Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Dinner With Andre: My Meeting With Michael

(Please pause the Podcast in the sidebar before playing the video)

The 1981 Louise Malle film, "My Dinner With Andre" has long been one of my favorites in that one can enjoy it, simply by listening to the dialogue because, essentially, nothing happens in the film. It's just two guys having dinner, yet discussing everything that matters to them in life.

As the story goes, Wallace and Andre are old friends who have not seen each other for many years and have scheduled a dinner to catch up. Wallace has continued to live his simple, uncluttered life in a small apartment in New York, whilst Andre has traveled the globe, lived with gypsies in an eastern European forest, meditated in a commune in Scotland and even tried, unsuccessfully, to stage a play based on "The Little Prince" in the Sahara. Their lives are a study in contrast, conflict and convolution. The clip here is the end of the film with Wallace's thoughts, illuminated by Andre's spirited tales, giving new meaning to things he has seen for years but forgotten their true significance. The soundtrack, Erik Satie's "Trois Gymnopédies", is quite possibly my favorite piece of piano composition and haunting and lonely in its simplicity.

All of this describes how I felt going home after meeting Michael Conrad at the DLD conference last month, after having seen him last, fifteen years ago. But in my story, I couldn't decide who was Andre and who was Wallace in terms of Michael's and my characters. Michael begins my book, Wild Wild East.

Chicago, April 1995: I'm sitting in my office on the 26th floor of the Leo Burnett building, watching the sailboats go by, when the telephone rings; it's Michael Conrad, our Worldwide Creative Director, and he has a question: "What do you know about Korea", he asks. "Nothing", I said - and that's how I got the job.

And that would be the last I saw of Michael for the remainder of my time at Burnett, save for a couple of brief meetings in Malaysia and New Orleans the following year. He was not part of my management chain and wasn't even involved in any of my company reviews or evaluations. He was my recruiter and superior, but in the end, not my boss.

Michael would go on to be the Jury Chair at the Cannes Advertising Festival in 1996 and I would go on to start Korea's first 100% foreign invested advertising agency in 1997. Leo Burnett would be eventually absorbed by Publicis Groupe in 2002, and Michael would retire in 2003. The price paid for Burnett at the time of 3 billion US, in light of sales of 1.8 billion that year, now seems tiny in comparison to Google's price for YouTube of 1.6 billion with no projected sales in the year of that purchase - but maybe just a harbinger of things to come.

Michael Conrad and Leo Burnett, Leo Burnett, Louis Malle, My Dinner With Andre, Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn, DLD, Our conversation at DLD was brief, but knowing. Seeing him after the last speaker had left the podium, in the crowd talking with a woman in German, I approached and said, "Fifteen years ago...", I began... "I know that smile", he interjected. We then shook hands and each did a quick synopsis of the time that had passed between us. Michael is now President of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership at Steinbeis University, and I am now, still me, but without a big organization attached. We spoke of the conference, , and he told me - in the same way he might have told me as a superior many years earlier, that this digital thing was where the world was going. I nodded in agreement, thinking to myself that I wish I had heard that coming from him fifteen years ago when it would have been truly visionary, instead of now, when the representation at this creative conference of advertising people was surely in the itty-bitty minority. Oh how things had changed. Oh how Michael and my trajectories had been decidedly different.

And so I found myself, on a solitary subway ride home, with my schwag-bag full of goodies from the event, shuffling through the snow on a more than frozen Bavarian winter and wondering in my meeting with Michael who had been Wallace and who had been Andre from My Dinner With Andre. Michael had ended a high profile creative career gracefully with his matriculation to a university program presidency in his country of birth and I, had founded a Korean company, sold it, written a book, moved to Vietnam, started a blog and then followed a starry-eyed girl to France, Africa and finally Munich to stake my claim on this new digital planet.

All I knew is that I could not have possibly been Wallace. I must have been the Andre of my own meeting after many years. My meeting with Michael.

1 comment:

  1. flexiblepackagingcompaniesMarch 1, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    Thank you for all the great posts from last year! I look forward to reading your blog, because they are always full of information that I can put to use. Thank you again, and God bless you in 2010.


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