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From The Boardroom To The Barnyard

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Tough economic times and downsizing have adversely affected the employment outlook for just about every generational cohort: from new college graduates with much slimmer prospects of employment and Gen X’ers being furloughed and rethinking their careers to Baby Boomers having to postpone retirement and retirees dealing with having to go back to work.

I’m no exception. After 40-plus years of work, I’m still at it – mostly motivated by a reawakened passion for putting my skills to use, but also influenced by a substantially battered and bruised retirement nest egg. I’ve spent the past few months reflecting on it all through my lens as an asset-based thinker and have come away with some insights and advice worth sharing. So here’s my story.

The Journey

My journey to and through the corporate boardrooms took 38 years. I’ve been in the Barnyard at The Concept Farm for about five years. In these five years I have been blessed with more meaningful work, productivity, personal fulfillment, determination, confidence, and humility than I could ever have imagined.

I worked all my life because I thought I had to – starting at age 12 for spending money, during high school to help with tuition, at college to pay off student loans, graduated college, got married and started a job in advertising in the same week. Then, I started a family shortly thereafter, worked a second job in a rock band to pay for a night school MBA; after the MBA there was a night job as adjunct professor of Marketing at Pace University and kept that up for 25 years in whatever city my day job took me to.

I had some great jobs at that: VP at 26, President at 34, a few other CEO gigs, even a partial early retirement at 49. I just kept on going, never looking back, and always seeing my career as a means to specific ends; to provide a great life for my family, as validation that I was good at what I did, and a vehicle to accumulate the means to retire comfortably.

I was fortunate to work for some top companies. I always had the support of a great family and an abundance of advice from friends and mentors along the way. I managed to be fired only once at age 39 (boy, was I pissed off), weathered a few storms, rode some pretty good waves, and then was summarily asked to retire gracefully (an unlikely stroke of luck). Career was always about what was next: the career path, making it. In retrospect, this was the wrong way to see it.

Lesson 1.

Career should be about what is now, not what’s next. Success is a measure of what you have left to learn. Never stop learning. Pursue “want to” work rather than “have to” jobs, and you will be amazed at how many paths will unfold, no matter what stage of life you are in!

The Exit To An End?

In 2003, at age 60, I was Vice Chairman of the world’s largest marketing communications company, McCann-Erickson. I was at the top of my game with lots of experience and wisdom under my belt, fire in my belly, and still ready to rock “n” roll with the best of them. Then, sooner than I would have liked, I was told it was time to move on and make room for the next generation.

Hell, all my life I was the next generation. What happened? Make room for whom? I knew had more savvy, experience, energy, and vision than they did, so why put me out to pasture? After getting over being angry and resentful, I dusted off my bruised ego and was just about ready to pack up and get on with what I thought I had worked for all my life – a comfortable retirement. That was always the plan. Fortunately, circumstance, luck, and the vision of a different next generation of creative people provided the portal for an unexpectedly fulfilling different path.

Lesson 2.

Every career decision made by you or for you will cause a ripple effect in your life and those around you. You alone have the power to make sure they are positive, passionate, and persistent ripples of growth.

Or, The Entrance To A Beginning?

Four years prior to my McCann swansong (in 1999) my son, Gregg, and three of his friends (Will Morrison, Griffin Stenger and John Gellos) came to me with their plan to start a new breed of marketing communications company for the emerging digital, flat world. The Concept Farm: built on big, organic, creative ideas, and fueled by the power of the internet and new media. The credo: “Fresh Ideas Harvested Daily.”

Shortly thereafter, Blake Olsen and Ray Mendez joined as partners to round out the partnership team. I believed in them and their vision, and provided the seed money (no pun intended) to pursue their dreams never realizing that their brilliantly simple vision of a Farm would grow into my new source of inspiration and nourishment. The Concept Farm became the portal that turned my exit from a “had to” career into the entrance to the “want to” work I had longed for.

Lesson 3.

No matter how long you’ve been at it, you always need inspiration and mentors. It can come from anywhere and anyone at anytime. Keep your vision turned on and tuned in so you don’t miss it.

Life And Liberation In The Barnyard

When I arrived, The Concept Farm was in its fourth year, growing and ready for its next stage of development. The Farmers were on a roll and the last thing they needed was for me to be a disruption in rhythm and momentum of the company. I was almost twice their age, so we had to find the right balance.

They all are great at running the business and servicing the clients. Collectively they generate an amazing depth and breadth of effective creative work, day in and day out. We identified two distinctly different things I could offer: experience (been there, done that lessons, advice, and gravitas when they needed it) and long term planning vision fueled by my passion and energy to try new things, take risks, and help make a difference. The perfect yin to their collectively brilliant yang.

It is ironic that attributes considered of little value at a big company like McCann would be valued highly at a young, smaller company on the cutting edge of marketing communications. Go figure.

Lesson 4.

You always have something of value to add. Always. Identify your assets, never doubt them, put them out there for the right people to see, and watch what happens.
Bumper Crops:

Here are just a few of the things that have happened at The Concept Farm in the last five years: The company is working with an expanded A list client roster, doubled in size, expanded it’s capabilities and resources dramatically, won bushels of creative awards and, in 2008, Crain’s New York Business named The Concept Farm one of the top 20 places to work in New York City. It all happened because the partners made the most of their individual assets for the collective well being of the company. Just like a farm.

Here’s what’s happened to me: I’m lucky to be around bright, creative talent that challenges and motivates me to try new things. We forged an alliance with The Cramer Institute, which gave rise to a series of bestselling books based on Asset-Based Thinking. We created a five time Emmy award winning television series, Cool In Your Code, for which I was honored with three personal Emmy awards for segments I host on the show. (Who says it’s too late to break into show biz?)

Lesson 5.
The positive ripples you create always come back to you when you least expect it and in ways you could never imagine. They are your rewards. Enjoy them.

Would I do it all over again? I am!

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About Hank Wasiak

Hank Wasiak is a communications industry leader and partner at the creative hot shop, The Concept Farm. Hank began his advertising career in 1965 as a real Mad Man at Benton & Bowles. He is a best selling author, teacher, motivational speaker and three time Emmy award winning television host. Hank and Dr. Kathy Cramer created a best selling business - self help book series based on Asset-Based Thinking published by Running Press. Hank also is an Adjunct Professor at USC's Marshall School Of Business.