Martin Sorrell

It appears he’s irreplaceable.

Reach a certain age and you know the people in the newspaper. Like Mr. Sorrell, who ran WPP, not that I could exactly tell you what WPP was before I went to their Stream conference in Ojai last November. Turns out WPP stands for “Wire and Plastic Products.” Sorrell took control of that company that made grocery store baskets and transformed it into an advertising juggernaut, after working with the Saatchis, after getting an MBA.

But Saturday he resigned.

You see there was an investigation. Questions of impropriety. Although I mingled with the brass at the Oaks, I’ve got no idea of the truth of the accusations, but I will say Sorrell was both approachable and driven, it’s not often you’re up close and personal with the U.K.’s highest paid employee.

Now I don’t want to apologize for social and fiscal improprieties, especially at public companies during this #MeToo era, but it’s interesting how the builders usually cannot only not be superseded, but can’t be replaced.

The two most famous cases are…

Steve Jobs at Apple Computer.

And Jim Morrison in the Doors.

Sure, Janis Joplin died. Jimi Hendrix too. And while we’re at it, Buddy Holly and Otis Redding. But there was no group, they were individuals, you’d think that the Doors were more than Morrison and they’d be able to carry on.

But they weren’t.

Now you’ll tell me about Genesis and Van Halen and the interesting thing about Genesis, even though it went on to greater commercial success, it was definitely not the same act, Peter Gabriel tested limits conceptually and lyrically that the ones who were left did not. As for Van Halen…Sammy Hagar’s got a much better voice than David Lee Roth, but Sammy doesn’t have the irreverence, the skewed view that made Van Halen more than a meat and potatoes band.

Now we can focus on the uniqueness of these characters.

Or we can focus on how when they’re gone the enterprise is done.

But we live in a world where we’re told everybody is replaceable, everybody is just a cog in the system, that you don’t matter.

But you do.

But everything they teach you in school is wrong.

In school they teach you how to get along, be a member of society. But the Van Halen brothers couldn’t tolerate Mr. Roth, and Steve Jobs was notoriously mercurial… Have we been sold a bill of goods?

Kinda like those Ivy League graduates who go into consulting. Or those with MBAs who go to work for the man. They make money, they move their way up the management ladder, but they don’t impact society, they don’t change anything.

It’s about risk and vision and you’re either born with them or you’re not, and the ability to execute on them is another step, the world is riddled with people with ideas without the willingness or courage to execute them.

Now the funny thing about these creators is they have rough edges, they’re not warm and fuzzy. I won’t say they’re not friendly, sometimes they are, but they don’t suffer fools and they don’t want their time wasted. And if you’re ignorant, they’ll dismiss you. And they won’t be afraid of offending you.

Furthermore, they won’t worry about being PC, about being nice, about saying something unfavorable or challenging preconceptions.

Now some of these people are damaged beyond repair. Someone like Travis Kalanick, you could tell he was a prick during the days of Scour. He seemed to have no remorse and evidenced an aura that he knew better and didn’t have time for you, despite the topic not being that hard to fathom. And it appears that Uber is on the rebound, latest research says that Lyft may have peaked, but I’m not betting on the new CEO, he’s not Kalanick.

Kinda like Daniel Ek and Spotify. Dynamic and charming Daniel is not, but dogged he is. He was not always a billionaire, he flew in the back of the plane and waited all day for meetings. And it’s not about the investment of time so much as the willingness to stay the course, not because someone told you to, but because you can’t do it any other way.

This is what bugs me about business books, about self-help, you think if you read them you can get answers, but you can’t because you’re not that person, your only hope is to be your best self, not that you can’t learn lessons, but they’re probably social ones as opposed to business ones.

But what bugs me most is the change in the picture of an American.

An American was someone who knew no limits, who pushed the edge of the envelope, who was can-do, who was not worried about formalities, but results. And that spearheaded innovation and success for two centuries, but now…

Those with the power and money have grouped together to keep those without down. That’s right, used to be everybody had the tools at their fingertips, but with governments challenged schools are ill and underequipped and you can’t get into the Ivies without a legacy and cash. Of course there are exceptions, but not many.

And it was always hard to get a bank to fund your idea. But you could scrape by on a minimum. Now if you’re working for the minimum wage you might still be on welfare.

But this isn’t so much about helping those on the bottom than recognizing those on the bleeding edge, the stars of our society, who amaze us and inspire us.

Not the me-too musicians. Not the me-too superhero movies.

Kinda like Reed Hastings, who doubled-down on Netflix production which caused subscriptions to go to the roof while movie studios cut the number of flicks they made and record companies dropped the number of releases and genres. Just imagine if a major label signed and promoted something different not radio-friendly… Then we might have a change in the system, that company would make beaucoup bucks. But no one at a major label has skin in the game anymore, they’re protecting what once was as opposed to what will be.

You have Elon Musk arguing with the government. Mark Cuban before him. I was always taught to be scared of the system, but looking at them I wonder if I’m wrong.

And Martin Sorrell was open to me, available, but he didn’t want to make nice, he could contradict…

Whilst proffering his easy to remember e-mail address, saying how simple it was to reach him, any time.

Not that he knew who I was, but he knew I was there, and he was open to those who were.

That’s where you want to be, just like “Hamilton” says, “the room where it happens.”

But just being inside delivers a story no better than saying you did coke in the bathroom with somebody famous.

No, the truth is you’ve got to make it on your own. You’ve got to have confidence. You must take your inspiration to the limit. You must let your freak flag fly. You must be yourself.

And that’s different from everybody else.

The greats are irreplaceable.

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