Giving people the freedom to fail

Schaper Toys. It was a difficult account. The main client was legendary for his difficulty. Network TV was, of course, “rich” in executional regulations that nearly made an idea impossible. And every year we had to produce at least a dozen spots at the same time for Toy Fair, the trade show that determined which new toys lived and which died.

Ron and David Bell had talked the client into doing spot TV for the most exciting toys to give them more excitement at Toy Fair.

Art Director Tom Donovan (of countless awards with Bert Gardner and who had originally hired Ron at Knox Reeves Advertising) was in the paste-up room, mounting 13 storyboards that were going to Schaper that afternoon. Ron had not seen them so I went into his office to get him to come to the paste-up room and walk him through them.

What Ron's first boss told him was one of the first things Ron told those who worked for him

What Ron’s first boss told him was one of the first things Ron told those who worked for him

“Are they great?” he asked.

“Well, five of them are network spots so they’re better network spots but they’re not going to win any awards. The others, though, are great. Tom and I are pretty excited about them.”

“Good,” he said. “I’ll see them in the show books.”

When I questioned why he didn’t want to see them he said, “I hired you to do great work. You said you’ve done that. So your time is better spent thinking about how to sell it.”

I remember thinking, “OK, let’s feel some pressure now.” Then Ron smiled and said, “Just remember, there’s nothing you can do that I can’t fix.”

There it was. Supreme Ron. He hired us to take the chances it takes to be great. He gave us the freedom to fail. And if we did, he had our back.


  1. Bill Hillsman · · Reply

    Ron said the same thing to Bob Barrie and I, except in more pointed language: “Remember, there’s nothing that you can screw up that I can’t fix.” But he used a different word for “screw”– very effectively, I might add– to drive the point home. Imagine hearing that from your boss– and a Baptist, no less!

    God knows I tested that statement many, many times. What a great person– I will always cherish the times I had Ron as a boss, and the political ad discussions we used to have post-Bozell when Ron was drafted for an advertising dream team to help elect President George H.W. Bush and I was working for competing interests. He had some very amusing stories of great advertising creative people trying to do political ads as a committee.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kurt Tausche · · Reply

    Ron really DID do so much of the heavy lifting and held us up to reach for the stars. (I fell more than once, but he always hoisted me back up.)

    He greatly impacted a community, which impacted an industry. And he impacted an agency which impacted many individuals.

    Reminds me of how former Packers revered Lombardi. Sure they won lots of championships and that made him a legend and put many players in the Hall Of Fame.

    But the players all remember him by what he meant to their LIVES, not just their careers.

    He helped them be their best in football AND in life.

    That’s how I will always look at Ron.


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