Secrets of Success from Stan Richards:
- Ask yourself every day, “What can I do to make my work better? How can I push it? How can I get it to a level which I hope to achieve?
- We have no active business outreach. We depend on our work to provide the opportunities for us. When we get a call from someone who wants to interview us, or is conducting an agency review, we get really aggressive, and we push hard to win the business, but there is no active business out-reach.
- Learn early on to put disappointments behind you. Focus on the work at hand, and whatever the disappointment happens to be, put it into short-term memory.
After I graduated from Pratt Institute, since I did not want to raise a family in New York, I decided to head to the West Coast. There was some really nice work being done in Los Angeles and on the way there I stopped in Dallas to interview for jobs, just for practice. I interviewed with several companies but did not get hired. However, at one of the agencies (the 2nd largest in Dallas at the time), I met with a creative director, who looked in my book, and said: “Dallas is not advanced enough for your work. It’s not right for you yet, but if you stick it out, Dallas will be the ultimate place for you.” I thought that was great counsel, and decided to stay in Dallas. Of course no one would hire me, so I started freelancing, and that was my start in the business. And, I am still here in Dallas. It ultimately worked out very well.
Stan’s thoughts on building and sustaining a career:
I would say the most important thing is consistency. I have never waivered from focusing on the most important thing, and that is the work. I ask myself every day, “What can I do to make my work better? How can I push it? How can we get it to a level which we hope to achieve?” And that has never changed. So, for over 50 years my Point of View has never changed. Clients have come and gone. And, I think if there is a single attribute that has carried us to where we are today, it is that laser focus on that “one thing” that counts.
On getting good clients:
We don’t have a new business out-reach program. We depend on our work to provide the opportunities for us. When we get a call from someone who wants to interview us, or is conducting an agency review, we get really aggressive, and we push hard to win the business, but there is no active business out-reach, other than maintaining a good relationship with many of the search consultants around the country.
Stan’s thoughts on an accomplishment that stands out:
There is one thing that stands above anything else. Here at The Richards Group, we are at roughly 700 people. We have the same energy, electricity, and vitality that we had when we were 50 people. That’s a really a hard thing to do. It’s pretty easy with a 50 person organization to have the attitude and the atmosphere of a skunk-works. Everybody is working really hard, everybody is focused on the work, everyone is pushing to make it as good as it can be, but it gets harder as you get to be 150, or 350 or 700 people. But we’ve managed to accomplish that. And of everything that we have accomplished, I would point to that and say it’s the one thing that I am most proud of.
Would you do anything different if you had to do it all over?
Oh, about a 100 things. (Laughter) Certainly I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, and I’ve made some bad decisions, and I would re-do all of those. But I never focus on that stuff. I learned early on to put disappointments behind me, focus on the work at hand, and whatever the disappointment happens to be, it goes into short-term memory and disappears. If you are interested I can tell you how I learned to do that.
On putting disappointments behind you:
Back when my kids were playing in kid’s basketball leagues, I was always a coach, because, I played high school and college basketball, so I knew the game fairly well, and always had outstanding teams. One year I had an unbelievable team. We went the entire season and never even came even close losing a game. Very often the team was so good, I would have to impose rules to hold the score down. I would make the kids throw seven passes before they could take a shot. So, they breezed through the regular season, and when we got to the play-offs and the finals for the championship, unbelievably, they lost. And the parents were heart-broken. They were crying and the kids were crying, and the world had come to an end, because this great team that had never experienced a loss before, lost in the most important game of the season.
So after everybody went home, all these kids lived near my house, so I would see them on a regular basis, about an hour later I was out cutting the grass, and here were the same kids, these heart-broken kids, who were crying their eyes out an hour earlier were all outside with their baseball gloves on. Basketball season was behind them. They had forgotten all about that, and they didn’t need to worry about it any more, and it was time for baseball. I thought, “There is one of the best lessons I could ever learn.” And I learned it from a bunch of 9 and 10 year old kids.
On working with business coaches and consultants:
Though I’ve never worked with coaches or business consultants, I have to tell you, I have a very, very strong CFO, who obviously is a close friend as well. And since much of the business side of the business is in his care, it allows my focus is be on the output, and not much more than that. The business side of the business never takes me more than 1/2 hour a day. That’s an absolute maximum. And, under normal circumstances our CFO and I run together every morning, and we cover most of the business discussion during the course of that 4-5 mile run.
On staying in balance:
In addition to running, I am an avid salt-water fisherman. I keep a couple of boats down at my beach place at South Padre Island. I am also an avid skier. I ski fast, and ski hard. I have a place at Deer Valley, and I spend about 2 weekends of every three during the season there. I take clients and associates up there with me. It is a big part of my life.
Right now, just so you’ll understand, I am about 15 weeks beyond a hip replacement. So, my running has been sorely limited. I have not been able to run for about 6 months now, including before and after the surgery. And, I’m just now starting to run again. Yesterday I ran 1/4 mile for the first time. So, it’s probably going to be another month or so before my CFO and I will start our running together. But we’ll get there.
Stan’s thoughts on holding companies and selling his company:
A lot of folks ask me why haven’t I sold my company to a holding company. Well, I decided a long time ago that I would never do that. We could be a very attractive target, and we’ve gotten many calls. But in all the years that I have been watching acquisitions by holding companies, and I’ve probably seen 100 agencies acquired, I cannot give one single example of an agency that got better. I can give you lots of agencies that got worse. And since we are all about always getting better, that is the farthest thing from my mind, and I would absolutely never do that.
What happens in those circumstances with those who sell out, is the person or partners who own the firm put a lot of money into their packets, but they disadvantage everybody else in the organization. We have lots of people who have helped us build this agency, and we have the highest retention rate of any agency in America. People come, and stay with us for a very, very long time. And the last thing I would ever want to do is to disadvantage them. So, not only have I not sold it during my working lifetime, but I’ve also seen to it that it can never be sold, even after I am gone. And, It’s the right thing to do for the 700 plus people who work here. It is certainly the right thing to do to for the bunch of people who have committed their careers to this place. There are those who have been here for 10-15-25 years, and it is just part of my obligation to those who helped us build this organization. That is why it was important to make sure that will never happen.
About Stan Richards
Stan Richards founded The Richards Group as a freelance practice after graduating from Pratt Institute in New York. Over the next 30 years, it became one of the nation’s premier creative resources. In 1976, it became a full-service advertising agency.
His work has received awards in virtually every major competition in the world. In 1976, Stan was chosen by the Dallas Society of Visual Communications as “the single individual who, over his career, has made the most significant contribution to the advancement of creative standards in the Southwestern United States.” In 1981, 1983, and 1984, Stan was named by Adweek as a Southwest Creative All-Star. In 1985, The Richards Group was named The Southwest All-Star Creative Team. That same year, Stan was honored by Pratt Institute as a Distinguished Alumnus. In 1986, he was honored with an Advertising Age cover story. Also in 1986, Adweek named him Executive of the Year, and he was included in The Wall Street Journal’s “Giants of Our Time.” In 1988, the firm was named Agency of the Year by Adweek. Again in 1990 and 1994. And once more in 2002. In 1995, Stan was named an Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine. In 1999, he was elected to the Art Directors Hall of Fame. He serves, or has served, on many boards and in 2004 was elected to the Board of Trustees of his alma mater.
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By Mark MacKay 25 Feb 2009
Whoa! A gray-haired graphic designer. I thought I was supposed to die off. It’s great to see an éminence grise. More please.
By wilgory 25 Feb 2009
Thanks for sharing, that’s a fresh look on the ad / design world, great work also. I like how he balances the various parts of life, leisure, work but then states that when he’s pitching for a job, they get really aggressive. I often try to accomplish a similar balance.
I really enjoyed the story about how to put disappointments or bad decisions behind you. I think it can be easy to focus on mistakes or disappointments, but his story on how gets over it shows the benefits of experience and looking at every day with the story of the young baseball players says a lot.
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I love the sustainable thought (avant la lettre) about NOT selling Your Company! Its humane and Unique at the same time!
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