Pictured: Jay and Chuck; Chuck's wife, Lynn, with Jay.
Chuck Phillips' history with Chiat/Day is quite literally as old as Chiat/Day itself. He was the company's first employee. I can remember working with him at the original office on Olympic Boulevard, where the beginning of the lunch hour was signalled by the arrival of the burrito truck in the back parking lot. Later, in a very cold January in 1988, Adelaide and I had the great pleasure of helping Chuck open the Toronto office.
Chuck wrote the following article for Marketing, Canada's Ad Age, in May of 2002. With his kind permission, I reprint it here ...
May 13, 2002
Remembering Jay Chiat
CHUCK PHILLIPS recalls how his friend and mentor of 30 years inspired courage in advertising and made the business better
Ad industry icon Jay Chiat died April 23 in Los Angeles at age 70. Marketing invited CHUCK PHILLIPS, president and CEO of Lanyon Phillips Communications in Vancouver and founding president in 1988 of Chiat/Day Toronto, to reflect on his experiences as to what made this man so extraordinary.
Jay Chiat interviewed me in 1968. Guy Day hired me. I became the first employee of the newly merged Los Angeles ad agency Chiat/Day. They flipped a coin to see which one would be president. Jay won the toss...Guy got stuck with the title.
Then Jay took the agency on a rocket ship to the moon, Guy got weak-kneed on the trip, disappeared and ended up the answer to a seldom-asked trivia question.
Jay was a C-plus writer. He couldn't draw. But he was a creative powerhouse. He had more impact on changing advertising than anyone, including fellow titans Bill Bernbach and David Ogilvy. He did things no one had done before. Disemboweled the traditional hierarchical agency model. Made it smarter. Made it better.
He was Alexander the Great. He was Charlemagne. He was Genghis Khan. A "take no prisoners" leader who inspired people to stretch far beyond their limits to do seemingly impossible things. He was driven by excellence. If you delivered it, you stayed. If you fell short, you moved on. Compromise was for the other guys. His agency's motto was "Good Enough Isn't Good Enough."
Loyalty was everything. So was courage. He gave both and he got it back in torrents. We all would have followed him through a firestorm. Knifed anyone who tried to screw with him. A pat from Jay was a bigger deal than winning a One Show Gold.
Extraordinary agencies are all built by passionate leaders for whom their followers are willing to bleed. When these leaders go, managers slip in behind them and values change. Excellence takes a back seat to optics, and once-great agencies become indistinguishable from one another.
I worked for Jay for more than 20 years. He was my friend for longer. I quit twice. Got hired back two times. Was fired once.
When I left, I went with some company shares of dubious value.
Eight years later, Jay sold his company to Omnicom and got merged with TBWA. Ignoring objections from a board that was hostile to honouring any outsider shares, he sent me a cheque that far exceeded anything I might have fantasized about. He wasn't legally obligated to give me a dime. He told his board "I owe him." That huge act of generosity ended up keeping our then-fledgling Vancouver company alive. He then followed up the favour by showing up as a speaker at Vancouver's Vision Conference. He thought it might help us. It did.
Chiat/Day's most pivotal moment came when it lost its biggest client, Honda cars. How Jay reacted to this loss was what defined his leadership. Honda was 60% of the agency's revenue and 90% of our identity. It was demoralizing. The clinical decision would have been to immediately cut staff to adjust for the revenue shortfall. Jay wasn't clinical: "If I lose these people, I've got nothing left. So if we're going to die, let's at least do it with drama." The higher-paid people took 20% pay cuts, everyone else took 10%. He held staff, dug out and in about six months everybody got their salaries restored. Two months later we all got envelopes. Inside was a cheque for all the retroactive pay we had lost, with a simple, one-word handwritten note from Jay: "Thanks."
Our competitors were doomed.
In San Francisco we inherited a wretched account as part of an agency acquisition, AMC International. They were painful to work for, and the work reflected it. AMC was 70% of our income. Jay told me to fire them. That they were a cancer in the way of our moving forward. I reminded him "we need the money." He said "we need our self-respect more." So we resigned AMC and struggled for a time. Then along came Apple. I doubt they would have wanted to work with the company we were prior to undergoing that surgery. When Apple showed up, our billings were US$50 million. In two years, they would grow to US$500 million.
A while ago I flew to L.A. to spend some private time with Jay while he was undergoing treatments at UCLA in his battle against prostate cancer. He asked me if I'd been checked. Told him no, I was too chicken. He exploded at my irresponsibility, picked up a phone and made me an appointment with his specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.
I miss him.
- Chuck Phillips