I think the creative director I learned the most from was also the toughest. His name was Ron Hoff, and he came to FCB in Chicago non-stop from Ogilvy and Mather in New York.
Everyone was nervous for weeks before he arrived, as we watched the building people remodel a huge office for him and put down the world's plushest kelly-green carpeting. We knew David Ogilvy ran his agency by his own rulebook. Ron, a creative director there, knew the rules and we didn't. We devoured copies of Ogilvy's "Confessions of an Advertising Man" for clues.
On his first day, Ron held a meeting of the department and made the usual speech about how glad he was to be there --- and that everybody would have to prove themselves.
As the first few weeks went by, several on our staff quit. Ron managed to intimidate everybody except Pat, his secretary. Any time someone made a declarative statement about a client, a client's business, the market, a product, the agency, their own work or advertising in general, Ron's response was simple and direct: "How do you know that?" Ron wanted to see the research. Obviously they asked that question a lot at Ogilvy. If you didn't have a good answer, Ron mopped the floor with you.
At the time, I was knee-deep in working with one of the agency's most demanding clients, "the quality goes in before the name goes on" color TV people at Zenith. The ad manager there had just come back after recuperating from a heat attack, and was already throwing pencils and erasers at our account management people if he didn't like something. Fortunately, I stayed in my quiet and reserved mode, and he liked me. He didn't know I was quiet and reserved because I was scared.
For a long time, Ron didn't know what to make of me, nor I of him. Then, when an agency producer and I were leaving to go to L.A. to produce 11 commercials for Zenith, Ron called me into his office. "These have to be the best color TV commercials ever done", he ruled. It took 14 weeks to complete the job, but they turned out so well, Ron was thrilled. I could relax, and he trusted me from then on.
Trusting me meant I got difficult tasks. A campaign of 15 long-copy financial ads for the Wall Street Journal. Sears tire commercials demonstrating their strength. A competition with other ad agencies for a $20-million television campaign for Kraft's 75th anniversary (we won). The Christmas campaign for Hallmark. All had to be "the best ever done".
Ron and I became good friends and used to go out to brunch and a movie on winter Sundays. In summer he played tennis. A couple of years after I left FCB, Ron died in surgery during a heart operation. The doctor's knife slipped. Everyone who knew him was stunned.
I still miss Ron Hoff deeply. A good leader is hard to find. So is a good friend.