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Lester: From Wunderkind to Wunderman worldwide.
Advertising Hall of Famer Lester Wunderman drops in on host Alan Levy to discuss his storied career, the current state of the ad industry and his book, Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay. In 1947, the Bronx, New York-born Lester, who turns 90 in June, broke into advertising as a copywriter at Madison Avenue firm Maxwell Sackheim & Co. There he built the firm's mail-order accounts into a broader, more profitable business line, which would come to be known as "direct marketing." Two decades later, President Richard Nixon enlisted Lester's help in using direct-marketing to educate Americans on the U.S. Postal Service's new zip-code system. In 1958, Lester and two colleagues founded the Big Apple firm Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline. While under his own shingle, Lester created the toll-free 1-800 number, the Columbia Record Club, the magazine-subscription card, the American Express customer-rewards program and other seminal campaigns and techniques that are still going strong in the 21st century. Named an Advertising Legend and Leader in 1998 by Adweek magazine, Lester is currently Chairman Emeritus of Wunderman, a response-driven marketing firm that's part of the Young & Rubicam Brands and the WPP family of agencies.
Welcome to the Alan Levy show at BlogTalkRadio.com. Be prepared to call in now and chat with Alan and his very special guest right here at BlogTalkRadio.com. With no more further ado, please welcome your host, Mr. Alan Levy.
Good morning everyone. Welcome to the Alan Levy show on BlogTalkRadio. I'm the founder, and CEO of BlogTalkRadio radio, and it's truly an honor to be with you today. It's 11:00 a. m. on Tuesday, March 23. As always, the Alan Levy Show can be listened to live at BlogTalkRadio.com/AlanLevy, or you can listen to it on demand, at any time you'd like, at the same address or on iTunes. Just search for Alan Levy and you'll find my show on iTunes. We'll be taking your calls today towards the end of the show, and if you'd like to call in and ask a question of our guest, the phone number to call in is 866-691-7714. That's 866-691-7714.
My very special guest today is Lester Wunderman. Lester Wunderman is an advertising legend. The pioneering father of direct marketing. Lester created, among other iconic direct market marketing campaigns, the American Express Card, the use of 800 toll free numbers to sell magazines, and the concept of direct mail campaigns. Lester is Chairman Emertius of Wunderman, one of the largest networks of advertising, marketing and consulting companies in the world. Lester, it is a pleasure and an honor to speak with you today. How are you?
Well I'm just fine here. And, it's a pleasure to talk to you over this great distance.
Wonderful. Wonderful. So, we met in your offices a little more than a month ago, and I had the pleasure of meeting you for the first time. We were talking in your office and you were sharing some of your incredible insights and experiences. So I thought it made sense to bring you on the show so our audience, the BlogTalkRadio audience, as well as your employees around the world, could listen in on this, either live or at their leisure, to get some insight into some your experiences.
Yeah. I'm very pleased with that. I think it's such a good idea.
Yeah. Well wonderful. Yeah. We were chatting about how you were thinking about that so many of the meetings that you had been to in your life, and your career, and how you would have liked to record them and memorialize them so you can share those with your employees. Right?
Yeah. Well, I've written this book which is being published in China, Being Direct, which has my biography from almost birth on, but how we started the agency and how we got our first clients. And what the principles of the agency have been that were different from other advertising groups.
Right. And I'm really excited. And name of the book, of course, is, Being Direct. And you're about to head off to China. I want to talk about China and your view on Asia. And so I thought maybe before we get into the book, and I guess you did cover it in the book, can you give our audience a brief description of your background. How you got started in advertising? And then in particular, with direct marketing?
Well, it's difficult to be brief, but, I started in advertising with an older brother. I had a brother who was three years older than I. And he had some experience in advertising, and I had none. As young people, we were casting about for how we should live our lives, and what we should do as work. And I was always interested in writing and persuasion and was always interested in other cultures. So we decided that we would open an advertising agency, which we did. We opened it with the smallest amount of capital that one can imagine. My mother, who is a widow, had one piece of jewelry left to her by my father, who had died when I was nine. And she sold that piece of jewelry to give us a capital to open our first advertising agency. So we opened with little capital, not a lot of knowledge, but a great deal of energy and ambition.
And it wasn't called an agency, was it not? Wasn't called a service?
It was called a service because we did everything. I would wander buildings, starting at the top floor, visiting office by office, and trying to sell what I could, whether it be printing or any other form of promotion. And I encountered that way. I got a quick education in the nature of the businesses that emanated from New York. And I learned New York in a way I'd never known it. And as we learned and got some clients and got some work, we became more proficient and it.
Not having the background of advertising experience, we decided that we had better take a special form of advertising as our specialty. And we then decided this direct idea of direct communication with the end consumer by the manufacturer was going to be the way that business would be done starting at that point. Now we're talking about a time prior to the development of the computer. We worked with the two universities that were developing computers. We understood the United States Army had a network like the internet, and it was called the ARPANET at the time. And then, as the internet developed, I worked with the founders of the internet, and I realize that this would become the first major personal medium that the world had known since direct conversation.
Yeah. I want to get into that. But we have to go back to a little earlier. I just want to ask you a couple of things, if you don't mind. And I want ask in particular, the concept that you called, The Mrs. Schwartz Rule Of Service. Can you explain what the Mrs. Schwartz Rule of Service is?
Yes indeed. When I was in school, and my family was needy. We were poor, my father having been long dead, and we had to earn some money. There was no money in the household. I got a job delivering chickens for a butcher in part of New York City. Not an upscale part of New York City, I might add. But what happened is on Friday, typical New York system in that area, was that women would buy chickens on Friday and have chicken soup and chicken over the weekend. And they didn't want to carry their own chickens, for whatever reason. And so I would be piled up. I didn't have a bicycle. I didn't have a wagon. And what the butcher would do is load me up with maybe 50 pound bags of chickens. And I would walk up. The women who wouldn't carry their own chickens usually lived in apartments without elevators. And usually lived on the higher floors, which is why they wouldn't carry their own chickens. So I must say, I got a lot of exercise walking up and down floors carrying chickens.
But I wanted to say, the interesting concept here, you came up with a very important concept from that, right?
I did indeed. There was a woman named Mrs. Schwartz. And Mrs. Schwartz lived on the top floor of one of these buildings that you had to walk up. And she lived on the sixth floor. So I carried her chicken six flights and she gave me a five cent tip. Now in those days, five cents was a lot of money. But it isn't today. And I said, Mrs. Schwartz how come the women in the fancy apartments that have elevators only give me two cents? And you give me five cents. And she said, Lester, I need you more. Well, that was my understanding of the Mrs. Schwartz philosophy. When the consumer needs you more, when an advertiser need you more, or if you can create the feeling that they need you more, you're much more likely to make a sale, and be thought of as providing appropriate services.
Right. So again, I thought it was a great story-- the Mrs. Schwartz Rule of Service. But I think that the concept, and particularly for those in the advertising industry, is so important to any organization, anyone providing a service, selling a product, I think I'm quoting you, that "the pricing of services should be based upon the value of the service is provided".
And that, of course, is a rule that continues to [UNINTELLIGIBLE] this day, and just by extension, if the pricing of services is based upon the value of service provided, then by extension, measuring of the value of services must be a fundamental requirement of marketing in your view.
Well. It certainly is. And it's one of the things that we innovated in a way. Advertising had always been a general expression by an advertiser through mass media who provided the same message to the total audience. We began to believe that a more direct, more personal, more informed, information based messages would be more effective. To do that, one then had to gather information about the people to whom you were selling. And, my knowing that Mrs. Schwartz was up on the sixth floor, and that would provide a service to her, lead to an understanding of what I call the Mrs. Schwartz Rule of Service. You get paid for the service you provide. And if you're innovative, you learn to provide additional services, even those that do not, at the time, exist. And, of course, technology in our industry has been the revolutionary source of change.
Now in your book, Being Direct you develop the Wunderman Rules which, of course, are the kind of 10 commandments, or let's say 19 commandments of direct marketing. Just a few of them that I pointed out, I'll just note here. One of them, the first; direct marketing is a strategy and not a tactic. It's not an ad with a coupon. It's a not a commercial with a toll free number. It's not a mailing, a phone call, a promotion, a database, or a website. It's a commitment to getting and keeping valuable customers. Another one, called, The Next Step, Profitable Advertising; the results of advertising are increasingly measurable. They must now become accountable. Advertising can't be just a contribution to goodwill. It must become an investment in profits. And the last one that I thought was very appropriate to this conversation we're having, as well as what's happening on the web today, is encourage interactive dialogues. Listen to consumers rather than talk to them. Let them advertise their individual needs. They'll be grateful your responsiveness. Convert one way advertising to two way information sharing. This is the bible, so to speak, of direct marketing. First question, is why only 19? I mean how did you come up with such a random number.
It just became 19. I thought of as many as I could, and when it turned out to be 19, I thought lets stop here, because there's something wonderful about the number 19.
What's wonderful about the number 19?
I don't know. Numbers, as you know, numbers have their own attraction for people. I mean there are games in which is numbers seven or eleven become very important. But it just seemed to me that 19 was appropriated. 20 would have been oversell, and overkill and get boring. And being less than that would not have explained the technology or the system or the thinking well enough.
Well, I think I found out actually one of the reasons why looking at the bio on my screen here of you. It says, "Wunderman, an advertising executive who began his career in advertising in 1933 at the age of 19." I don't know perhaps the 19 is maybe just a coincidence.
Actually that's a misprint. I was 19 in 1939.
I see. OK. I guess I'm not as smart. Let's talk about the 19 rules. How have the rules stood up to today's environment? Have you though about increasing them? Modifying them? I know it's a very broad and general question, but just, generally, do you feel like that they still stand the test of time?
Yeah. I think they do. And I think that another generation and other thinking will add to them or change them. But for my time, and with technology available to us, and our awareness of the consumer, I think they were the 19 appropriate things. If I had to rewrite it today, I guess I might change something. Think there are some I would take out, and others I would modify. But I don't plan to do that. I might do it when I speak. I will be in my approaching trip, to both trips to Japan and China. And I will be speaking, and I will be providing some additional things that I think have become important.
Right. And of course, the world has changed with the web and, of course, what we're seeing now. And I'm I want to talk more about China a little later on.
Once again, we're speaking with Lester Wunderman on the Alan Levy Show. The phone number is 866-691-7714.
Now, of course, there's so many major marketing campaigns that you've created over the years, and I want to get into a few of them if you don't mind. And really understand your approach to solving your client's problems. Where does the process start? And I think that will be very helpful. And so how do you approach it when you go into an existing client that is looking to release a new product, or a new one that you're looking to pitch? What's your process of thinking about it?
Well the process certainly begins, in our case, begins and ends with the consumer. What do consumers needs? What are they likely to need? Or is it possible to introduce ideas to them that they approve of? So that our thinking all begins with the consumer. And we're trying as much as possible, and it gets more possible all the time, to be relevant. Advertising at its outset, was totally irrelevant, or almost totally irrelevant, because it provided the same message to everyone. No matter what their psychography or demography, they got same message. And no matter what they needed, or what their economic status was. And it was clear that if we could learn more about the consumer and not only their demographic and what their economic status was, but what were their preferences for products, that we could do the ultimate work of advertising, which is to make a customer for an advertiser. The ultimate work is not to make a product well known. The ultimate work is to create customers to buy, and buy again. And that's been the psychology and that's been the basic tenant of this company.
All right. Wonderful to hear that. Let's talk about the American Express Card. It's a remarkable story. I'd love our audience to hear about it. Of course, it's one of the most famous. It's iconic. Tell us about how that happened. That story. The American Express card.
Well. We were a small agency, and American Express somehow found us, and gave us an assignment. They said come and look at our business, and see what new services, because they were essentially in the travel arrangement business. That was American Express. If you were booking travel, you booked through American Express. And they said to me, how do we expand our franchise? What else should we be doing?
And I did a 50 page report to them, having done a consumer research. And in this report, I described the idea of a credit card that would be superior to any then existing. The first credit card in America that I know of was the Diners Club. And that was limited to restaurants. And, I thought American Express being a service company that provided travel, as well as arrangements for restaurants, hotels and et cetera, that a card that would be payment for all such services would be something special. It would be almost like another form of money. That carrying that card, you were carrying money in amounts that you otherwise wouldn't dare do. So the service of being able to pay at the widest variety of retail providers for all sorts of services was the original idea for the American Express Card. And I thought they were the appropriate company to do that. That's how that began. And we made a report, and nothing happened for five years. They accepted the report, they paid, and I thought, my God, I must have done something wrong. Five years later, they called me up and they said, let's begin. So the American Express Card started. We helped design the first card. We helped design what it's services should be, and then we helped American Express use their card members as customers for a whole range of things that both American Express and its services could offer.
That's a wonderful story. What about 800 services for Time Magazine. Was this just generally 800 services? The concept of enabling your customer to call in toll free? Or was it that you implemented for Time or did you develop the concept of toll free numbers?
Well. Direct marketing, as it was known, or direct mail, as it was known, was limited to certain media. We wanted to get onto radio and television because we saw that there was a growing -- you know, we didn't know yet about the internet -- but these were the growing media. We had to find a way for consumers to respond easily. To give complex phone numbers, or to give complex addresses took to much time, and people didn't have pencil and paper to write them down. So we suggested to ATT that they start the 800 number so that people could call advertisers freely, and it expanded the business enormously.
As well as ATTs. That's remarkable. I mean think about the impact 800 services have done for ATT. A highly differentiated service and outrageously price for that, so you benefited both. You changed both industries. Two dynamics --the market, phone company's as well as the brand.
And as well as the nature of marketing. Because suddenly, and this is certainly the increasing trend, people who make things want to talk to people who buy them. And the old system of distribution through a series of wholesalers and distributors is clumsy. So this 800 number was efficient, easy to remember and it cut right through instead of going through the old addressing and so forth, problems.
That's a remarkable, impactful campaign. Two other questions here. Which is the biggest regret of course, you're pitching for years and years. Do you remember any particular campaigns you didn't win that you regretted? I'm sure there's many. Anything that really sticks out to you as is ones that you didn't get, that maybe you ultimately got back?
Well. I guess it probably was American Express. That I made the report and we didn't get the advertising. It was done, as it still is largely through Ogilvy and Mather. And we became the second agency at American Express because we brought some new thinking to them about their services and how they should be promoted. And I guess I had as much fun with American Express --
Do any other campaigns come to mind that you did not create, that you really were very impressed with? Like what's one of the top marketing campaigns that you didn't create, that you could recall that you were very impressed with.
I was always impressed, by the way, with the campaigns from American Express which we did not create. I thought their advertising then and now has been exceptional. When you think about now all the credit cards, the American Express has just retained it's position as the leader. And it simply stays different. They are a service company committed to service. And I think their advertising, done by another agency, is always different and interesting.
OK So in preparation of this interview, Andrew and I were chatting, --Andrew Sexton-- and he suggested I bring up the story about Procter and Gamble, who you referred to as the house of clean when you went into a pitch. Maybe you could share that with our audience. I think it would be enlightening.
Well it's embarrassing. What, in fact, happened, is we were asked to make a presentation to Procter and Gamble. And Procter and Gamble being one of the world's largest advertisers to come to an agency such as ours was strange, but they knew we doing something different. And they were interested in finding out what was. So I packed a large presentation case with samples of our work so that I could really lecture to the people at Procter and Gamble that there were different ways of going to market than the ways that they were using. And that we could provide them with outlets that they didn't have and information that they didn't have. So I made this -- my hard earned opening remarks, and I had this big black sample case that carried all the material that we wanted to show them. And when it came to the dramatic moment after I made my speech, and I said now I'll show you how advertising should work, and how it should work for Procter and Gamble. And I opened up this zipper of this case, and out walked the biggest, blackest New York cockroach that you've ever seen. And, here I am in the house of clean, in the board of directors room, I mean if a cockroach ever got inside Procter and Gamble, they would move.
And what was their reaction? Did you win the business?
Well. What I did is, the first thing I did, was I slapped the cockroach. I mean the cockroach was gone. And then I said to them, I said who should sue American Airlines? You or us? Because clearly, we had put this bag on the plane without a cockroach, and somehow between New York and their offices in Cincinnati this cockroach got involved.
Of course there are no cockroaches in New York city.
I guess, in recollection, one would have to assume it was one of our best of New York's finest cockroaches. But we didn't stop to admire it. So I slapped it down, and blamed it on American Airlines. Poor people. But they never suffered from it.
And did you win the business? Were your ideas--
We did. We did. We
So that's a lesson for all of us.
I think, it turned out, instead of being a fiasco, it turned out to be kind of a piece of showmanship. Nobody's ever brought a cockroach to Procter and Gamble before. Nobody ever would.
Well that's a wonderful story.
So you're listening to a conversation with Lester Wunderman on the Alan Levy Show.
So I wanted to talk a little about the advertising industry over the years. It's been so many interesting and dynamic personalities. Of course, I have to ask you, as a big fan of the TV shows Madman, is the Madman an accurate portrayal of ad agency life in the late '50's?
Well, yes I think it is. I don't watch it because I lived it. In other words, there's nothing they put on that show that didn't, in fact, happen to us. We had our own Madman show back in the 50's.
Are you referenced in it at all? Were you portrayed in it? I know there other leading characters in Campbell and other icons.
Frankly I don't know. Because I don't watch it. It isn't because I don't think it's interesting, or useful. It's stuff I already know. What goes on on that show, I saw happen in real life. And in real life, it is enormously dramatic. Some of the things that happen to the lives, clients, ambitions of people, how their life has changed, and either enriched or becomes disappointing. How products grow or don't. How companies survive or fail. We've been through all that. And the show is amusing and I find it wonderful. But I'm not a viewer.
OK. So of course, it's been a tremendous amount of consolidation in the agency world over the years. Dating back then and prior, and, of course, today. And you've seen your share of consolidation. Maybe you could explain your relationship with David Ogivly and kind of what transpired when you ultimately sold your agency, Wunderman, Cato and Johnson to Young and Rubicam.
Well David and I had become good friends. And David's number two man, Jack Elliott, was also a great friend of mine. And the Elliott's and myself and my wife saw each other frequently socially. And David, of course, had his house in France, and I subsequently had one there too. So we interested each other. So David offered to merge with us. And I was terribly tempted to do so, but there was one problem. Ogilvy and Mather had become a public agency. I think it was the first one or the second to sell it shares to the public. I thought at that point, that the people who work in an advertising agency, and actually do the work, should hold the shares and earn the profits. That's having third party profiteers who were not part of the process was not a good idea for a service business. So I did not merge with David Ogilvy, because Ogilvy and Mather were a public company.
I merged with Young and Rubicam because they had equal stature, equal reputation, very good clients, and they had vowed never to become public. I thought that was a good idea. Course, that didn't last very long. Under the pressures of expansion, most large agencies became public because it was the only way to get access to capital, to build the network. Even companies such as ours, there's offices in so many countries, and opening an office and opening a continents or our country, is a very expensive proposition because you don't go in there making a profit. You've got to build your way. So capital was a necessary ingredient in building an agency network. And so I was wrong. Young and Rubicam eventually went public. And I don't think anything has been lost in the way of service. I was, I guess, just stubborn, at that point.
So when you started thinking about global, when did you really start thinking about the need to be global in order to be local?
Well right away. We quickly, in our early years, we opened in Canada, which was necessary because so many US media flow over into Canada. And, then we opened in Mexico because there in some degree that was the same thing. They were adjacent countries and easier to manage. And then, of course, we realized we had to open in Europe. And the first European company was in London and then we made a relationship with a large French advertising agency where we became a separate system with them. And slowly, we'd began to cover all of Europe and then eventually, of course, we went to Asia. And being in Asia, of course, is where I think the growing opportunities is. And every time I go to China, I think if I were to be born again, maybe I would choose to be Chinese. Because the opportunity is there for growth, and, the fact that capitalism is working. Industries are growing. Consumers are learning. It's kind of almost a replication of what happened in other countries in the west. And the system is go through in China. And we have six offices in China. That's how important we think it is.
I see. And, of course, you're heading to China in April and your book Being Direct is being translated. Correct?
Yes. It will be published in Chinese.
It'll be published in China. And of course, one of the things I was reading through in the book, just describe, early on actually, in the profile or the beginning, that your conversation with Guang Ki-Chang the minister, post in telecommunications who was sitting there with you and talking and you were describing, through the translator, what your view was about how direct mail could impact and the creation of a global database, and things. Its a fascinating story. Maybe talk a little about that. And kind of what do you see with a billion people and a government that controls this communication and privacy. It's quite fascinating what's happening in China.
In the first place with Guang Ki-Chang, he and I just became friends. Quite apart from the fact that he had an interesting history. He had been put in prison for 20 years for preaching communism during the Chiang Kai-Shek era. When in fact, the communists took over China, he was freed. Because as a prisoner, he had been a mail carrier, they made him the head of China post, because he was the only one in government that had any experience with how letters should get delivered. And that was the state that China was it at that point. But China, of course, is now under capitalist energy. And the country's changing and growing, and that's why we have six offices there. And we just see it's just bursting. I mean every company in any industry wants to be in China at this point. Because with that many consumers and now with computer communication, it it's just going to be a place for people to grow. And, that's why I have said that to be born again, I could be born in China and go through the same career.
Much, much bigger. But when you look at the privacy matters in China where the government is controlling so much of the communication medium, do you see that as a an enormous opportunity to control commerce in much more powerful way via direct marketing because you have all this information, you can influence so many more people?
I have had these visions of China. We don't get involved with the politics of the nation. What we do is work within in the systems that they make available to us. And we have six office is in China and we make no criticism of either plus or minus of what they do politically. All we know, is that we can get mail delivered. We can get advertising delivered, we can get consumers to buy products. And for us its an open market. It's political ramifications don't change as they don't in any other countries. I mean we have offices in countries of any political persuasion. And we're just not part of that system.
So if we just move on to today's environment --and one of the questions in the chat room is -- in your view, the advertising of they say yesteryear compare with what's happening now? I know it's a broad statement, but do you see substantial trends -- I don't want to get into social networks yet, I want to talk about that in a moment -- but are there broad strokes that you're seeing changes in approaching and strategy.
Copy is shorter. I mean if you take a look at the advertising of 50 years ago, it was almost all copy. And I think what's happened is that advertising has become much more pictorial and imageaic and particular under the influence of media such as television. The visual component is much more important. Agencies when I began, had a copy chief, but they didn't have a credit director. They had a copy chief, and they had an art director. The art director being a subordinate person, because the visual was not as important as the content and copy. That of course, has changed. And, we're now looking a visual impressions and visual media. And I think the emphasis there has changed. And the nature of the talent that agencies sponsor is different. We're looking for different kinds of people. I used to hire English teachers because I thought I could teach them to write copy. Well I'm not sure that I could hire an English teacher and teach him to do what is now -- you know, when do an internet version. So, it's just a different population which is moving on.
Fascinating. With regards to television, the largest audiences you can reach via television, at least, obviously super bowls, and other large broadcasts. And television in general. And there's a concept called cognitive surplus where the there's a huge shift taking place, of course, that's coming on line. What's your sense of the way audiences are fragmented and the challenges advertising agencies and brands have now to reach fragmented audiences? And as the dollars migrate, how will that be all managed? Does it just put that much more challenge onto the agents?
There's a revolution going on which has not yet been named. I've named it. But it hasn't yet caught on. But I believe it will. I think the future of advertising is called personal advertising. We have gone from masses and groups to individuals that both the media make it possible, the internet makes it possible, the telephone makes it possible, the postal service makes it possible. And advertisers now have to gather information about their consumers and prospects. And try to create relevant messages. One message serving all is no longer the most efficient form of advertising. And I think as we grow, as the future approaches, the variety of messages will change radically to serve each medium.
And I agree, but what about the concept of audience and reach, and reaching those. Getting those messages out to those audiences and scale that make a difference to the brands that you're providing services to.
We were one of the earliest agencies in the internet. I worked with the two men which I would never lose respect for. One was Peter Drucker, the other was Nicholas Negroponte one at the University of California and the other at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And they were the brightest men I ever met in the theory of marketing. And it was Negroponte who made the internet and is still working as an internet person creating cheap computers for people in third world countries. I have always been fortunate enough to know and understand and work with people who had the future in their minds. And so has this agency. We've always looked into media we are is good at the internet as we are at other media. And I think the internet has changed advertising from mass advertising to what I called personal advertising. And I think that's the future.
You're listening to Lester Wunderman on the Alan Levy Show. We have a few moments. If you'd like, you can call in at 866-691-7714.
When we were chatting in your office, you were talking about some of the fascinating places you've been, and you talked about Senegal and dancing with the top lady friends. As you're kind of traveling now, and which you've always traveled what are some of the highlights that you've seen from around the world that come to mind? Maybe some of those types of stories? A couple of them would be interesting.
I've had what I consider to be a great life. In Senegal, the head of Senegal, the president of Senegal was the most famous French poet of his time. And, my wife and I went to -- my wife had been television journalist -- and it she and I went on our honeymoon to Senegal on our way to other countries in Africa. We were then introduced to the president Senegal and instead of having a visitive state, he being a poet, he took a book of poetry and read it to my wife, signed it gave it to her, took out another book of poetry, and our three minute scheduled interview with him went to almost an hour. He ended up having read six of his books, and signing him over to her. And I still treasure them. He was an extraordinary man, he was a poet, a philosopher, as well as a statesman. And, I got to know other parts of Africa. I, myself, became the brother of a chief of a tribe in Mali and my wife and I was married there in a little village by the head, what they call a [? Hogun ?]. We were married in a three day ceremony in Mali which I must say was interesting.
I would say. What do you mean, you were became a brother? You met these individuals and, --
Well, they adopted me into their family. What happened, I had brought them -- when I sold this company to Young and Rubicam I kept some stock aside in a small foundation. That stock, of course, increases in value enormously. What I did then, was to use the money to help this tribe who live in an arid area of Africa in the country Mali to send 13 young engineers from MIT over there to teach them how to catch water. In the Caribbean people have learned almost by nature how to catch water during the rainy season so that they can save it for the dry season. In Africa they didn't. And, they were in terrible trouble during the summers. So what I did was take this additional money and send 13 young engineers over to this tribal headquarter village. And they taught people how to catch water on their roofs and store it and how to convert their silos into cisterns by lining them with [INAUDIBLE] cement. So we changed, after hundreds of years of thirst, this village when we went there, the chief had 3000 gallons of water, and he proudly told us about his 3000 gallons of waters as he prepared to marry us.
That is incredible. That is a remarkable story. That really is. So, there must be some sort of plaque over there, or something or your name on, the damn. The Lester Wunderman pavilion of some sort.
Well, what there is, is water. You know, water is thought to be one of God's gifts. It's tied in very much with their religion. A country that doesn't have it, it be it becomes spiritual because it comes from heaven. So we were adopted into the religious leadership. And I have an African name which is Ama [? Sagu, ?] which is the name they gave me. Which means beloved of God, and if they gave me name because I gave them water.
It's amazing. One of the questions in the chat room, is how do you get the energy at your age? I met with you. You have so much energy. You go into the office each and every day. What is it? Is it diet? It it just your thirst for knowledge? What is it?
Let me tell you. There was a pitcher in the negro leagues in America named Satchel Paige. Now Satchel Paige was a man of great wisdom. And, one of the things he said is how old would you be if you didn't know how old you was? And I don't know how old i was. I never think of it. I don't think of chronology in terms of my own life. I think in terms of every day's requirements and I make no concessions to it. So far I've been lucky.
That's wonderful. And of course, you walk through the offices of all agencies around the world, and they are filled with youth and young people, and someone of your stature, I think it's important for them to listen to these type of conversations and learn the experiences you had and so on. I think it's wonderful and I want to thank you for joining me here. We're just about up with the show. And it was a wonderful conversation with you. You're heading off to Asia and in mid April, I understand right?
Yes. Yes. That's true. We're heading off to Japan and China. And they're publishing my book in Chinese. And so we're going there to introduce the book.
Maybe later this spring we'll have another opportunity. We'll get you on and maybe you'll have your show. And you'll be able to interesting personalities. It's a great honor to speak with you.
Well thank you. Likewise. Maybe next time I'll interview you.
I would love that. That would be quite an honor. Quite an honor. Thank you very much for joining us.
You're very welcome.
You've been listening to the Alan Levy Show with my guest, a special guest, Lester Wunderman. It's a fascinating story. I know when I met Mr. Wunderman, at his office, and we started chatting and we were talking a bit about Senegal and some of these other stories, that he truly has just a fascinating career. He's an iconic and legendary figure. And someone who hasn't been in the advertising industry in my life, and only more recently over the last four years, and I've come to learn about what he's done and his agencies have done. I think it's very helpful to hear these stories. And, of course, I was pleased talk about and learn about the Mrs. Schwartz Rule of Service, by the way. Which is something that I noted, as I was reading the book, of a concept that I think is important for any organization, including BlogTalkRadio. And really, it's just focus on what the value you're providing to the customer today and users. So I want to thank once again Lester Wunderman for being a guest on our show.
The Alan Levy Show can be found at BlogTalkRadio.co/AlanLevy. The archive of the show will be available probably within a half hour, and then, of course, you could always find it on iTunes. And look for it as well as on our blog at BlogTalkRadio. Once again, thanks, everyone, for joining me. And have a great day.
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