I am conscious in writing anything about Dan Edelman that there are many people in my firm who worked more closely with him and for much longer. Being in Chicago at the moment I am very aware of that as Dan, a New Yorker by birth, made the town his base and home and seemed to insert this city and the mid-West’s no nonsense, hard-working, un-pretentious ethos into his company. The Edelman Chicago office more than any feels his loss.
His office here is symptomatic of the man. It is a place of work not of adornment or self-congratulation. One of the highest accolades you could receive from Dan was the recognition that you were a ‘hard worker’. But if you were lucky enough to hear that you were also aware that he worked harder still.
My first meeting with him in that office just after I joined the firm to run the European business set the tone. I was ushered in to what I assumed would be the usual ‘nice-to-meet-you’ affair with a company figurehead, only to discover that he had spreadsheets printed out on large A2 sheets of paper showing the performance (or lack of in those days) of every one of my new offices. With a short, much sharpened pencil and a large wooden ruler which he used to line the numbers up with, I was invited to delve immediately into the minutiae of the disaster that was the European P&L. Office by every office.
I learned from him that three month forecasting of revenues was a sacrosanct skill and that everything in terms of managing profit flowed from that. I learned very quickly that he expected me to be over the details as well as the big picture and that there could be no strategy without great execution. And over the next few years, his ‘Dan-o-gram’ emails to me focused on both: “What do you think about entering Russia now”? “Why are travel expenses up in Paris”?
Dan and his ever-stylish and totally supportive wife Ruth came to our global meetings right up to just a few years ago. They would sit together at the front of the venue, usually holding hands, Dan in his windsheeter jacket and baseball cap to protect him from the inevitably fierce air-con and Ruth immaculately turned out as usual. Give most PR people an audience of their peers, a stage and PowerPoint and you are usually guaranteed some long-winded hubris, but with Dan in the audience we knew we had to keep it simple and keep to the point. He was pretty direct if you were not. Every meeting should have a Dan in it.
He was also mischievous. My colleague, the brilliant Mark Cahalane who turned around our Irish operations will not mind me sharing one anecdote I hope. At a break in one of those global meetings, a ‘brand-new-to-the-firm’ Mark headed to the men’s room and found Dan standing next to him. Not put off by these circumstances and the chance to test a new employee, Dan immediately asked Mark who he was and what he did. And on hearing the answer, he said: “Dublin, didn’t we close that office yet?” with which he wandered off laughing out loud and leaving a slightly bemused General Manager at the stalls.
He could be pretty fierce too, and especially if he felt you were bringing the reputation of the firm into danger. When we opened in Poland in 2006, we were subjected to a barrage of emails from our previous Polish affiliate claiming foul play. Unfortunately for me, many of these were directed to Dan and he cornered me in a fury demanding a response to every one of the accusations which he repeated whilst poking me in the chest and backing me up against a wall. As I answered this interrogation I could see Richard Edelman over his shoulder, trying not to giggle at the scene. When Dan eventually left me apparently satisfied with my answers, Richard came over and said “now you see what I have to put up with”. If I was ever in any doubt about the importance Dan put on the firm’s reputation for straight dealing and honest relationships, that bruise on my chest put me straight.
Any firm that loses a founder will mourn his passing and look to his legacy and re-visit his teachings. But few founders have the same effect on their whole industry. Dan Edelman was a genuinely great man and I feel privileged to have worked for him.