The Story of Ray Markman – Part 4
Friday, 2:30 pm
Alexander Harbinger’s argument that Ray Markman isn’t a pure entrepreneur seems pretty well shot to pieces. Loop Lonagan told some amazing stories about risk ventures and I think Alex is squirming a bit, but I want to hear what he’s turned up before these two beat each other senseless at the five o’clock duel. So I put it to him.
“Yes,” he says. “I did find an important story about Mr. Markman. To me, it iss poignant und highly significant. It illustrates not only his personality but ze way he affected people around him.”
He pauses, and I think he does it for effect. Harbinger is still 100% university professor but he’s reverting to his thick German accent. That’s a signal he’s passionate about what he’s saying.
“Markman wass very young und yearning to work at ze premier advertising agency, Leo Burnett. Zis vas when Leo ran ze agency personally. He created fantastic campaigns.—Marlboro, Pillsbury, ze Jolly Green Giant. But when Markman attempted to, as you Americans say, ‘get in ze door,’ he vas told to first learn brand management.”
Lonagan is drumming his fingers on the desk, but Harbinger ignores it and continues.
“So Mr. Markman made…What iss ze word…” He pauses and raps my desk with his big knuckles. “He made ze ‘cold call,’ He approached a large cosmetics company, Helene Curtis. It wass what people call ‘a hot company’ at ze time, marketing exclusively to beauty salons—but then just starting in retail. As so often occurs, ze organization vas insufficient for ze new market. It used a prototypical model but no brand managers. Markman called on ze CEO of consumer goods, und convinced him of ze brand manager system. Right away, ze man hired him.”
I interrupt: “What exactly is a brand manager, Alex?”
“He is ze one with final sales und profit responsibility for a particular brand. It iss analogous to an account executive at an advertising agency.”
I nod and he goes on.
“Ze concept of a brand manager originated at P&G und Mr. Markman read every Harvard Business Review article on brand management going back to 1920.” Harbinger stops to sip his scotch. “He decided to start by selling—to learn ze business from deep in ze trenches. He also knew he must impress ze sales manager if he vas to gain acceptance within ze company culture. He worked tirelessly for a month, from store opening to store closing. It vas only a month so he poured himself into his work. And he broke all company sales records.”
Now Harbinger is actually smiling. “Und he did impress ze sales manager. He wanted to hire Markman but no—he vas slated to be brand manager. Mr. Markman then hired other brand managers. He formed a department und became head of it.”
Lonagan is still drumming his fingers and it’s getting on my nerves. “What’s your problem, Loop?”
“No problem. Ain’t you bored?”
Harbinger is suddenly agitated. “I get to ze point. As you know, Mr. Markman has always been a man with many ideas und he proposed one campaign after another to his new employer. I have no data to explain reasons but his superior denied most all of his proposals. I am told, ‘he svatted ze ideas like flies.’”
Harbinger places a sheet from his notes on the desk. It tells the story of a meeting between Markman and his boss. The highlighted sentence reads, ‘Ray, this has got your thumb prints all over it.’ Harbinger clears his throat. “Certainly it casts doubt on his quote, ‘I never worked a day in my life.’”
“Bullshit,” Lonagan snaps.
I narrow my eyes at him. “What’s wrong with it, Loop?”
Lonagan throws out an arm in an expansive gesture. “Ray’s still dreamin’ dreams. He just ain’t gettin’ as many of ‘em done. It’s a bigger challenge, is all.”
Harbinger doesn’t even acknowledge Lonagan. “Ze important part of ze story vas when Markman met ze head of ze company’s advertising agency. Ze man was only 29 but brilliant. A Northwestern MBA.” He pauses. “Of course, Mr. Markman earned his MBA from the University of Chicago, both very prestigious schools but ze men got along famously anyway. Then later this man went on to a successful career—many highly important positions in private enterprise und public service.”
Lonagan’s ears are turning red again. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Let him tell his story, Loop.”
Alex draws himself tall in his chair. “I can answer Mr. Lonagan’s question. Mr. Markman came to know many important persons in his life. I believe zis vas crucial to his success. I believe it stemmed from his personal gestalt.”
“His…how you say…his overall manufacture.”
Lonagan grins. “You mean it comes natural to ‘im. Just happens that way. It’s how he’s made.”
Harbinger lets out a lungful of air. “Yes. Dot is ze vey of it.”
“Then why don’t you just say so?”
“Zat is vat I did.” Anger tints his voice and it’s time for me to intervene.
“Why don’t you two save it for the boxing ring? I want to hear Alex’s story. Don’t you want to hear it, Loop?”
Lonagan draws circles on the desk with a finger. “I suppose.”
“Then shuttup. Go on with your account, Alex.”
Harbinger clears his throat before continuing. “Markman immediately liked ze agency CEO und ze two men made what is called ‘a pact.’ Markman gave him exclusive responsibility for ze company advertising account. In exchange, no one would come between ze two men. No one. Und zis relationship worked well for quite some time. Zis young advertising executive presented many ideas to Mr. Markman’s superior—und they were many of Markman’s own ideas, presented as if coming from ze agency itself—but now they were received with enthusiasm rather than rejection. At ze same time zis young man vas, as you say, ‘taking Ray to school,’ und young Mr. Markman learned ze advertising business very fast.”
Harbinger leans forward in his chair. “But zis could not continue indefinitely. Mr. Markman’s counterpart vas asked to run an important political campaign und he accepted. Of course, ze advertising arrangement fell apart.
“Now ve come to a truly fascinating set of events. Markman resigned from Helene Curtis. His superior—ze ‘tough guy’ as you Americans say—ze man who crushed so many proposals—he wass entirely overcome by ze loss. I am told he actually showed tears in his eyes.” Harbinger looks at Lonagan and back to me. “Mr. Markman did not know what to make of such behavior. You see ze irony? ”
I notice Lonagan’s attention is now riveted on Harbinger. He makes as if to say something then holds back when Harbinger abruptly resumes.
“I believe zat I understand Mr. Markman’s superior. He sees Ray as his protégé. He feels betrayed by ze resignation. But he did not treat his employee ze way he should have treated him. That vas his mistake—ze same mistake so many of us make with our workers—very common in my country. I find zis not only startling but also personally meaningful. It is very sad because it is so pervasive—almost universal.”
Lonagan slowly nods. “I can picture that.”
I lean back, sip my scotch, and consider. And I’m struck by the conflicted ways we so often go about our business.
Harbinger smiles. “Ah, but ze rest of ze story. Notice—Mr. Markman learned all about brand management. He groomed himself for ze position he wanted so badly at Leo Burnett. He vas ready to go to work for ze premier agency.”
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