Leadership: How Jay Chiat Handled Donald Trump

I worked at Chiat/Day for 20 years when Jay Chiat was changing the rules of the ad business. And building, from scratch, one of the greatest creative agencies ever.

Many remember Jay’s natural ability to recognize talent and push people well beyond their limits. But most don’t know how he generated such extraordinary loyalty and dedication. Earning the agency moniker: “Chiat/Day & Night”.

Here’s a story of Jay’s fearless leadership when he dealt with Donald Trump, and its major impact on the agency.

When The Donald introduced Trump Airlines he wanted the “greatest” agency and chose Chiat/Day.  Chiat produced some brilliant advertising for the Trump Shuttle.

But evidently ads not to Trump’s “taste”, who sent Jay a very nasty and  threatening letter about the work and the agency.  Nicely typed on beautiful gold-enladen stationery.

In uniquely Jay fashion, he replied with a hand-written note attached to Donald’s original letter that simply said:

Donald,                                                                                                    

I thought you should know that some lunatic has stolen your stationery.      

Jay

And of course Chiat/Day was summarily fired.

So why is this an example of leadership? Because Jay had a vision much bigger then keeping any one client happy, and he wasn’t going to let some bully push him around.

But even more important, it was a message from Jay to the Chiat team, who toiled “day & night” to live up to the agency’s mission, that he wouldn’t compromise. “Good enough is not enough.” as our T-shirts were emblazoned.

Jay’s principles of great advertising, and gutsy leadership, bred decades of loyalists to this day.  He was the definition of the entrepreneurial, charismatic  leader with a clear sense of purpose, much needed in today’s disrupted ad space.

P.S.  The Trump Shuttle failed and “… was a complete disaster” 🙂

Steve Goldman
About the author: 

Steve Goldman is the President at World Wide Mind, a global creative communications firm. He’s held executive leadership roles with advertising, marketing and communications organizations such as BBDO and TBWA.  Mr. Goldman is a Member of the Advisory Board for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and has contributed several articles to Executive Vine.  You can follow Steve on LinkedIn and Twitter.