How To Act Like a President, The Seven Year Lesson From Jay Chiat

During the high flying days of the first internet revolution I worked for a public dot com. The chairman was Jay Chiat the legendary ad man who co-founded Chiat, Day. He was the advertising genius behind many campaigns including Apple’s 1984 commercial which some say transformed the Super Bowl into the advertising event it has become. I only worked with Jay (everyone was called by their first name- it was a dot com after all)  a few times. But once, a month into my tenure as a freshly minted MBA, during an informal chat on the way back from the men’s room he made a huge impression on me.

We were talking and then he paused, crossed over to my side, bent down to picked up a small piece of paper (which I didn’t notice) and threw it out. Then he continued the conversation as if nothing happened. This act left me puzzled for over 7 years. I couldn’t understand it and theorized he was just a very clean person and this bothered him. Or maybe he was trying to make a statement- every piece of paper out of order is important- let’s portray a positive image. Or maybe his statement was that even a famous chairman like him is involved in the mundane day to day tasks.

Fast forward 7 years. I was walking back to my desk saw a little piece of paper in the hallway next to someone else’s desk, I bent down and threw it out. After I realized what I had instinctively done I started thinking about why I did it and remembered the story with Chiat those years earlier. Then it hit me, I did it because I felt responsible for the company. At the dot com I worked hard and felt responsible for my projects and surroundings, but didn’t feel as responsible for the company (even though I had stock options). At this new company as a long time employee and manager I felt a sense of ownership on the company’s success (though I wasn’t an owner). That’s probably why Chiat did it.

The lesson is simple. Act like the president of whatever company or task you’re working on. Instill in your employees a sense of ownership. Instill it in your kids. They will work
for their own pride harder than they would work for someone else’s. The way to do it is to give more responsibility.

Leave a Reply