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Yes, “quirky” works.


Save that tablecloth!


     In between rocket-blasting stints with Madison Avenue’s two biggest and most successful ad agencies in history, I once worked as new business director and assistant to the chairman of a rather inconsequential yet highly profitable New York advertising firm. My boss was the number one guy out of three partners. The other two hung out and acted important. My boss was the one who made the sales and brought in the money.

     I never learned much from him except that it really is possible to be successful even when you have no obvious success traits or qualities, as long as you are a stupendous listener, and can be totally quirky. The old man had no redeeming characteristics to speak of but he was both quirky — accentuated by a cartoony voice and over-the-top animation that seemed to ooze incongruously out of his 3-piece suit — plus he was an outstanding listener.

     Three or four days a week, I found myself in the arguably envious position of getting fat by being his sidekick at exorbitantly expensive lunches he hosted at the best restaurants in Manhattan. He invited clients and prospective clients as guests. I was his Boy Friday but he actually encouraged me to talk up agency credentials and experience, setting the stage for his “pitch” at dessert time.

     What he had to say was always on target, but it came only after intensive listening, interspersed with squinty-eyed questions from over the tops of his reading glasses, and requests for examples and diagrams. He made copious notes with marker pens . . . on the tablecloth! 

     In between courses’, he would engage the help of a waiter or two to turn the table covering, drip spots and all, clockwise so he’d have clear writing space for each part of the meal. When lunch ended, he would tuck a $20 bill into the Maitre D’s hand and neatly fold the tablecloth up, tuck it under his arm as he did all the handshake/smile stuff and head for a cab that I would have waiting at the curb.

     When we got back to the office, his secretary would unfold the tablecloth, tack it on the wall over her workspace and type out everything he had written, rising periodically to turn the cloth and re-tack it (lots of pinholes in the wall!). She would enlist one of the designers to recreate any diagrams. The Boss would prioritize items on her draft and identify them as Objectives or Strategies or Tactics the have a final version typed up.

     The typed copy was distributed to all who had any experience with or interest in the business being courted, followed by a meeting, and a summary returned to the lunch guest reiterating the key points, tying them of course to sales points. Often this document became the “working bible” for developing the advertising for an existing client for a full year or more, and often it won new clients.      

     Should we all run out and start writing on tablecloths? Maybe, but the point is that whatever you do to be better at running your business doesn’t have to be something that’s considered “normal” by others, and you need not worry or care about what others say if the system works for you. Someone else I worked for routinely cell phone called his desk from the golf course to leave himself message reminders of sales prospect conversations he would follow up on the next day.

“Quirky” Works.  

Comment below or Hal@BusinessWorks.US Thanks for visiting. Go for your goals! God Bless You! Make it a GREAT Day! 

2 comments so far


  1. Jonena Relthon 15 Apr 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Hal,

    Ok,” tablecloth guy” is the qurkiest boss I’ve learned about to date. I’ve heard of writing on napkins, but this one takes the cake!

    To Each His Own and Whatever works!

  2. Hal Alpiaron 15 Apr 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Hi Jonena – Thanks for the visit and comment. You might be interested in knowing the office in those days maintained a gigantic closet packed with laundered and folded tablecloths from all points of the city. Great for in-office parties because there were enough to cover every table and desk! “Squirrelly” you said? Absolutely! But 50 some-odd people got fat salaries and quarterly raises and we had two company planes and pilots! Ah, for the good old days! Have a great week ahead. Best – Hal

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