Al Golin – A Eulogy

Workplace culture is such a ubiquitous, yet elusive concept.  Every agency I’ve ever worked at has obsessed over it, setting up action groups, intranets, away days or just the offer of a Thursday beers to try and build a culture.  To be more than the sum of our parts.

And we are right to obsess over it.  After all, I’ll spend more time with my colleagues than I’ll ever do with my children.  Life is simply too short to work with assholes, but, like you, I’ve definitely worked with my fair share.

When I first joined Golin just over 3 years ago, I was amazed at the warmth, the friendship and honesty of these people.  Where were the A-holes?  I looked and looked but simply couldn’t find them.  The agency wasn’t just full of nice guys (but, you know, nice guys who could kick ass) but they were GOOD people too.  People that weren’t just happy doing brave work for our clients but also challenged themselves to change wrongs and perceptions within our industry itself.

Workplace culture can come from anywhere, but a culture that lasts…that has meaningful, long-lasting impact is one that trickles down from the top.  For over 61 years our agency had the very best guy at the top.

Al Golin wasn’t just the head of our business, he was the heart.

I was lucky enough to meet Al Golin twice, both in Chicago.  The first time I met him it was during a Golin Management meeting about 2 years ago.  Despite the fact that I almost knocked him out with a frisbee (don’t ask) he was so incredibly warm, inquisitive and funny.  So bloody funny.  I’d been at Golin for just over a year and that trip was when I realised the significant impact this man had made over this organisation which now numbered in the 1000’s of employees.   If I was enchanted and inspired by the consistent intelligence, warmth and friendliness of this company, here I was at the source.

The second time I met Al, was just over a year later at the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the agency.  On the outside his illness was beginning to take its toll, but on the inside, he was still the same, charming warm and fiercely funny (and sweary) guy.   The celebrations involved ex-business partners and clients from over six decades, but they all shared the same opinion; that Al’s warmth, friendship and professionalism were as contagious as they were inspiring.

One of the ways we deal with death is to think about the legacy of the person we’ve lost.  A lot of the eulogies you’ll read will justifiably mention our 60-year relationship with McDonald’s and Al’s visionary views on the communications industry.  Not to mention Golin, the agency.  Now in its 61st year and still evolving and challenging itself to be better, braver and ballsier.

But for me, Al’s biggest legacy will be the culture that he has created.  His “mid-western” values of honesty and friendship are the perfect tonic to an industry that sometimes takes itself far too seriously and where some feel that being an A-hole is the only way to motivate.

To me, the indelible legacy of Al Golin is 1000’s of employee’s, clients and partners, past present and future that value humility, honesty and a sense of humour.  That nice guys don’t always finish last.  That friendship is just as important a goal for our agency as fee.