On Wednesday this week we will gather to mark the retirement of Jack Klues from the Publicis Groupe.
In a 35 plus year career, Jack spun out Leo Burnett Media into Starcom, managed its merger with Mediavest to form Starcom Mediavest Group, oversaw Publicis Groupe Media which combined Zenith Optimedia and SMG after being acquired by Publicis and along with David Kenny at first and then alone, headed VivaKi which combined Publicis Groupe’s media assets and the digital giants Digitas and Razorfish.
When he stepped down as CEO at the end of 2012 to take on a six-month transitory stint as VivaKi’s Chairman, VivaKi accounted for nearly 40 percent of Publicis Groupe revenue and over 60% of its growth. Jack was also the only American on a five member Publicis Board of Directors.
And as a last act he along with Maurice Levy, re-engineered VivaKi despite its success to position it for the next few years in a networked global world where collaboration will be an essential requirement since no one company will be able to do it all.
Not bad for a guy from Quincy Illinois.
I have worked directly for Jack for the past 15 years Jack has become not just a boss but also a mentor and a friend. Most importantly he taught me, as he has done so many others, some of the most important management lessons. Here are a few:
1. There is no substitute for hard work: Jack was always on and always in. He is wickedly smart but does not rest on his laurels and is continuously involved and focused on work. (While making sure he always spent time with his priority one his family) . He never called it in. Tim Ferris and all those books of 4-hour workweeks and stuff are full of absolute shit. If you want to do well you have to work your butt off. Period. Even if you are supposedly smart.
2. Constantly learn and keep upgrading your skills: One of the things Jack had me do every four or five months was to organize a “mind expanding trip” to expose him to people, firms, concepts that he had never seen or thought off. From Atom Shockwave Films, who were a pioneer in digital video and flash animation production a decade ago to Blue Fin Labs long before anyone knew who they were to folks whose sole mission was to destroy our business model, he saw and learned from them all.
3. Integrity and your word is everything: Jack hates losing. But he will not win at any cost. Integrity, fair play, transparency are his touchstones. If he makes a commitment he will keep it. No ifs or buts.
4. Be accessible and encourage challenges: A case can be made that Jack was one of the three most powerful and busiest men at Publicis Groupe, but you could always see him and tell him what was on your mind. If you were a student, a start up, a nitwit or someone who wanted to sell him an idea, he always found time to meet folks. There were no chiefs of staffs or bevy of executive assistants to shoo away people. His belief was it was essential for him to learn, to listen, to be available. Most importantly he encouraged people to challenge him. You always respected Jack but you never feared Jack.
5. Always take ideas to Clients and always tell them what you think: Jack loves Clients and getting involved in their business. He always was thinking about ideas for them and while very respectful often told them very inconvenient truths. He respects Clients but he cared that they respect him.
6. Your success is mostly not because of you: Jack believes that his success was due to a combination of many factors a majority that had little to do with him. First, it was the talent around him. Second, it was the company he was working for (Jack always kept company first and never became bigger than the company), third it was the prestige of the Clients he got to do work with and finally a lot of it was pure luck and timing. To this day, I never take any body that believes they are superstars who have achieved it all them selves seriously. Never forget where you came from and all those who helped you.
7. Celebrate the team and make stars of your people: Jack has over the years nurtured hundreds of talented people who he not only gave opportunities to but also put them in the spotlight. His belief was the more people he made stars around him it reflected not only the reality of their contributions, but allowed him to attract even more great folks
8. Put others first. Be Generous: Jack always thinks of others. He also gives back to charity like the Off The Street Club and to the University of Illinois among others. It’s never about Jack. It’s about the team and The Company.
Let me end with a story.
About 11 years ago we were involved in a critical pitch. Due to weather all flights had been cancelled from Chicago and Jack had got a private plane to fly us out from Urbana Champaign. I finished attending my elder daughters middle school graduation late in the evening and caught a train to Urbana where I arrived at a fog bound station at midnight.
In the gloom of the deserted station sat Jack Klues who said, “ After this long trip I thought you would need a ride to the hotel”
Rishad Tobaccowala ( @rishad ) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by Harper Collins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in. Rishad is a sought after speaker and advisor who helps people think, feels and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/