It doesn’t seem like a year since our founder, Al Golin, died. It feels more like yesterday when he peeked around his desk to tell me how pissed off he was about the latest thing Donald Trump tweeted.
Because I had the pleasure of working with Al for 30 years, his memory is permanently engraved in my psyche. I admired his humility, cherished his wisdom, and laughed at his humor, but, over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly cognizant that many of our newer employees will never meet Al.
Forgetting the founder is an issue within many companies. There are hundreds of firms with names on the door that don’t mean anything to the people that walk through them every day. In many cases, that may not matter, but in ours it does.
At Golin, we’ve always leveraged our culture as a differentiator to attract talent and clients. And Al has always been at the heart of what makes us special. His legendary cold call to McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc fueled our entrepreneurial spirit. His favorite saying "fix it before it breaks" inspired our g4 model. And his wisdom "happy people make happy clients" drove our lifetime benefits program.
But how do we keep the flame burning when the man is gone?
Thankfully, during his last year with us, we filmed many hours of Al sharing his philosophies and colorful stories about people like Ray Kroc, Cary Grant, and a chimpanzee he once met on the elevator. We call these pearls of wisdom "Allegories," and we share them on our website and with our new employees.
We celebrate Al’s birthday every June 19, when every one of our global offices honors his longtime commitment to community service by spending the day supporting a local charity. On Al’s Day, we paint buildings, clean beaches, and teach children from Singapore to San Francisco.
We established a scholarship in Al’s name at his alma mater, Roosevelt University, in downtown Chicago. Roosevelt attracts a diverse and financially challenged student population, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Each year, we will choose an aspiring communications student to receive financial aid from the funds we raise from family and friends of the agency. In the coming years, our hope is to expand the scholarship to support additional deserving students. We also provide an internship for one special Roosevelt graduate every semester.
We plan to do more than just remember Al. We are working to infuse his unique Midwestern values into our ethical decision-making. We plan to incorporate his curiosity into our creative process. We want to instill his salesmanship into our new business efforts. We strive to provide his high-touch approach to every single client.
Al’s life gave us a rich legacy. Al’s death gave us a profound responsibility: not only to remember him, but to build on the things he taught us and to guarantee that anyone who works with us in the future will benefit from our past.
Fred Cook is chairman and former CEO of Golin. He is also a professor of professional practice and director of the USC Center for Public Relations at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.