Carat confirms that David Verklin, CEO of Aegis Media Americas is stepping down from his role later this year as Aegis Media Americas CEO—this after 10 years with the firm. Carat USA CEO Sarah Fay will take over, succeeding Verklin in that role. Aegis Media Americas oversees Carat USA. Verklin will continue to serve Aegis in an advisory role until he leaves.
Aegis also announced yesterday it has created Aegis Media Latin America as a new business unit, reporting directly to Mainardo de Nardis, ceo of Aegis Media Global. This reflects the increasing strategic significance of Latin America both for Aegis Media, particularly following the acquisitions of AgenciaClick in Brazil in 2007 and Control Media in Mexico in 2006.
Fay tells us Verklin had initiated the move out of Aegis a while back and it’s a very amicable parting of the ways. Instead of a quote for her promotion, Fay sent RBR/TVBR a speech honoring David as a mentor at an AWNY (Advertising Women of NY) luncheon last Thursday:
“This is a special opportunity for me. We all know how important a mentor can be in shaping who we become and what we can achieve. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a great mentor, let alone have it be someone they report to. I have been blessed with both. Plenty of people succeed despite the hand they’re dealt. They fight their way to the top, they overcome adversity and criticism. They believe in themselves, and they succeed. I tip my hat to these people. I’m nothing like them. My success has been a gift from the managers and the mentors I’ve had along the way, none more so than David Verklin. I have been cared for and molly coddled. What you see standing here before you is…a product of nurturing. And because of that I have much to be thankful for, and I feel an obligation to give back to those who I can help in the same way.
For the past decade (and we actually started right around the same day) David Verklin has been an unwavering source of support and inspiration, and he is the person I am here to honor.
A lot of people ask me what it’s like to work for David. They say, “Does he really have that much energy? Is he the same guy when he comes off the stage?” I am here to tell you that the man and the myth are the same person. David shows up every day (wherever that may be) with the same amount of optimism and the same amount of impossible energy. In all the years I’ve worked for him, I have never heard a cross word, and I have never heard him say it can’t be done. Sometimes I have heard him suggest things that I think can’t be done. But it’s very difficult to say no to David, so invariably we end up signing up for things that can’t be done. But we’ve done them, haven’t we, David.
Going back 10 years, when I first met David, I must tell you he seemed an unlikely mentor. I was at the closing dinner for the acquisition of Freeman Associates, the agency I had played a role in building. We had just finished signing all the papers, all the contracts, and we were there with the lawyers and the Carat management team who we thought we were going to work for. A young guy who was unknown to us showed up at our table with a martini in his hand and said, “Is this the Carat table?” We looked up and said, “Yeees, and who are you?” He said, “I’m the CEO of this company – I don’t know what the hell is going on!” Indeed, none of us knew what the hell was going on, because we thought the man sitting to our left, who just wrapped up the sale of our agency, was the CEO of Carat.
So that was my unceremonious and somewhat startling introduction to David Verklin. Of course, we warmed up to having David as the CEO of Carat, even though he was still an unlikely mentor. We’d show up for budget meetings in New York, and he’d be walking around in crumpled khakis, his hair kind of crazy like a mad scientist, and sometimes in his bare feet! And we giggled about the way he got worked up and started shouting his ideas at us. We actually liked all these things. They became some of the good things about being part of Carat.
We didn’t get the full flavor of David’s brashness until we saw him speak to a European dominated room at our first Aegis Management conference in Cannes. He managed to mutilate a number of languages in this speech, and it culminated with a huge fish being thrown onto the stage. He absolutely shocked the Europeans. But the Americans loved it, and the speech became legend at our company.
Lesson: Be who you are. Don’t apologize. Not everyone will appreciate you right away. But the people who love you will love you all the more for it.
David went on to make more legendary speeches at our company, and he solicited the involvement of his whole management team. We have been made to sing and to wave American flags, things that would make most grown people cringe. But because David was never self-conscious, we were never allowed to be, and we gained our own sense of brashness in the process.
I think I first thought of David as a mentor when I quit my job. It was 1999, and I took a ticket to work for a dotcom company that promised to make me millions. You wouldn’t recognize the name of it today because it didn’t make it too far, but at the time, my mind was made up to leave Carat. My boss at the time, Ellen Freeman said simply that she wouldn’t accept my resignation until I spoke with David. Of course, to me this was merely an uncomfortable formality, and I had no desire to be talked out of my decision.
I had no idea what I was up against. David sat down with me and he didn’t fight or debate the decision I had made. Instead, he said, “I know just where you are right now. You’ve already left the company in your head. I went through the same thing when I left Hal Riney. I was already gone by the time I gave notice. So I have to ask you to do something for me. ..I’d like you to just pretend during this conversation that you are back in the company. Pretend you might stay with Carat.” He then went on to tell me all of the exciting things he had planned for the company, and the role he was counting on me to play, and before you knew it, I was far, far away from that dotcom job I had accepted. Of course I stayed, with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.
The lesson here: approach a problem first with understanding. The power of persuasion is harder to withstand when it is heartfelt.
In the years of reporting to David, I have described myself as a spoiled child. There has been almost nothing he’s said no to. David believed almost beyond reason that I would succeed and that the digital business would succeed. He was up for acquisitions, he was up for adding new services, and he was there for anything I asked him to do. He is still a kind of folk hero in the digital community for the keynotes he made at the iMedia Summits in the early days. In fact he was the first CEO of a major traditional media agency to come and speak with the digital community and offer words of inspiration. And I know he did this to support me and my business. In fact, when I asked him to do it, he gave his standard reply: “Do you know what I think about when I wake up in the morning? Before I put my two feet on the floor? I think ‘What can I do to help Sarah Fay’.” A number of people have heard this remark from David, and I do think it is true, because he is always thinking about ways to help people.
There are a myriad of Verklinisms that have been peppered into my belief system over the years…little pieces of advice and counsel that are usually given with irony and humor. The whole Carat crew have heard Verklin gospel such as, “Fish swim in the ocean. Fish swim in the ocean. Companies swim in a sea of friendships and relationships. (repeat)” The point being that people will do more for friends than for money…which is very true in our company.
As a mentor, David has given me, and so many others, a thousand pieces of advice. I was just with a media partner of ours telling him I was coming to honor David as a mentor, and he said, “That’s interesting because David has been a mentor to our company over the years.” I wonder how many others, both inside and outside our company, would say that.
There is one piece of funny advice he gave me that I’m finding hard to forget, and I can’t remember why it came up, but it does haunt me. He said, “I’ve got one big career rule. Never follow a super star. Because you’ll always be compared to them, always be living in their shadow. Even a thousand watt bulb can look dim after you’ve been looking at the sun.” David, I hope you can appreciate what a difficult piece of advice this has been to follow!”