By Don Merlot
[WC News Service]
The flight from Michigan to New York City was on a clear night. I could look out the plane windows and see the towns and villages. We were traveling from Chicago to New York City. As we came into New York’s air space, we cruised over the metro area and saw the Statue of Liberty and the buildings on Manhattan: The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building were front and forward. The ribbon of street lights looked like gold necklaces. After landing we took a taxi to the hotel in Manhattan. It was late so we settled in for the day to prepare for the next day.
The excitement was high for me. This was my first business trip with my first job. This was not my first time to New York. My earlier visits were when I went military prep school in Virginia in 1958 to 1959. One trip was to visit my school roommate’s home in Short Hills, New Jersey, and the other was to catch up with a childhood friend that I had known from the American School in Mexico City, whose father had moved and worked in the city. He commuted from Roslyn, on Long Island. The other two trips were interviews for jobs when I was at Thunderbird (1967).These experiences prepared me for the massive size of the greater metropolitan area; the cosmopolitan culture; the skyscrapers, and the blaring noise of the traffic that was constant from day break to nightfall. These visits were a test to see the big picture for business, and the global world as well: The preparation to see the world: the big picture. It reminded me of the movie Auntie Mame, and I was the bronco being busted to become a worldly executive.
This trip was tremendous boost for my persona and very emotional. I was in the throes of the beginning of my international career and on the road to become a world savant and traveler.
I had learned in grad school that only 10 percent of the Americans had gone fifty miles beyond their birthplace in their lifetime. I knew from experience, growing up in Mexico City (1942 to 1958), and traveling the interior of Mexico for vacations (Acapulco, Taxco and Cuernavaca), and travelling by car up to the USA on the Pan-American Highway to Kansas to visit my family in Topeka.
I remember learning and understanding that when people asked, where I was originally from, I would have to say “Old Mexico” and not confuse them by saying (“New”) Mexico. Most people when I went to school would ask where was my home and would say Mexico and that would conjure up an adobe hut, a cactus plant and a burro, a Sarape, and a sombrero.
As I walked down Park Avenue the next morning I was looking up to the Pan Am building on a spring sunny day in Manhattan in 1968. I was to meet with the company’s advertising agency for the international division, I had to pinch myself that I was really starting my career. Madison Avenue was the Mecca for the Western World’s advertising agencies and this central location was a couple of blocks away from that ground zero. Our hotel was on 48th between Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue.
My first career step when I accepted my first international job as Advertising and Sales Promotion Manager for the International Division of Whirlpool Corporation was now in progress. My graduate school (Thunderbird -- the American graduate school for Foreign Trade) degree was in international marketing/advertising. My desire and first expectation was to work in an international advertising business environment, but when I was interviewing, the USA was in a economic recession and the NYC Agencies were not hiring in February of 1968. My school advertising mentor, Professor Nort Sobo, said I should take the Whirlpool Advertising Manager offer as it was the nation’s largest appliance manufacturer and look at an agency in a couple of years.
The international division had its own advertising agency and this was a premiere advertising agency that was creating an advertising plan to introduce our home appliances into key export markets around the world. Besides that was my raison d’être; for why I went to Thunderbird.
As I walked down Park Avenue I pinched myself again, reminding myself that this was real! I told myself, it is not a dream.
As I walked through Grand Central Station to get to the Pan Am building I was fascinated by the hustle and bustle of people arriving and leaving by train and subways; they were sipping their morning coffee, and eating a bagel or a cinnamon roll for their morning petit dejeuner. People were smoking everywhere, and cigarette smoke wafted over the waiting rooms and everybody seemed to have some place to go.
In the main waiting hall there was a beautiful Kodak photograph, blown up, that took up a whole wall. This really impressed me. My creative craving was that one day I would own a camera and be able to take a photograph such this.
The office of Kenyon & Eckhardt, the advertising agency, was on the 39th floor, and the elevator banks broke down by destination to the floors, so finding the right bank of elevators was my first goal. I was with my first boss, and he was weaned on the New York City streets. He was a walking encyclopedia on New York architecture, culture, and geography.
As we got to the lobby we were met by the account executive for our account; Ted Anson, an Englishman, who was the epitome of an English gentlemen, and he greeted us warmly. The morning was spent looking at creative work that we had been commissioned to introduce automatic washers in Latin America. The creative team: art directors and creative writers made a full explanation of what we should do for a print program (ad placements). At lunch we met the media group where the ads would be placed. Reader's Digest and Time (en Español) and export consumer magazines were recommended.
We had a “high-powered New York lunch” that the Reader’s Digest picked up – and I was just a sponge soaking up all this knowledge and information. I took my cue from my boss Ralph and the advertising agency as I was the “new kid” on block. Since this was my first business lunch outside of the corporate office I had to learn the process, picking up etiquette and know-how of the process and how to behave and what to order. In advertising parlance this was a “power lunch” and a media representative programed the lunch order process.
My boss ordered a Campari and soda. That was new to my lexicon but was good enough for me too and Ted ordered that too. (My college experience did not include aperitifs). I was told that some New York executives would polish off three martinis for lunch and that I should avoid that (Mid-western Whirlpool would frown on that.). Most New York Advertising Execs lived in Connecticut so those drinks would get them to the train that late afternoon. I had a total of two Campari’s. Everybody smoked and I was told that I should never drink anything stronger than a Campari and no more than two at a setting. As for the creative presentations they would be taken back to the Whirlpool office in Michigan and reviewed by our department director. I was discouraged not to comment about it until after our big boss passed on it. When it came to entertainment the media people were selling space. Another comment was “Do not take too much of the agency’s time as they have a taxi meter approach spending time with you.”
We had flown in on a Thursday night. And spent Friday doing business and returned to Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Friday night for supper we went to a bistro type French restaurant and we had a carafe of red Bordeaux wine with our meal. That was my first business experience with good French wines. This lead to a love affair with wines
My boss summed up the trip as we would plan trips in the future. He would sometimes join me on setting creative direction and media coverage but, overall, I was the company contact with the advertising agency.
The hotel was fabulous and Whirlpool leased a suite it controlled for entertainment for key accounts and or executives and big customers. If it were vacant we could use the hotel suite, if not the hotel would book us a room.
So, what did I learn about international and my new career on my first business trip and what would it do for my future?
· I noted that oral, visual, and audio communications when establishing a new relationship have to be clear and expectations must be clear as well and reviewing accomplishments must be made for the next meeting. Communications is listening and speaking
· For me I learned, do not opine on creative work during the official presentation
Before returning to the airport on Saturday morning, Ralph, my boss, introduced me to the most important wine purveyor in midtown – Sherry-Lehmann’s. Ralph had already noted my interest in wine so he wanted to push me along. As a matter of fact many of the people in our international division had lived in France and Switzerland and knew about wines. Every person had their own wine taste. I met Mr. Gelfand who helped me along with my wine development and selections in the future. I became a fan of burgundies from the Cote d’Or, and eventually he encouraged me to take home different growths during my travels to New York.
In my role of advertising and over the next few years I enjoyed New York and meeting the agency personnel who befriended me. We shared thoughts, wines, meals and culture. Lucky for me that when I visited, many of the creative people wanted to teach me and on business days, when 5 o’clock rolled around and bosses scattered home, some of the creative people stayed with me for dinner. Most of the creative guys were Italians and I had a great entrée into Italian culture, cooking and wine.
My first visit was fantastic.
Ron Alonzo is a Chevalier of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin ; A Professional de la Table of the Chaine des Rôtisseurs ; and a CFSP level I of the NAFEM (Certified Food Service Professional) Has completed courses & earned certificates at the WINE SPECTATOR SCHOOL and received certificates in ABC OF WINE TASTING & UNDERTANDING PROFESSIONAL WINE – SALES AND SERVICE