The wisdom of Harold Burson

Former Burson-Marsteller CEO Chris Komisarjevsky reflects on the industry founding father.

Harold Burson celebrating the 1973 opening of Burson Marsteller's Hong Kong office.
Harold Burson celebrating the 1973 opening of Burson Marsteller's Hong Kong office.

We will greatly miss Harold. 

He had a profound impact on thousands of us around the world, countless professionals who’ve been a "Burson Person," worked with him as a client or heard one of his many speeches. 

"Wisdom" is the one word I would use to describe what Harold brought. I will always treasure the moments with him, whether we were talking quietly on a long flight to Beijing, sitting in his office when I was asking for his advice or walking together into a client meeting. 

His was a practical approach, buoyed by a never-ending intellectual appetite for understanding how new ideas mixed with the lessons of history. He loved reading biographies. He saw them as windows that permitted him to better understand how communication changed the course of people’s lives, the success of companies and the leadership of countries. 

Unfailingly, he went to the heart of a problem and his focus was on values. He was fond of quoting "Civil Disobedience," the 1849 essay by Henry David Thoreau: "It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience, but a corporate of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience."

Looking back on our times together, I can still hear him telling me:

  1. Behavior is what you do and what others see. It is the most important form of communication. When based on strong values, it drives support, loyalty and a common bond. It creates a good name.

  1. If done well over time, a strong reputation endures.

  1. Humility is at its core. Never ask another to do what you wouldn’t do yourself.

  1. Success is a team effort. When the team is motivated and inspired, they focus as one on reputation.

  1. And success follows.

Harold, thank you for all you did. 

And all you continue to mean to us. 

Chris Komisarjevsky is the retired worldwide president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller.

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