The Peaceable Kingdom: Building a Company without Factionalism, Fiefdoms, Fear and Other Staples of Modern Business

The Peaceable Kingdom: Building a Company without Factionalism, Fiefdoms, Fear and Other Staples of Modern Business

by Stan Richards, David Culp
     
 

"Fresh, provocative, and powerful. Had I read this book before I started building a company of my own, it would have saved me a great deal of time and pain."-Sam Hill, President, Helios Consulting, Coauthor, Radical Marketing and The Infinite Asset

"In this insane world of ephemeral company loyalty and revolving doors to top positions, Stan Richards has clearly

Overview

"Fresh, provocative, and powerful. Had I read this book before I started building a company of my own, it would have saved me a great deal of time and pain."-Sam Hill, President, Helios Consulting, Coauthor, Radical Marketing and The Infinite Asset

"In this insane world of ephemeral company loyalty and revolving doors to top positions, Stan Richards has clearly outlined exceedingly sane ways for any company to retain star performers by creating an environment that fundamentally rejects office politics."-Dick Hammill, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Advertising, The Home Depot

"For the three decades during which I was building Mullen, my hero wasn't in New York-he was in Dallas. Stan Richards built a quintessentially creative agency from the uncommon clay of courage, generosity, common sense, loyalty, and integrity. If you'd like to be famous, respected, loved, and rich, here's the manual."-Jim Mullen, Founder, Mullen Advertising

"Keeping the creative spirit alive with every member of your team as your company grows should be your highest priority. The Peaceable Kingdom clearly describes how to keep the spirit alive and how to encourage every member of the team to constantly focus on improving the company and its services every day."-H. Ross Perot

The Peaceable Kingdom is a story like no other-one that reveals how a company that admittedly refers to itself as strange and odd nevertheless became one of the most closely watched, respected, and profitable businesses in the advertising industry. This eye-opening book takes you inside the doors of The Richards Group, which managed to survive and prosper in this cutthroat business by defying many truisms not only for ad agencies but for businesses in general. Company founder Stan Richards, along with David Culp, unveils how unconventional methods and a willingness to break down barriers earned them an A client list including Nokia, Home Depot, Motel 6, Fruit of the Loom, Corona, and Chick-fil-A.

Read The Peaceable Kingdom and see how your company-no matter the industry-can follow in their footsteps and build a more harmonious, productive, and prosperous business.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Richards heads a Dallas advertising agency that he calls "a strange company"<-->one that strives to be a utopian realm where people of wildly different personalities and roles work together in an air of mutual esteem and common labor, resulting in success for each employee as well as the firm and its clients. Richards and the former head of his agency's creative group outline how the 600-employee company came to have such an environment (no dress code, no manager caste, no officer titles, a distaste for written policies), and how other companies (in any field) can accomplish the same thing. The work is warm and fuzzy, but it keeps a cold, hard eye on profits, too. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471391166
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
03/15/2001
Series:
Adweek Series
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
432,532
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Tearing Down the Walls

My company is an advertising agency (or a branding agency, as we could more accurately be called). But that doesn't mean this is a book about the advertising business.

It's about the culture and company organization that my colleagues and I have built at the agency. I believe that the nontribal ethic we've devised over the years could be instituted in any other industry, in any size company--if the people in charge are serious about doing away with internal politics and equity-focused management.

Companies, especially creative companies like mine, reach success because their people are motivated not so much by the bottom line as by their will to win and their desire to bring something new and valuable into the world. That's what I believe we've done at The Richards Group. And I believe we've done it because of our somewhat oddball way of valuing work, highlighting performance, and conducting relationships within the organization and with our clients. If we've succeeded at that, then you can, too, whether you're in a manufacturing concern, a dot-com, a professional practice, the hospitality field, retailing, nonprofit work, or education. I'm convinced that the principles apply to any enterprise that involves getting two or more people to try to work together in a productive way.

Mine, I must admit, is a strange company. Oh, on the surface there's nothing too peculiar about us. We're based in Dallas and have a staff of around 600 people (Groupers, we call ourselves), along with a constellation of related businesses such as an interactive group, a sales promotion agency, a PR firm, and RBMM, the design firm. We've got a pretty good reputation within our industry--four-time Agency of the Year in Adweek, lots of awards, lots of appearances on magazines' lists of the most creative agencies in America, that kind of thing.

There's nothing flaky about our client list, either--brands like Corona, Motel 6, The Home Depot, Nokia, Chick-fil-A, Fruit Of The Loom. Real A-list companies. And we're growing. The milestone of half a billion dollars in billings is in our rearview mirror, and a billion is starting to look like a real possibility.

Not bad credentials. Nothing unconventional looking. But when you start getting to know the part of our company that can't be summed up in a few bullet points, that's when questions begin to arise. Questions like, "What is up with these people?"

It's our company culture. It's odd. It takes a lot of explaining, sometimes even to people who work here, who wonder how this company got to be so different from the places where they worked before. So we produced a little culture piece, a 12-page booklet that became the seed of this book. Here's how it begins.

Remember that painting we've all seen called "The Peaceable Kingdom," where the lion and lamb, bear and ox, leopard and child, et cetera and so forth, all coexist in perfect harmony?

That's basically the setup we're trying for at The Richards Group.

We're working toward a utopian realm where people of wildly different personalities and highly varied--some would say naturally hostile--roles in the business all mingle in mutual esteem and selfless common labor, the end of which is personal happiness for each individual and fame, fortune, and universal admiration for our agency and our clients....

In other words, we've made it our mission to tear down walls....

So that's what visitors find on all the reception-area coffee tables. We get a lot of visitors. There's the usual stream of clients, media and production reps, job candidates, and so forth, that you'd expect. And then there are the Seekers. They're here to find out what It is--this strange but apparently desirable thing that has made The Richards Group that rarest of creatures, the unpolitical ad agency.

To say that we're unpolitical compared to other ad agencies doesn't necessarily mean much. Compared to the average advertising agency, the Medicis' palace wouldn't seem political. But even people from companies that truly aren't very political think we're unpolitical. So I guess we are.

In retrospect, we've always been a little, well, different, starting back in the 1950s when I came to Dallas straight out of school in New York and began doing work like they weren't used to seeing around here. One creative director at a staid, old (and long since defunct, I might add) agency even suggested that I pack up my little black portfolio case and move on; they didn't cotton to that kind of design--his lip curled in contempt as he said it--in this town. I stayed. He's gone. End of that story.

Over the years, we started to get noticed for our work. Awards and new accounts rolled in. A lot of great minds came to work here. Most stayed. We concentrated on practicing our craft together, found that we could make money doing so, treated our clients and each other the way we'd like to be treated, and generally minded our own business. Billings climbed into nine figures. The number of Groupers climbed into the hundreds. And that's when I noticed that, without ever trying, we were starting to get nearly as much attention for our workplace as we were getting for the work that came out of the place.

That's just about the last thing I ever would have expected to become known for. All we've ever really, truly concentrated on around here is doing the best work we can do. Ad work. Not office-politics-removal work. Now, obviously, if we weren't producing notable work in our chosen field, nobody would care what a swell workplace we had. But I guess it just so happens that a lot of the practices we've picked up along the way to help us do the work--not to mention a lot of the practices we've avoided like the plague along the way because they'd be detriments to the work--have inadvertently made us an organization that people think is worth studying as an organization.

We didn't plan it that way. But there are enough dysfunctional organizations in the world, so if we can help somebody discover what It is and make their organization more functional, we're happy to try.

Some of the seekers after It are from other industries. I guess they figure, "If an advertising agency can get flat and unpolitical, for crying out loud, then surely we can do it."

Others are ad people themselves. Typically they're talented up-and-comers who, like my colleagues and me, are doing this work for the love of the craft and aren't yoked with the silly competitive paranoia our industry is famous for. If they're secure enough to call, then we're secure enough to give them a peek at how we do things. We're not sharing trade secrets anyway; we're trying to make the world (or at least the ad agency piece of it) a little better. And if they should end up competing against us someday (and that has happened before), well, that's okay. We never mind pitching an account against a worthy competitor; it's when we're in a pitch against a lightweight agency that we wonder if we've given the client a terrible misimpression.

So this book, like the little seed it grew from, is all about what those visitors see and how it got that way. Some of it is my story, as much as I'd prefer for it to be about the whole agency--the Group--and the people who make it successful. I've never even been a diarist, and I'm not about to come a memoirist. But I am, after all, the Richards in the Group, so tell my story I must. Hopefully, it will also dispel some of the wild stories I've heard about us over the years.

Some of the impressions that I've heard floating around out there (mostly at other agencies) are real lulus. Small facts morph into fabulous tales. Here are some genuine facts about The Richards Group:

  • The agency structure is very flat.
  • We have no manager caste, no officer titles.
  • I'm very close to a lot of the agency's work.
  • My colleagues, even the juniors, consult me a lot because I make myself available.

Okay. Now here's how the story comes back to me: I am, I have learned to my great surprise, a complete autocratic control freak, controlling the agency's output and closely enforcing order among the staff--something along the lines of Tito ruling Yugoslavia.

It's also still widely thought in creative circles that I see and approve every piece of work that goes out the door. Ridiculous, of course, for an agency this size (and I'm flattered that anyone could think I'm such a superman), but this particular exaggeration is understandable. Years ago I did approve practically everything, but that was when we were much smaller and I wasn't surrounded by a whole squad of world-class creative directors, any of whom could be running an agency if they wanted to. And to this day I still confine all the boring administrative stuff to about 10 or 15 minutes a day so I can spend the rest of my time doing the fun part, helping my associates create and present great work.

People hear that I'm directly involved in all the work. They can see that this is, in all likelihood, far from true of their own boss. And so they come up with the Tito theory to explain it.

Another favorite fable out there--and if I'm exaggerating about this, I promise it's not by much--is that the The Richards Group maintains a relatively calm (for an ad agency) workplace and keeps itself largely free of the typical infighting by operating as something akin to a for-profit religious cult. I play the guru in this picture, getting people from otherwise hostile tribes, such as art directors and account executives, to cooperate with each other by exercising some kind of nefarious mind control. Okay, the mind control part I'm making up, but the guru-and-disciples image turns up a lot in the folklore.

I think I know a couple of the supporting facts behind this particular myth: We never have parties, and we used to have a dress code. Well, actually I can't say we never have parties. We did have a party once, to celebrate our twentieth anniversary and introduce the new office we'd just moved into. But families were invited and nobody got wasted, so it wasn't a real agency office party. And the dress code part is (or was) absolutely true--ties on the guys, the whole thing. We used to have a very talented, funny young copywriter who had been a Mormon missionary before coming to work here. Somebody once joked that he could have gotten a job anywhere but picked The Richards Group so he wouldn't have to change his wardrobe. He didn't disagree.

Thus, between the dearth of parties and the dress code, we picked up a reputation in certain quarters as the ascetic sect of the advertising industry. "Let's see... no tequila in the office, neckties on copywriters--yep, there's definitely something spooky about these people."

For what it's worth, the dress code, which had once served a pragmatic purpose that I'll get into later, outlived its usefulness. So we killed it. And it was never exactly the Marine Corps anyway. The guideline was, "Dress like you're going to the bank for an eighty-thousand- dollar loan." Now we just say, "Dress like you're going to the bank for an eighty-dollar loan."

As for the parties, I suppose we could, theoretically, have another one someday. The subject comes up just about every November: "Hey, do you guys want to have a Christmas party this year, or should we just kick the cash into profit sharing again?" So far, it's been profit sharing by acclamation every time.

As an organization, we behave strangely. When young writers and art directors call up wanting to interview, it's always been our policy (unwritten, of course--we hate written policies) for a creative group head to see them even when we don't have any positions. We'll look at the portfolio even if it's lousy, give some constructive criticism, try not to crush the kid's spirit. That probably doesn't make much sense to the creative directors I keep hearing about who like to shred the novices. But it makes all kinds of sense when you see how many 200-karat diamonds in the rough we've found that way, some of whom I'll tell you about.

Generally--almost universally, judging by what I hear from interviewees-- agencies just don't do that kind of thing. Nor do you find copywriters humbly accepting headlines suggested by account executives, even if the line is good. Come to think of it, account executives don't suggest headlines, if they know what's good for them. Little things like that are just not done. Tribal boundaries forbid it. But we'll let it happen here. Not that I ever really see AEs sitting around dreaming up headlines. But sometimes it happens. Smart people get ideas. Why stifle them?

It gets weirder. We give money back to clients. Do it all the time. The agency and client agree on a profit goal up front, and if we go over the target amount I write them a check. Seems fair to me. But when I mention this in talks to advertising groups, I see the agency people start to sweat, as they say in Texas, like a hooker at a church rally.

I could go on--and will. But this being the introduction, suffice it to say that my fellow Groupers and I have managed (mostly by not managing) to put together a fair-sized and very successful company, in a high-strung, often vicious business, with very little tribalism, fear, or sub-rosa shenanigans to show for it. And that's odd.

People (like, say, the kid with the crummy book whom we didn't mistreat) have a brush with the oddness. It makes an impression. They tell somebody. The stories morph. The wacky mythology grows. And it grows, I think, because when people hear that it's possible to work in a company without factionalism, fiefdoms, fear, and all the other toxic staples of modern business, they don't think it's possible without something funky driving it. Tito, hypnotism--something. To them--maybe to you--tribalism, politics, and self-aggrandizement are the way of the world, normal life at work, no way around it, is now and ever shall be. (But at least Dilbert lets us enjoy a bitter laugh about it, right?)

In other words, a company without tribalism seems too good to be true. Well, I'm here to tell you it's possible. Hard, but possible.

If your company's just starting out, if you're still small, then you'll have it easier. You don't have to erect the barriers that would divide your company into warring factions, an Ulster with regular business hours. Chances are, everything from your industry's time-honored custom to several of this hour's bestsellers on Amazon will try to get you to do it, to tribalize your company. But you don't have to. You're lucky.

If your company is more "mature," as they say, if you've already got all the trappings of success--caste systems, ruling juntas, dissident parties, guerrilla insurgencies, feudal estates, peasants and suzerains, all that good stuff--then you've got a trickier task ahead of you, one that calls for subtlety and cunning on the one hand and barefaced, unabashed pollyannaism on the other.

But don't worry, you can do it. In fact, it's going to be fun.

Think of it along the lines of a remodeling job. The house is fine; you're just going to rearrange the floor plan. Sure, it's going to be messy. But there's no emotional release quite like the feeling of picking up a nine-pound hammer and taking it full force to a wall that needs to come down. Chances are, people will line up to help. Because tearing down dividing walls is fun--and you'll probably be amazed to see how few of them are load-bearing.

So are you ready? Then let the demolition begin.

Meet the Author

STAN RICHARDS is the founder of The Richards Group, a Dallas-based ad agency that was named Adweek's "Southwest" Agency of the Year in 1984, 1988, 1990, and 1994. In addition, the company has won eleven Clio Awards since its founding in 1976.
DAVID CULP worked for eight years as a writer and creative group head for The Richards Group before becoming a freelance writer. He continues to handle writing assignments for the agency.

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