One day when I was working in Detroit, the executive v.p. of our billion-dollar agency came to my office at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning and fired me. He said I was disloyal because I didn't go to his birthday party.
I explained that I had called his office in advance to explain. I had to go to lunch that day with our Chairman of the Board, who had invited the head of one of General Motors' largest divisions to discuss next year's plans. The exec v.p. wasn't persuaded: "Everyone else was there but you." So he fired me.
I was a mess. I went home, got sick, and went back to work an hour later. The exec v.p. was sitting on my sofa waiting for me. "I've decided not to fire you after all," he said. "You're too good. Look at all these awards" he continued, pointing to a bookshelf in my office.
I thanked him for not firing me, I think. I was in a daze. The next morning I called my friend Sandy, the top advertising recruiter in Chicago, and asked her to get me back there. Within a month, she did, and I had a much better job. The whole episode taught me some valuable lessons:
1. You're never fireproof, no matter what you think, what you do, or whom you're having lunch with. Keep your reputation and your portfolio up.
2. My former mentor, who had moved on to his own agency in Ohio, was right. "There's no security in advertising, Harvey." And pointing to his chest, he added, "the only security you have is here, in your own ability."
3. Even though you didn't think you went into politics, you did. People are only human, and humans can be very political. Why didn't the agency Chairman prevent me from being fired? I'll never know. I suspect politics.
Looking back, the whole thing probably wasn't worth throwing up over. It got me back to Chicago, where I thrived. And it proved to me once again that it's not enough to love advertising.
Sometimes you have to love it more than it loves you.