talked about, I remember most what he said about people. He said that as much time as he had spent in his career being concerned about the people in the agency, recruiting them, making sure they were happy. He said in retrospect it wasn’t enough.

He said to me you can never spend too much time thinking about, worrying about, caring about your people, because at the end of the day, it’s only the people who matter, nothing else.

And David said, if I had to do it over again I would spend all of my time on people. David understood inherently that in our business we’re only as good as the people we can attract, keep and make successful. It’s often said, the people with the best people in our business win.

His genius, David’s genius, was in taking a very strong point of view about how to run an organization, and from that point of view, developing a set of principles, a set of beliefs and values, that became the culture of Ogilvy, culture. And he inculcated that culture in the people.

He ensured that the values, principles, and beliefs were passed down from generation to generation. With the results that the culture, David’s culture, has stood the test of time, and is as strong now, if not stronger, as the time when David actually walked the halls himself. David was always teaching; how did that happen?

It’s because he was always teaching and isn’t that what mentoring is all about. He instituted training for every emcee, gave speeches, he wrote books and countless memos to the people who worked at his agency reminding us all of the beliefs of the company. I remember being called to a presentation by David only weeks after I was first hired.

It was for all new employees, one on one, the founder at the front and the newbies. David was determined, you could not go for longer than one month without coming to this presentation. He was determined that within the first month of joining Ogilvy, each new employee would hear directly from him, quote, “everything I know and have learned about advertising two hours of David telling you everything that he knew and it learned about advertising.”

Do I remember that presentation from 1971? You bet almost every word. David wrote a memo to the Ogilvy board in 1978 that was titled, A Teaching Hospital. In it he said he had found a new metaphor for the agency. He made this case. Great hospitals do two things: they look after patients and they teach young doctors. Ogilvy & Mather does two things—we look after clients, and we teach young advertising people. To this day, at Ogilvy, we still consider ourselves the teaching hospital of the advertising world.

That is a blue print for mentorship. I personally learned the value of mentorship when I started my very first job. I was the first woman to ever be employed by the Maxwell House Division, by General Foods in general. I worked in the Maxwell House Division. Yes, it was good.

There’s a better story. It was during the time of the Vietnam War. On my first day of work, I learned that both the assistant product manager and the associate product manager had been offered a place in the army reserves which meant they had to leave to go to a base to train for five months.

I, an intern, was expected to do both their jobs until they returned. One woman doing the job of three people, two men’s right. I said yes, you know we can do that, right. I said yes, but with one request. I didn’t know anything, right. I’d never worked. I had just gone to business school for a year.

If my boss would agree to sit down with me at the end of each day, to answer all the questions that I had come up with during the day, every day, I would agree to do the job of three people, and he did. Every day I came in at 6 o’clock with my yellow pad filled with questions, and he would sit with me until they were all answered.

It was a lifetime of learning crammed into three months. From then on, I never hesitated, ever, to go see people, to ask each one of them why they did something or how they went about something. In turn, I always make time for the people I work with. My door is always open.

believe the purpose of mentorship is to inspire the next generation to make them want to be leaders, to believe they can be leaders. This is the reason I rarely turn down an opportunity to speak at colleges and universities. If the observations, experience, and advice I’ve gathered over my 40 years in business can help just one person in the audience, one young person, make him or her feel that he or she can be successful, want to be successful, that is enough for me.

I spoke at a conference in London last year to an audience of women in the advertising industry. At the end of the conference, as I was walking out the door, actually I was already out the door, I was on the sidewalk about to step into my car to leave, a woman came running up to me.

She was literally panting. She ran after me, she’s panting. She was also almost practically in tears. And she said to me, I just want to tell you that you just changed my life. I’m a mother of two young children. I was planning to walk into my boss’s office, she worked for Leo Burnett, I remember that. I was planning to walk into my boss’s office tomorrow morning and quit. It’s just too hard.

But now, having heard your story and what you said about how to find balance in your life, I’ve changed my mind, I’m not going to quit. If you can do it, I can do it.

I simply hugged her, that was worth the world to me. That in that moment was for me the value of mentorship. If being a mentor means nurturing our next generation of leaders, inspiring them to want to be leaders in our fantastic industry, making them want to stay and believe that they can succeed.

If that’s what mentorship is all about, then I accept this award for mentorship with humility, and with gratitude. Thank you very much.


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