Here’s this week’s TBT Leo:
“The only creative conference worth a damn is one in which everybody in the room starts from the same base of fact, a consuming appetite for ideas no matter how wild they may first appear, and a humble respect for them.” — Leo Burnett
From the Wikipedia page on Leo Burnett the man — the last paragraph is particularly sweet. That is exactly how I want to go … workin’ it hard right to the very last day. I want them to drag me from my desk, fingers still curled around my mouse:
Leo Burnett was born in St. Johns, Michigan, on October 21, 1891 to Noble and Rose Clark Burnett. Noble ran a dry goods store and as a young man, Burnett worked with his father, watching Noble as he designed ads for the business. After high school, Leo went on to study journalism at the University of Michigan and received his Bachelor’s degree in 1914.
His first job was as a reporter for the Journal Star Peoria in Peoria, Illinois. In 1917, Leo moved to Detroit and was hired to edit an in-house publication for Cadillac Clearing House, later becoming an advertising director for the same institution. At Cadillac, Leo met his advertising mentor, Theodore F. MacManus, whom Leo called “one of the great advertising men of all time.” MacManus ran the agency that handled Cadillac’s advertising.
In 1918, Leo married Naomi Geddes. The couple met at a small restaurant near the Cadillac offices, where Naomi worked as a cashier. They went on to have three children: Peter, Joseph and Phoebe.
During World War I, Leo joined the Navy for six months. However, his service was mostly spent Great Lakes building a breakwater. After his time in the military, Leo returned to Cadillac for a short while. It was then when a few employees at Cadillac formed the LaFayette Motors Company – triggering Leo to move to Indianapolis to work for the new establishment. Soon after, Leo was offered a position at Homer McKee. He then left LaFayette and joined McKee, where Leo Burnett said of the founder, “(He) gave me my first feel of what I have come to regard as the “warm sell” as contrasted to the “hard sell” and “soft sell.” This was his first agency job.
After spending a decade at McKee’s, and working through the stock market crash of 1929, Leo left the company. In 1930, he moved to Chicago and was hired by Erwin, Wasey & Company, where he was employed for five years.
In 1935, Leo founded the Leo Burnett Company, Inc. in a suite at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago. Soon after, the operation moved to the 18th floor of the London Guarantee Building. Today, the agency has 9,000+ employees in over 85 offices globally.
In December 1967, nearing the end of his career, Leo Burnett delivered his famous “When To Take My Name Off The Door” speech at the agency’s annual holiday gathering.
On June 7, 1971, Leo Burnett went to his agency, pledging to his colleagues to cut back to working only three days per week after some recent health problems had occurred. That evening, at the age of 79, he died of a heart attack at his family farm in Lake Zurich, Illinois.